Stress is an inevitable part of life, but how we manage it can make all the difference in our mental and physical health. While there are many ways to reduce stress, such as meditation and exercising, we often overlook the role that food plays in our stress levels. Our diets can either exacerbate or alleviate stress, depending on what foods we consume.
Let’s explore how different foods affect our stress levels and how a healthy diet can positively impact our mental health.
Foods that May Cause Stress
Processed foods are notoriously unhealthy and linked to a plethora of health problems, including stress. These foods are often high in sugar, refined carbs, and unhealthy fats, which can increase inflammation in the body and impair our brain’s ability to regulate stress. To reduce stress, it’s essential to limit processed foods in our diets and opt for whole, natural foods.
Sugar and Refined Carbs
Sugar is a simple carbohydrate that triggers a release of dopamine in our brains—giving us a temporary feeling of pleasure and energy. However, this pleasure is short-lived, and the crash that follows can make us feel more stressed and anxious.
Refined carbs, such as white bread, pasta, and rice can cause a spike in blood sugar that can lead to mood swings and irritability. To maintain stable blood sugar and reduce stress, it’s vital to consume complex carbs, such as whole grains and fruits/vegetables instead of refined varieties.
High Fat and High Sodium Foods
Foods that are high in saturated and trans fats, such as burgers and fried foods, can negatively impact our mood and stress levels. Eating foods that are high in fat can hinder digestion—causing us to feel sluggish and irritable. Additionally, consuming excessive amounts of sodium can cause dehydration which may lead to an increase in stress levels and impair cognitive function.
Indulging in Comfort Foods
When we are stressed, we often resort to comfort foods to help us relax. Comfort foods, such as pizza and chocolate, can provide temporary relief, but they can also cause a sugar crash and lead to feelings of guilt.
Nutrients and Antioxidants in Whole Foods That Help Alleviate Stress
Consuming whole, natural foods can help combat stress by providing our bodies with nutrients and antioxidants that help our bodies manage stress better. Antioxidants, such as vitamin C, can reduce inflammation in the body, while vitamins B and D can help regulate mood and cognitive function. By incorporating a variety of fruits, vegetables, and high-quality meats, we can provide our bodies naturally with the necessary vitamins and nutrients to combat stress.
Fiber and Omega-3 Fatty acids
Fiber-rich foods such as whole grains and fruits can regulate digestion and blood sugar levels, reducing the onset of rapid mood swings and decreasing levels of anxiety.
Omega-3 fatty acids found in fatty fish, nuts, and seeds have anxiolytic effects on the brain by decreasing inflammation, reducing oxidative stress, and improving mental clarity. These can help alleviate the effects of anxiety and depression.
Ultimately, our diets do make a difference in reducing or increasing stress levels. But if we focus on a healthier, whole-food diet, we can lead healthier, less-stressed lives.