Healthy Eating for a Stress-Free Life
If you’re like most people, you likely struggle from high levels of stress. Just about everyone has some type of stress in their life, like money, work, relationships, and just daily life. This isn’t what is damaging to your health, but it is important to be award of the high, overwhelming levels of stress that can compound and cause concern. It can be hard to function on a normal level when you have this much stress in your life.
There are certain times during the year when you might notice it more severely, like the holidays or a time when something traumatic takes place. Instead of just trying to deal with it, why not overcome it? The first way to do this is by looking at your diet; what you eat or don’t eat can have a large impact on the type of stress you experience. You can eat a healthier diet that includes foods and superfoods to help boost your mood, increase your happiness, and reduce stress levels all at the same time. These tips should help you get on your way!
Why Your Diet is Important
Before looking at some different tips for eating a healthy diet in order to help reduce stress and talking about individual foods that can help, let’s first look at why your diet is so important. Many people don’t realize the type of impact their diet has on their health and wellness. What you eat or don’t eat doesn’t just affect your weight, but can make a difference in the medical conditions you have, increase anxiety, and yes, cause or relieve stress. There are some foods that are good to add to your diet because they help relieve stress, while others can be hard on your stress and overall emotional health. When you are looking at eating a healthy diet, don’t just consider macros like calories, fat and carbs, but really look at how different types of foods can affect your stress levels. Here are some things to consider:
Aim for Vitamins, Minerals, and Well-Balanced Meals: a simple way to know that you are eating the right foods for helping to relieve stress instead of making it worse is to focus on balance. Don’t try to eliminate too many foods, but make sure the foods you eat are healthy and quality. This means choosing complex carbohydrates like sweet potatoes and whole grains, choosing fruits and vegetables with plenty of vitamins and minerals, and adding in important nutrients like fibre whenever you can.
Avoid Restricting Diets, Unless Medically Necessary: You should also be careful with diets that are too restricting. It is possible to eat a healthy diet and lose or maintain weight, without having to give up all your favourite things. While this might help you to lose a few pounds, it often ends up hurting you in the end. It creates emotional turmoil and heightened emotional stress because of how important food and nutrition is in your daily life. You can actually have more stress when you are logging everything you eat and constantly looking up nutritional content before you go to a restaurant with friends.
- Be Careful with Stress Eating: As much as eating can help with stress, it can also hurt it. One thing you want to be really careful with is the cycle of stress eating. When you find that you crave certain types of foods when you have stress or anxiety, like sweets, salty or fried foods, it is often not from hunger but because you are feeding your emotions instead.
How Your Diet May be Hurting You
Another important thing to know about your diet and stress levels, is that what you choose to eat might actually be making your stress worse. This isn’t just related to stress eating or lack of nutrients, but certain types of foods that can increase your stress and make life miserably on a daily basis. This is something many people don’t realize and struggle to find ways to relieve their stress, when it was exacerbated by their diet all along. Here are some foods that can make your stress worse:
Foods with High Amounts of Sugar: Yes, you guessed it – sugar is the enemy when it comes to stress. This might not surprise you, since sugar tends to have a negative impact on your physical health, from bloating and weight gain, to making mental conditions like anxiety worse. Sugar can also be hard on your body when it comes to stress, most similarly with the sugar crash that happens shortly after having a high amount of sugar in your body. This is also what happens when you have a lot of simple carbs like bread, rice, pasta, and potatoes.
Fattening Foods: Foods that are high in fat can also worsen your stress levels, not to mention they are often trigger foods for anxiety, which also makes your stress more severe. It is okay to have healthy fats like avocados and olive oil, but avoid saturated fats like vegetable oil, lard, and most fried foods. Reduce how much packaged and processed foods you eat, don’t eat anything fried, and you will be well on your way to eating for a stress-free life.
Drinks with Caffeine: It is also a good idea to avoid caffeine, or at least reduce it. Instead of 4 cups of coffee in the morning, try one cup of coffee then see how you feel. Or switch to drinks with less caffeine, such as tea. Also, be careful with the sugar-laden soft drinks that are also loaded with caffeine.
Superfoods for Stress Relief
The first category of foods that can help you relieve stress are your superfoods. Superfoods are healthy foods with a higher-than-normal amount of nutrients, including vitamins and minerals. Here are some superfoods that are great for reducing stress.
Blueberries: When you’re dealing with stress, the interior of your body feels just as bad. However, consuming berries full of phytonutrients and antioxidants can help improve your body’s defenses and response to stress by killing off stress-causing free radicals. Try adding blueberries to your cereal or oatmeal, or making a morning smoothie with the berries.
