6 Simple Ways to Decrease Stress with Food
So that you and your family can thrive in a stress-free environment
When it comes to stress, we are always advised to slow down, take on yoga, or start meditating. Having said that, we can lower our stress level and increase our vitality by simply changing the way we eat.
If you think about it, we have to eat every day, 3 or more times a day, so why not starting to make some changes to something that we were already going to do?
As a mother and a worker, I find it quite difficult to schedule in time to go to a yoga class on a weekly basis (simply because I don’t prioritise it), and my meditation practice can oscillate wildly depending on my child’s mood; yet, I need to factor in time to cook a nourishing meal, every day without fail.
Adrenaline is produced during times of intense stress. That gives you a burst of energy, but your blood sugar level drops after the crisis is past. Sustaining food is needed to replenish it. Certain foods increase the physical stress on your body by making digestion more difficult, or by denying the brain essential nutrients. With a sensible diet, it’s possible to reduce the effects of stress, avoid some common problems, and protect your health.
Curious about how you can decrease your stress level and improve the happiness and health of your family?
Start by Eating Mindfully
We read it everywhere; eat mindfully, but why?
When we eat in a stressful state (or environment), our body doesn’t prepare for digestion and absorption of nutrients and it does, instead, send all the oxygen and blood to the muscles, thinking we are about to run away from danger. If we allow our body and mind to sit still before the first mouthful, and we aim to chew every bite at least 5 times before swallowing, we’ll give space to our digestive enzymes to work, and we will avoid bloating, cramping, reflux and lack of energy after consuming a meal.
Never skip a meal
Restricting your caloric intake will be perceived as stressful to your body, as it won’t receive the necessary nutrients to keep up the energy and to fight any illness it may come across. If you’re feeling very anxious, it might well be because you have allowed your blood sugar to drop. Something as simple as eating a meal can help to boost it back up and significantly improve your mood again. Our moods are tied extremely closely to what we eat, due to the link between our blood sugar and the release of cortisol and serotonin (the stress and feel good hormones respectively!).
When under stress, the need for nutrients is much greater as their excretion is increased, and absorption compromised, and this can lead to nutritional deficiencies.
During stressful times, it is of the uttermost importance to prioritise a whole foods diet, with an emphasis on organic produce, and to follow the tips below:
• Eat five to six servings of vegetables each day; you can also add them through soups and juices.
• Aim to have 3 meals per day with a balanced ratio of carbohydrates (sweet potatoes, brown rice, etc), good fats (avocado, olive oil, ghee), and high-quality protein (organic, grass-fed beef, eggs, wild-caught salmon, GMO-free tofu and tempeh, lentils).
• Have at least 2 snacks every day (nuts, hummus, and black rice crackers, vegetable sticks, 2 pieces of fruits or a protein ball) to keep the blood sugar level in balance.
• Enjoy foods rich in Magnesium (green leafy vegetables, raw cacao, pumpkin seeds, avocado, and almonds) and Tryptophan (salmon, spinach, eggs, seeds, nuts, etc.), which is the precursor for serotonin. Magnesium is the ultimate chillax nutrient, and it is used during times of stress and is essential for a healthy nervous system.
• Consume foods rich in vitamin C (broccoli, strawberries, pineapple, Brussel sprouts, oranges, and kale), as it improves iron absorption, and it supports our adrenal glands and immune system, especially during stressful periods.
• Take a B complex, as B vitamins are necessary when experiencing stress and fatigue; they can also be found in foods such as chicken, turkey, tuna, sunflower seeds, banana, and mushrooms.
• Drink filtered water, loads of it
Eliminate inflammatory foods, foods you are intolerant to, refined sugar and processed carbs, especially when they exacerbate the symptoms and cause digestive issues or lead to increased anxiety.
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Kick the caffeine
This includes coffee, black tea, chai, chocolate, and energy drinks. Caffeine exhausts and depletes the adrenal glands and increases the level of anxiety.
If you aren’t ready to get rid of coffees, bear in mind that caffeine limits vary widely, but it is better not to exceed 200 mg of caffeine per day. It can be found in 2 small Lattes or 1 Long Black, or 4 cups of black tea. Be also mindful that caffeine is found in cola, chocolate, medications, and many different pre-packaged foods (read the labels).
Caffeine act as a diuretic momentarily increases the level of cortisol, leaches calcium out of the system, and it can deplete the body even further.
If you must, enjoy your cup in the morning after 10 am, always followed by water and some food.
A Word on Alcohol
Many people believe that having an alcoholic drink will help them feel more relaxed. However, if you’re experiencing anxiety drinking alcohol could be making things worse.
Alcohol acts as a sedative, so it can help you feel more at ease. However, this benefit is short-lived. When we drink alcohol it disrupts the balance of chemicals and processes in the brain. The relaxed feeling you experience when you have your first drink is due to the chemical changes alcohol causes in your brain. The alcohol starts to depress the part of the brain that we associate with inhibition (NHS 2017).
But these effects wear off fast and pleasant feelings fade.
A likely side-effect of this is that the more you drink the greater your tolerance for alcohol will be. Over time you may need to drink more alcohol to get the same feeling. In the long term, this pattern of drinking may affect your mental health (NHS 2017).