Stress: it’s hard to avoid, especially with how our modern lives have evolved. We have instant access to the internet from the palm of our hand, which also means it can be hard to disconnect from the daily grind, including work emails, text messages, social media, etc.
All of this, coupled with our busy day-to-day lives (whether it be our jobs, family life, school, dating, etc.) can send us spiraling.
Stress can affect all aspects of our lives. Not being able to control our stress can affect our CHI (physical, emotional, and spiritual energy).
It can wear us down, leave us drained, cause us to feel less ambitious, and affect our mental health.
There are several things you can do to help combat your stress levels (getting adequate rest and meditation to name a few).
But what about food? What we eat doesn’t just affect our physical health. Research shows that eating the right kinds of foods can also improve and support our mental health. Food is medicine.
FIGHT STRESS WITH FOOD
Ever heard of “stress eating,” or emotional eating? Maybe you do it, maybe you don’t. Research shows that women tend to engage in this coping mechanism more than men.
This type of behavior can trainwreck our health goals fast.
But what if I said that using food as a way to deal with stress doesn’t have to be a bad thing. No, I’m not talking about “eating our feelings,” and throwing inhibition to the wind.
I’m talking about eating different foods to help combat stress, through supplying your body and mind with important nutrients and minerals that can both lower the stress hormone and support your mood.
WHAT FOOD CAN DO FOR STRESS
As our stress levels rise, our adrenal glands release the hormone cortisol. This hormone is often referred to as the “stress hormone.”
But cortisol doesn’t just play a role in our stress mechanism, it can also affect:
- Our sleep-wake cycle
- How we process and use macronutrients
- Blood pressure
- And more
Additionally, extremely high cortisol levels can also cause conditions like type 2 diabetes and even impair brain function.
That said, low cortisol levels also aren’t a good thing, either. Low levels of the stress hormone can cause Addison’s disease (adrenal insufficiency), and symptoms of this condition include fatigue, changes in mood, low blood pressure, and more.
Here’s the good news, though: consuming certain types of foods can actually help in keeping cortisol levels stable.
That’s right, choosing the right foods can help you manage the stress hormone. What we eat consume and DON’T consume really does play a role in increasing our mood and life energy.
WHICH FOODS CAN HELP SUPPORT STRESS LEVELS?
Let’s run through what kinds of foods you should throw into your eating regimen to help you combat your stress by either helping stabilize cortisol levels or affecting other aspects of emotional health:
Dark chocolate isn’t just good for helping to try and treat diabetes, research shows that it can also help with cortisol levels.
Research indicates that 1.4 ounces of dark chocolate consumed each day for 2 weeks was able to lower cortisol levels.
Next time you’re feeling stressed out, maybe incorporate some sugar-free dark chocolate into your diet, like some tasty chocolate sweetened with monk fruit.
Low-Caffeine Green tea
High caffeine amounts can actually worsen stress. Green tea contains caffeine, so you may be thinking, “wait, what?”
Green tea with lower caffeine amounts has been looked at for its effects on stress. A double-blind crossover study shows “ reduction of caffeine in green tea is beneficial for reducing stress.”
Reach for some low-caffeine green tea the next time you’re feeling stressed out!
Our gut health definitely plays a role in our mental health, which is why authorities sometimes refer to our gut health as our “second brain.” That’s why it’s super important to balance your gut with good bacteria and pre- and probiotics.
For probiotic-rich foods, look for kimchi or sauerkraut, and other fermented vegetables.
Wild Caught Alaskan Salmon
Omega-3 fats EPA and DHA from animal sources, like wild-caught Alaskan salmon, have a positive effect on our emotional life energy. Research shows that omega 3s can help with anxiety.
These fats support brain health and cardiovascular health, too.
Green Leafy Vegetables
Green leafy vegetables that contain folate (spinach, Swiss chard, etc.) can help produce mood-regulating neurotransmitters, like serotonin and dopamine.
In addition to folate, Avocados also contain B vitamins. These vitamins are often used to help support mood and reduce stress.
Other than its stress and mood-boosting benefits, avocados can help with high blood pressure because they are packed in monounsaturated fats and potassium.
WHICH FOODS SHOULD I AVOID?
On the flip side, certain types of foods can worsen your stress and mood. Which ones?
No surprises here: sugar can wreak havoc in a couple ways. The first is sugar consumption can cause blood sugar spikes and throw your mood off.
Second, sugar can get in the way of brain-derived neurotrophic factor, also known as BDNF. BDNF is a protein that helps regulate the stress response in our bodies.
Simply put, a diet high in “processed and unhealthy foods was associated with increased anxiety.”
High Amounts of Caffeine
Yes, caffeine can help improve your energy. But research reveals that consuming caffeine can increase your stress levels.
We all battle through stress, and we all deal with it in our own ways. Taking time to relax, unwind, and instead of “emotional eating” or turning to foods to drown your feelings, using food as medicine can be great tools to help you support and alleviate stress and balance your mood.
It’s important to note, though, that you should avoid certain foods and substances as well if you want to maximize your effects on stress management.