Nutritional Strategies to Help Lower Stress
In my previous blog post, “Got Stress? – An 8 Step Guide to Lowering Stress Levels” we touched up on the importance of how our lifestyle choices can play a significant role on our stress levels. Although lifestyle choices and developing stress reduction techniques are extremely important when lowering stress levels, it is also essential to nourish our body through the foods we consume.
Giving the body the nutrients it needs is a powerful tool when it comes to reducing stress levels. With the correct nutrition, our bodies are able to adapt to certain stressors much more quickly than if we were to consume foods that may trigger our stress to rise.
You may notice that when we are feeling sensations of stress or are on the verge of feeling overwhelmed, we turn to food to fill that void. When our adrenaline is activated and our cortisol levels are higher than usual, we tend to pick up on food cravings such as caffeine, chocolate, alcohol, refined sugars, and even other stimulants such as tobacco. Now this is not to say we should cut these foods out entirely, but an important way to understand that our bodies are undergoing stress.
When we choose foods that are stimulating to our body, we tend to get a quick rush of energy, only to feel a sense of fatigue shortly after. This is because sugar is digested and absorbed quickly in the bloodstream and provides us with quick amounts of energy. This can cause blood sugars to become imbalanced and the adrenal glands to produce too much adrenaline for our body to handle.
”When we choose foods that are stimulating to our body, we tend to get a quick rush of energy, only to feel a sense of fatigue shortly after.”
Our bodies are constantly communicating with us during moments of stress and it is important that we listen to what it is trying to say. There are many different ways we can support our bodies and our brain with the nutrients from foods and I have provided a simple breakdown of foods we can use to avoid stress to occur.
What to Avoid
Caffeine and simple sugars can stimulate our adrenal glands and produce more of these stress hormones. They can also cause an imbalance in blood sugar levels, which will cause us to experience afternoon crashes and trigger our stress response. Although consumed in moderation, caffeine and sugar may be the reason we are unable to adapt to stress. I suggest lowering these stimulants, or removing them during periods of high stress.
Alcohol: Alcohol provides next to no nutrient value. It can cause stress on the body, including your liver and immune system. It is important that we do not over consume alcohol, as it may be a precursor to high levels of stress.
Caffeine: Coffee can be a major cause to stress production. It is important that we do not rely on caffeine to boost our energy levels as it can become overtaxing on the adrenal glands. It is best that we substitute, coffee for green tea, which is a natural caffeinated drink containing the amino acid L-theanine that can cause a calming effect on the body.
Refined Sugars and flours: It is best that we lower the intake of refined sugars and flours as much as possible as it can cause a spike in blood sugar levels and result in a crash of energy. I suggest opting in for healthier snack alternatives such as fruit, vegetables, or brown rice products to help balance out blood sugar levels.
Chocolate: Most people tend to turn to chocolate to fill their stress void. When we crave chocolate it is best that we stick to raw dark chocolate if possible. Dark chocolate contains healthy fats and magnesium, which can be beneficial to the body.
What to Eat
Consuming more whole/nutrient-dense foods is important when it comes to lowering stress levels and balancing out our stress hormones. Providing our body with simple key-nutrients can help our physical bodies adapt to the release of these stress hormones and give our bodies the nutrients it needs to function optimally
Some foods I suggest are fresh fruits, vegetables including leafy greens, legumes, animal protein, and whole grains. These foods are packed with powerful nutrients that will support our bodies and reduce stress in the body.
It is extremely important to nourish our bodies with whole-foods and can be a simple way to avoid health concerns associated with stress. Consuming healthy fats, protein, and complex carbohydrates can help us balance out our blood sugar levels and adapt to stress
Fruits and vegetables: all fruits and vegetables – especially berries (antioxidants) and dark leafy greens (adrenal support)
Complex Carbohydrates: Brown rice, barley, quinoa, sweet potatoes, yams, butternut squash, chickpeas, black beans, lentils, oats, whole-wheat pasta, sprouted grain bread, brown rice.
Healthy Fats: Avocados, avocado oil, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, chia seeds, almonds, cashews, walnuts, peanuts, dark chocolate, fish, olive oil, nut butters, coconut oil.
Protein: Chicken, turkey, tofu, fish, almonds, oats, dairy products, broccoli, lentils, black beans, kidney beans, chickpeas, nuts, seeds.
Whole grains and legumes: Oats, barley, buckwheat, quinoa, amaranth, kidney beans, black beans, lentils, pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, flax seeds, brown rice, and wild rice.
When undergoing high levels of stress, try the apple test. This involves seeing if you are hungry or if you are avoiding your stress with food. Next time you are craving sweet/sugary snacks or caffeine, ask yourself if you would snack on an apple. If the answer is yes, then eat the apple in replace of the simple sugar snacks. If the answer is no, then begin to explore why this stressor is occurring and practice stress reduction tips.
Christina Anania is a Registered Holistic Nutritionist living in Winnipeg, Manitoba. She works one-on-one with clients educating them on how to live a happier and healthy life. She specializes in mental health and gut health. Christina is the owner of Eats By Tee, which is a nutrition consulting business, as well as a recipe/food blogger. She signed up to become a Registered Holistic Nutritionist at the Canadian School of Natural Nutrition and graduated with her diploma and Award of Merit in December 2017. Christina loves being a holistic nutritionist because she believes in diving deep and getting to the root cause of ones health concern.
Thank you for reading my article. I hope you found it helpful or at least thought-provoking. If this post did help you, consider sharing it with someone you think it would help too.