Stress is something we all experience at some point in our lives, most of us on a regular basis. However, stress over long periods of time can have detrimental effects on our health. Stress has been linked to health problems such as high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, and diabetes (14.) Most of the time, when we think about decreasing stress, we think exercise, meditation, massage, or some other form of self-care. Something often overlooked is our nutrition.
Food has a direct connection to our moods. Think about this one for a minute. Have you ever noticed this before? How do you feel when you grab fast food for lunch versus a lighter, healthier alternative? Maybe a little bloated, fatigued, heavy? Now, not only can foods affect how you feel physically but they can also affect how you feel mentally and emotionally. This means more stress and less energy. If there’s anything I’ve learned in my journey towards holistic health, it’s that nutrition affects everything. When I’m not being mindful of what I eat, I am much more likely to succumb to the stressors of everyday life. Here are some ways to use food to help decrease your stress and increase your energy.
Have Some Healthy Fats
Avocados, oily fish such as salmon, and nuts are just a few examples of foods that are high in Omega-3 fatty acids. Not only are omega-3 fatty acids incredible for your body, they are also great for your brain. In fact, studies show that people who consume omega-3 fatty acids regularly are less likely to be depressed. Studies also show that people with anxiety and depression that supplement with omega-3 fatty acids had a decrease in their symptoms (1, 2, 3.)
Swap Sugar Loaded Sweets with Citrus Fruits
A rise in your blood sugar can make your body stressed. You see, whenever we are experiencing stress, our adrenal glands release more of the stress hormone cortisol. This just so happens to also be the hormone that regulates blood sugar. When your blood sugar levels change too quickly, your adrenal glands release cortisol in the same way it would if you were stressed. This can make you feel the same way you would in frightening or stressful situations. Swapping sugar-rich foods with natural sweets like citrus fruits can help keep blood sugar levels in check. Plus, citrus fruits are also high in vitamin c, which some studies have shown can help reduce stress levels (4.)
Eat More Foods High in Fiber
Not only are high fiber foods good for our gut, according to an article published in Nutritional Neuroscience, a high fiber diet may also reduce anxiety, depression, and stress (6.) Some studies even suggest that fiber may help fight oxidative stress and inflammation (7.) Some great sources of fiber to keep stocked up on include beans, berries, almonds, flaxseed, broccoli, and leafy greens such as kale and spinach. Many of these foods are also high in magnesium, which can help reduce stress. Whole grains are also a great source of fiber. Just make sure the labels say, “100% Whole Grain” and have “whole grain” or “whole grain wheat” listed as the first ingredient.
Ditch the Energy Drinks
Marketed to give us energy, but are associated with behavior problems, sleep disruption, and many other serious health concerns. Not to mention they are loaded with sugar. Sleep disruption not only lowers our energy levels but can also increase cortisol which can lead to stress. While caffeine in small amounts, such as the amount found in coffee or tea, has been shown to reduce anxiety and elevate our mood, caffeine in large amounts can increase stress and anxiety and even trigger mania (8.) Try swapping the energy drinks with green tea, protein shakes, smoothies, or even water.
Add Probiotic-Rich Foods to Your Meals
There is some compelling research out there linking gut health to our brain. Some research is now suggesting that a lack of certain bacteria in our guts can alter the areas in our brain associated with stress and anxiety. Not only that, but the link between our brain and our gut is a two-way street. Meaning that the lack of certain gut bacteria can alter our mood and stress can alter our gut (12.) Probiotics are often taken as a supplement; however, probiotics are also naturally occurring in many foods and can even be slightly better than the pill form (13.) Some food forms include kefir, kombucha, yogurt, sauerkraut, and kimchi.
Reach for Whole Grains
According to an article published on Science Direct, eating carbohydrates can temporarily increase serotonin levels, a hormone that boosts mood and reduces stress. Increasing the serotonin levels in people that are stressed can help improve their focus and concentration (9.) Just make sure you are opting for complex carbs such as sweet potatoes, brown rice, and whole grains. Limit the intake of simple carbs such as pasta, white rice, white bread, and pastries as they can cause spikes in blood sugar levels.
Simple, yet effective. According to WebMD, dehydration can leave you feeling drained and fatigued (10.) A good rule of thumb is to drink half your body weight in ounces of water daily. If you’re active, maybe even a little more than that. For example, if you weigh 140 lbs., you should strive to drink 70 oz. of water daily.
Most of us experience stress on a regular basis and avoiding it altogether isn’t realistic. The good news is, by being more mindful of what we eat we can naturally help our body manage and even fight off stress. Simple changes like adding healthy fats, probiotics, more water, whole-grains, and fiber to our diet can work wonders on reducing stress and increasing our energy.
Written by Jordan Wavra – Holistic Health & Mindfulness Coach
- Yau YHC, Potenza MN. Stress and Eating Behaviors. Minerva endocrinologica. 2013;38(3):255-267.