Good Nutrition: Can It Help You Combat Stress?

man eating

Stress is a common experience among adults. Across the United States, a poll conducted by Gallup found that 55 percent of all American adults admitted that they are stressed “a lot of the days,”  making the population one of the most stressed in the world.

There are numerous reasons why Americans are stressed. Money is still a common source of stress as wages remain stagnant while living costs continue to soar. An increasing number of people have fears about job stability.

The pandemic also exacerbated levels of stress among the American public. The lockdowns, social distancing, mass unemployment, economic downturn, and worries over health caused more people to experience stress.

The Physical Health Toll of Stress

Stress is a health problem because it affects the body in a lot of ways. The presence of cortisol, the stress hormone responsible for the fight-or-flight reaction, reduces inflammation which helps the body fight infections. However, long term, the body gets used to high cortisol levels, a condition that causes more inflammation. Stress also raises blood pressure, leading to hypertension and increasing the risk of a heart attack or stroke. Moreover, stress has been linked to a number of chronic diseases, including back pain, headaches, irritable bowel syndrome, ulcers, arrhythmia, high blood sugar, and diabetes.

For the sake of your own health, you should learn to manage and reduce stress to prevent it from becoming chronic and from leading to the development of various health conditions. One thing that you can do to fight stress is through food.

The Relationship Between Stress and Food

stressed man

Stress, however, can make people crave unhealthy food and create binge-eating habits. It is a common concern that, due to stress, people tend to choose comfort food, which is often high in fat and processed sugar. Your body releases hormones that boost your appetite for fatty and sugary treats as a response to stress. According to research, consuming food high in fat and sugar content counteracts stress. Thus, pizza, fried chicken, ice cream, cake, burgers, and other unhealthy food give temporary comfort from stress. That makes your body want to eat more.

However, eventually, unhealthy eating habits cause more stress. Food high in sugar and fat can give a boost of energy, but it will cause you to crash, or drain your energy, a few hours later. It also leads to weight gain.

Healthy Body and Mind

Stress makes your body want unhealthy meals. However, your body needs nutrients to regain the energy to help you cope with a stressful day.

However, people who are stressed might not have the opportunity to prepare nutritious meals. Experts recommend meal planning, a practice where you decide the food you will eat ahead of time to ensure that you are getting all the nutrients you need. Others, however, may prefer the quick results from hydration drips which aim to replenish the vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants in your body.

Certain types of food have been found to reduce stress and counter its adverse effects on the body.

For example, avocados and fatty fishes such as salmon, halibut, herring, and tuna provide omega-3 fatty acids known to combat stress and improve mood. Meanwhile, nuts contain a chock-full of B vitamins, known to lower blood pressure levels and reduce stress. Pistachios, in particular, have been proven to play a role in stress relief. Probiotics from yogurt, kefir, kombucha, miso, kimchi, sauerkraut, and other fermented food create a healthy gut microbiota. Previous studies found a link between the bacteria found in your gut and better overall mental health.

In addition, drinking herbal teas calms the body and mind without the caffeine jitters. Drinking a warm cup of lavender or chamomile tea will relax you after a stressful day.

Find Other Ways to Manage Stress

However, food should only be one step of a routine that will lead to better stress management in the long run. It would help if you incorporated other strategies into your everyday life, such as getting at least seven hours of quality sleep every night and exercising regularly. Experts also recommend taking up meditation and deep breathing exercises, which have been proven to calm down and become more resilient to stressors.

It would be best if you also considered seeking counseling from a mental health professional. Stress can feel isolating. It helps to talk about your fears and worries with a non-judgmental listener.

Many adults experience stress regularly, which puts their health at risk. However, stress should not be a common problem. There are ways to fight it and counter its adverse effects on the body and mind.

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