Chew On This
Good Nutrition is Effective in Combatting Stress
Stress is an inevitable part of life, especially during the holidays. With a healthy diet and proper nutrition, however, you can mitigate the negative impact stress can have on your overall health.
If you are not experiencing some sort of stress in your life, then you are probably dead. Between everything you have going on in your life – work, family and all other obligations – excessive worry and anxiety can wreak havoc on your overall health and well-being. During times of stress, it is easy to resort to unhealthy eating habits, relying on too much sugar and caffeine to get through the tough times. However, that just perpetuates a vicious cycle, as poor food choices create more stress in your life and in your body. It is even more critical to be aware of this as the holidays approach. This is the time of year when our stress load seems to increase, and all of the extra sugary goodies within arm’s reach are not necessarily good for what ails you.
You can develop a broad range of stress-induced habits, many of which you may not even be aware. If you burn the candle at both ends (and during the holidays, many of us do!), you may find yourself consuming copious amounts of coffee to keep yourself going. You may also indulge in all of the wrong foods, as when we are stressed our bodies increase the levels of cortisol (the stress hormone), causing us to reach for foods high in fat, sugar and salt. So, if you are craving chips, ice cream or just junk food in general, you may want to re-think your snack choices.
Further, skipping meals is often associated with stress. When juggling multiple tasks simultaneously, eating a healthy meal is probably not on your list of priorities. You may skip breakfast in favor of getting out the door earlier or you may grab a burger and fries on the run for lunch. To top it off, you may reach for another cup of coffee or even a soda to wash it all down. Drinking sufficient amounts of water throughout the day is one important way to keep your stress levels in check.
Now on to the nitty gritty. Do you know how these bad habits can impact your health? When you don’t eat enough, or if you sacrifice good nutrition for a quick unhealthy snack, you may experience fluctuations in your blood sugar. This translates to mood swings, irritability, fatigue and poor concentration. You are also at risk for lowered immunity, thereby subjecting yourself to increased risk of illness or infection.
Before you become even more stressed just reading this, you can take comfort in knowing there are simple ways to ensure better nutrition that even the busiest lifestyles can enjoy. Welcome to the stress management diet. There are foods that can tame the stress beast, and these include something as simple and nutritious as a bowl of warm oatmeal to start your day. Oatmeal is known for boosting levels of serotonin, a chemical in our brains that produces a sense of calm. If you want to make more serotonin, aim for consuming a steady supply of complex carbs, as these take longer to digest. Think: whole grain breads, breakfast cereals and pasta. Complex carbs also serve to stabilize blood sugar levels.
Instead of reaching for a mid-day candy bar, consider grabbing an orange. Stocked with vitamin C, an orange can keep stress hormones at bay while also strengthening your immune system. If you are faced with a stressful task this holiday season (making Thanksgiving dinner for the family?), take some vitamin C beforehand, as this has been shown to keep blood pressure and cortisol levels in check.
Popeye was onto something when he fueled up on spinach. Loaded with magnesium, just one cup of spinach – or most any green leafy vegetable – can ward off headaches and fatigue, both of which just compound the effects of stress. Other magnesium-rich foods include cooked soybeans and fillet of salmon. Drinking black tea may aid in quick recovery from stress, as well, lowering cortisol levels after stressful situations.
With holiday parties aplenty this season, reach for the nuts, a source of healthy fats. Pistachios, walnuts and almonds can help to reduce cholesterol, ease inflammation and protect you against diabetes, as well as help fight off the negative effects of stress. However, because they are high in calories, eat nuts in moderation. Chips and dips are always a holiday favorite, but if you are craving a high-fat treat, go for a high-in-potassium avocado. And if you have to have a couple of chips, dip them in smidge of guacamole. Because they are high in fat and calories, moderation is again key.
If a party platter involves raw veggies, you have reason to celebrate, as crunchy raw vegetables work the moment you begin eating them. Just the munching action alone helps to release a clenched jaw which can ward off tension. At bedtime, consider a glass of warm milk, which has been known to ease anxiety and mood swings. Opt for skim or low-fat versions.
Most important is the fuel for your brain. It has been said it is not the stress that kills us but our reaction to it. That is definitely food for thought. So, instead of grabbing another piece of pizza, aim for peace of mind.