Stress is a mother fucker. We have all dealt with it at some point in our day to day routines, and more often than not, it never seems to go away. It’s there, making its presence known, lingering about, and for whatever weird reason it’s socially acceptable, almost an adult right of passage, to always feel stressed. Whether you are working your ass off at multiple jobs, consumed too much coffee, running on a major lack of sleep, or keeping small humans alive (bless you), you will be in a constant state of stress. Luckily, there are many tools we can utilize to help manage our stress. My goal is to show you ways diet can impact your stress levels positively and negatively, and how to harness the good ones and apply them to your daily routine.
Your Body In Stress Mode
Being human means you must adapt, and what 2019 stress looks like now compared to our ancestors is a world of difference. As times have changed we have evolved and so have our sources of stress.
Using Hunters and Gatherers as an example of what their stress experience would have been... They are all out there hunting (and probably gathering) and they happen upon a huge ass bear with cubs. The bear chases them to protect her cubs. You bet your ass those humans fight-or-flight just kicked in and are hauling ass away from that protective mama bear.
Our fight-or-flight response is a result of two hormones in the body kicking it into high gear in order for our body to protect itself. These hormones are cortisol and adrenaline.
Cortisol is created and secreted by your adrenal glands and can help control blood sugar levels, regulate metabolism, reduce inflammation, and assist in memory formation. It is also responsible for waking you up in the morning as cortisol naturally rises in the morning to get out of bed. It is also the hormone that is most often associated with stress.
Adrenaline is created in the adrenal glands and is the hormone responsible for triggering the fight-or-flight response. More oxygen and blood are sent into the muscles, the body’s ability to feel pain decreases and strength and performance improve for the stressful time.
These two major hormones are doing their job of keeping us safe and balanced. But now that it is 2019 we don’t have daily encounters with bears anymore. We feel different causes of stress that can seem like they are never ending.
This constant low level of stress is detrimental to our health. Chronic stress can result in damaged blood pressure and vessels, poor metabolism, depressed immune system, poor digestion, poor sleep, anxiety, depression, and so much more. We are living in a time where it is incredibly easy to constantly be stressed, we need to use every tool at our disposal to combat what we face everyday.
Your Diet Is A Cure
Stress, as you have seen it, causes a lot of chemical reactions in the body and these reactions deplete your body of essential vitamins and minerals like B Vitamins, Vitamin E, Vitamin C and Magnesium. These vitamins and minerals are sent out to fight inflammation and free radicals that are a direct result of the stress response in your body.
This is where and why a good diet full of these nutrients comes into play. A good and balanced diet can help combat the negative side effects of stress and lend your body more support as you endure stressful times.
So, what does it mean to eat in a way that reduces stress
When we look at getting healthier and changing habits to better manage stress (and life) we have to take a look at how we tackle two main factors.
The first, and one of the most crucial, is to remove processed foods from your diet. To know if a food is processed, ask yourself if you bought it in a package. These foods are usually high in calories, low in nutrients (meaning vitamins and minerals), and have a high amount of sugar. Therefore these foods are MAJOR triggers for inflammation and free radicals in your body.
If you’re trying to eliminate the side effects of stress in your body, then eating foods that add to the problem will do more harm than good.
Secondly, adding more nutrient dense foods into your diet. You need to replace the nutrients that stress naturally depletes and below I have listed the foods that give you the biggest bang for your buck and are foods that you should have in regular rotation of your diet.
Nutrients To Focus On & The Foods To Back Em’ Up
It is best to keep these foods in your diet regularly but when you are feeling an extra bit of stress or, for my ladies out there, having any type of PMS upping your intake of these foods will have benefits to reducing your stress levels. Here are my favorites and reasons why they should be yours too...
Magnesium is one major nutrient that is depleted by stress, but also helps manage stress, and spinach is one of the best sources of it. Low magnesium levels can trigger headaches and fatigue which can totally interrupt your day, making life more stressful. Catch it all before the headache and fatigue set in by having one large serving of spinach a day and maybe two/day during more stressful times. Magnesium also helps regulate blood pressure and cortisol levels, two key players in your stress management abilities.
RED BELL PEPPERS
Vitamin C has many benefits and an essential (meaning you need to eat it to get it) vitamin. When it comes to stress, Vitamin C has been linked to lowering blood pressure and helps with recovery from spikes in cortisol.
NUTS AND SEEDS
B Vitamins are a tricky bunch to master. There are a lot of them and they all do different things and you better believe that the stress response depletes your body of them too. Snacking on a variety of nuts throughout the day during particularly stressful bouts can be beneficial to both your stress levels and replenishing those B Vitamins.
FATTY FISH: SALMON, MACKEREL, HERRING, TROUT, OR SARDINES
Omega 3s and DHA are both essential nutrients that support healthy brain function. This type of fish is also full of magnesium (put it with spinach for a magnesium powerhouse). DHA and Omega 3s help reduce anxiety and depression, which is a big deal if you are suffering from anxiety induced stress.
Also full of magnesium and very helpful for stress levels. It also can help regulate the fight or flight response that consistent stress can have on the body. To get the best effects try aiming for 70% dark chocolate or higher. Anything lower won’t benefit your body because of the higher sugar content.
Herbs have long been used in a lot of different types of medicine. There is an herb remedy for just about anything you can think of. Most herbal teas don’t have caffeine (which has a negative impact on stress) and many have calming side effects. Herbal teas calming side effects are directed mostly to the digestive system which is directly connected to the nervous system. My favorite teas to brew are chamomile, licorice root, and raspberry leaf tea.
It’s important to note that we are all different and everything affects each of us differently. With that being said there is a very good chance that some of these foods won’t work for you. It is vital to experiment with things one at a time to find out what works best for you.
Remember to keep the foods that work for you in regular rotation throughout your diet.
Not sure if something works? Test it out (safely). Try eliminating each of the foods listed above and then add them back in one at a time and track what happens, how you feel, and if your stress levels improve.
When we are inundated with regular stress that we have to regularly work to manage it and diet is just one piece of the stress management puzzle. At the end of the day stress can have a impact on your health and your life. The most important thing that I hope you take from this is that you are in completely control over how stress effects you. You just need the right tools and methods to take control of your stress.