Seeds: Pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, and flax seeds are great sources of magnesium, which can help you maintain your emotions and reduce stress. Additionally, this mineral can also help you manage fatigue, irritability, and depression. If you’re on your period, consuming seeds can also help you combat PMS symptoms, such as water retention and cramps.
Salmon: When you feel stressed out, your body can increase certain hormones, such as cortisol and adrenaline. Fortunately, the omega-3 fatty acids found in salmon has powerful anti-inflammatory properties, which can help you lower your stress hormone levels. Not only will eating more salmon help reduce the stress response in your body, but the omega-3 fatty acids in this superfood can also help you to reduce your risk of heart disease.
Dark Chocolate: Who doesn’t love some chocolate? Instead of milk chocolate, switch to the healthier dark chocolate. A healthy consumption of dark chocolate can help lower your overall stress levels. Research studies have found that the chocolate can help reduce rising stress hormones, in addition to cortisol. Antioxidants found in dark chocolate also help your blood vessel walls relax, lowering your blood pressure and improving your blood circulation. Dark chocolate also has a natural substance that creates a euphoria that’s quite similar to feeling in love. Just make sure you go for the dark chocolate variety that has at least 70 percent cocoa content. The higher the cocoa, the darker it is, and the healthier it is going to be for you.
Green Leafy Vegetables: Green leafy vegetables are known to help your body produce dopamine, which is a chemical in your brain that induces pleasure and can help keep you calm under stress. There have also been studies that look at how dark, leafy green vegetables can help with anxiety and depression thanks to the unique combination of nutrients in this vegetable. All leafy greens are best, but look for greens with a lot of vitamins and minerals, such as kale, spinach, and collard greens.
Other Foods to Add to Your Diet
There are also many other healthy foods that can also help you to reduce your stress levels. Give some of these delicious foods a try when your holiday stress is getting to be a little too much.
Yogurt: Believe it or not, the bacteria located in your gut may be causing you stress. Researchers have found that the brain often signals the gut when it’s stressed, which is why you can experience gastrointestinal problems when you’re stressed out. However, the connection can go the other way as well, and the gut can send stress signals to the brain as well. The probiotics in yogurt can be extremely helpful for your body and mind, so having it more often is always a good thing.
Turkey Breast: It’s true that tryptophan in turkey is commonly associated with the traditional “food coma” on Thanksgiving. However, the amino acid, also found in other protein-based foods, helps you produce serotonin, which is a chemical that helps your body regulate both hunger and stress. Tryptophan also has a noticeable calming effect, which can be soothing to stressed out people. If you’re tired of eating turkey, you can also eat fish, lentils, beans, eggs, tofu, and oats, all which contain tryptophan.
Oatmeal: When you’re stressed out, you usually go for comfort foods high in carbs, such as donuts. Surprisingly, the rule of thumb we can tell you is to avoid denying your cravings. It is true that some carbs help to release serotonin in your brain, which helps to reduce your stress. But, instead of reaching for your next donut or bear claw, eat complex carbs such as oatmeal. Since the stress you feel is already increasing your blood pressure, complex carbs can help regulate your blood pressure, rather than add to it.
Cashews: Only one ounce of cashews can give you nearly 11 percent of your daily recommendation of zinc, which is a powerful mineral that can help lower your anxiety levels. While it is good to have more zinc from cashews and other healthy foods, that isn’t always necessary. Zinc supplements can drastically lower anxiety symptoms and even saw a 31 percent decrease in anxiety levels and help to influence your mood in the right way.
Milk: Fortified milk is a great source of vitamin D, which is a nutrient that can help increase your body’s sense of happiness. Milk has also been linked to reduced depression and anxiousness, so if you suffer from any of these mental health conditions, it is time to do your body good. However, if you are not a fan of milk, you can always go for other fortified foods, such as a fortified cereal with almond milk or soy milk.
Pistachios: The rhythmic motions of cracking open pistachio shells can help you lower stress and get rid of negative thoughts in your head. Not to mention, cracking open pistachio shells slows down your eating and overall, pistachios are a healthy, diet-friendly snack to indulge in. Pistachios also have a wide range of heart-health benefits, such as being able to lower blood pressure, acute stress, and your heart rate. Pistachios also contain phytonutrients, which offer powerful antioxidant that can improve your cardiovascular health.
If you want to get rid of stress in your life for good, you should start with your diet. By having well-balanced meals with whole grains, fruits and veggies, nuts and seeds, you are on your way to a stress-free life. And remember, even a 1% improvement each day is maintainable and doable in real life!
A version of this article previously published at suzannehealthcoach.com