Managing Stress With Food

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Because stress is such a harm to our health, I felt it necessary to write more extensively on the topic. In my first article on stress, I went over some lifestyle changes and techniques for you to curb stress and start feeling better.

Here, we’ll be looking at some foods that increase or decrease your stress levels, as well as some natural medicines proven to reduce the harm that stress has on your body, including the mental burden stress puts on you.

So, let’s get to it!

First, let’s discuss some foods that worsen stress conditions. It may surprise you to note that many extremely common foods out there can make the difference between something stressful feeling like a raindrop hitting your forehead or an atomic bomb on your life.

  1. Caffeine:  I want to bold, italicize and make this first category’s title three times bigger, because it’s that impactful on your stress response. Even worse if it’s coupled with sugar. Caffeine containing foods, such as coffee, tea, chocolate, sodas, and energy drinks, are possibly the worst things someone struggling with chronic stress can consume. Even a small amount has huge effects on your body’s hormones, causing elevated stress, anxiety, increased stress response, and worsened sleep. Depending on how long one has been consuming caffeine daily, it can take as long as a few weeks for the body to normalize and symptoms of caffeine withdrawal (mild depression, fatigue, headaches, sluggish bowels) to go away entirely. Generally speaking, the downsides of caffeine are easy to handle when not dealing with chronic stress, but if you are dealing with it, it’s best to cut this food out of your diet entirely.
  2. Sugar:  When we’re stressed we start craving sugar. Some people say that it even helps stress. The problem is that it only helps mentally – internally, you’re worsening most stress conditions. Our glucose levels tend to go sky-high during times of heavy stress, and adding sugar consumption on top of that causes the hormones and organs to go haywire in the attempt to balance your blood sugar back out. Diabetics, and those at high risk for diabetes, are especially affected by this combination of stress and sugar. In addition, sugar plus stress causes extremely elevated levels of the hormone cortisol, which has been linked to increased fat storage on the body. If you consume sugar-rich foods during times of stress, you could well be on your way to diabetes and obesity.
  3. Low-Nutrient, High-Energy Foods:  I decided to wrap up the list by including most other stress-elevators under this category. During times of stress, you need better nutrition. Many commonly consumed foods have very high levels of fats, proteins and carbohydrates, but almost non-existent levels of vitamins and minerals. These include things like: fast food, fried foods, wheat-based confections, pastas, candies, canned fruits and vegetables, and generally all ‘junk foods.’ This list is the polar opposite of what you need to be eating.

 

So, now we know what to avoid when we’re stressed. Funnily enough, the list comprises a lot of what you need to avoid for your overall health.

There’s an easily noticeable correlation between eating healthy, high nutrient foods and having lower stress levels (even in times of our lives when by all means we should be stressed). This is owing to not only a more reactive, resilient internal condition in healthy bodies, but also to the lesser-known nutrients consumed in abundance by a healthy eater.

It’s important to give yourself the right tools to take care of a job – those tools, as far as your body and stress are concerned, are substances found in veggies and fruits!

Yeah, you may have seen it coming – the best foods you can consume when stressed are veggies and fruits.

Why is that? Well, I could sit here for long hours going over every individually studied chemical I’ve researched with a link to stress. But guess what: that would take several days to write and the article would become a ten-parter. And, it would do you no good either. In the end, what it boils down to is that you eat a variety of veggies and fruits.

Sometimes, scores of scientific research reports later, you realize you never had to research it at all, because it’s so simple! So eat your kale, spinach, broccoli, carrots, peas, sweet potatoes, citrus, apples, kiwis and much more!

Your diet, when you’re stressed, would be optimal at 70% fruits and vegetables.

If you have a juicer, go nuts! If you don’t, get creative with those meals! I can’t stress it enough: variety, variety, variety. There’s no single food that will improve stress, just like there’s no single chemical that will do the job. And while it can be difficult to make the meat and dairy a side-dish rather than a dish in and of itself, the relief you’ll experience from the nutrition will win out in the end.

Almost every plant food out there has some beneficial substance to relieve the feelings of stress, but also reduce the harm of your stress on your body – fighting the stress hormones, balancing blood sugar, and giving you the minerals and vitamins your body needs to say goodbye to stress for good.
Alright! With that said and done, let’s move on to a couple potent medicines that can help with stress.

ashwagandhaAshwagandha (pronounced Ash-wah-gone-da):  An herb used primarily in traditional Indian medicine, Ashwagandha is a well-known mood balancer. It’s been used for centuries for stress and anxiety. I’ve included it first in the list because of personal preference, having often used Ashwagandha to alleviate my own stress and finding it very effective and fast acting. But don’t just take my word for it – even Psychology Today agrees that Ashwagandha is potent for stress and anxiety (Dr. Bongiorno, 2014). Studies show not only effectiveness in stress and anxiety, but that “Ashwagandha possesses anti-inflammatory, antitumor, antioxidant, immunomodulatory (immune enhancing), hemopoietic (red blood cell count increasing), and rejuvenating properties. (Mishra LC, et al., 2000)”  Generally, for stress, a pill form is sufficient – though tinctures (alcohol extracts) are also effective. The pill can contain either an extract or the powdered root.

Rhodiola.rosea.7648Rhodiola Rosea (pronounced Roh-dee-oh-la Roh-see-uh):   An extensively studied herbal medicine, Rhodiola Rosea has long been used for stress and anxiety. It’s also fun to say its name. But I digress. Rhodiola Rosea is an excellent remedy for getting the stress off your back. In Russia, an alcohol extract is used in standard medicine for just such a thing, and is considered common medicine. An important note for those interested in trying R. Rosea, look out for products with non-specific labels for the plant ingredient. It’s become increasingly more common for some companies to add different types of Rhodiola other than the species Rosea to their products. Not only is it a cheap imitation – it’s not effective. So take care to read the ingredient labels!

Okay! So the above two herbs represent an awesome addition to changing your lifestyle and improving your diet. If you can follow my recommendations on all three subjects (lifestyle changes, bad and good foods, and medicines) I would be extremely surprised if your stress levels haven’t gone down.

In fact, I daresay that any medical practitioner would swear by just the lifestyle changes. Put all of the advice together and you’ll be on your way to rarely experiencing times of heavy stress. Doing so will not only improve your daily life, but could very well keep many stress-related diseases from ever forming.

Preventative medicine is key to your health and longevity. So, give it your best shot! The worst that can happen is an improvement to your health and happiness!

 

Resources:

1. Brown, Richard P. et al,Rhodiola Rosea: A Phytomedicinal Overview.HerbalGram.org. American Botanical Council, 2002. Web. 11 Aug. 2015
2. Mishra, LC et al,Scientific basis for the therapeutic use of Withania somnifera (ashwagandha): a review.National Center for Biotechnology Information. U.S. National Library of Medicine, Aug. 2000. Web. 11 Aug. 2015.
3. Chandrasekhar, et al, “A Prospective, Randomized Double-blind, Placebo-controlled Study of Safety and Efficacy of a High-concentration Full-spectrum Extract of Ashwagandha Root in Reducing Stress and Anxiety in Adults.National Center for Biotechnology Information. U.S. National Library of Medicine, July 2012. Web. 11 Aug. 2015.
4. Dr. Bongiorno. “Ashwaganda for Anxiety.” Psychology Today. Sussex Publishers, 8 Jan. 2014. Web. 11 Aug. 2015.

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