Foods that Beat Stress

Food Benefits - Fuel - Uncategorized

Foods that Beat Stress

May 18, 2015 //

Are you feeling a little frazzled? Stress is no joke– it can cause serious physical and emotional issues if left unchecked. If you are looking for ways to help get your stress under control, start by taking a look at what is on your plate. You can support your body’s natural response to tension by eating more of these stress-busting foods.

1. Oatmeal

One of the reasons that traditional “comfort foods” feel so good when we are stressed or blue is the high levels of carbohydrates. Complex carbohydrates help stimulate production of serotonin, a chemical in the body that acts as a neurotransmitter and influences mood. Instead of trying to beat stress by loading up on carbohydrates that might sabatoge your diet, get the same serotonin-producing effects with a complex carbohydrate from whole grains, like oatmeal. The added fiber will help you feel fuller longer, and prevent the blood sugar spike and crash that might come from less healthy carbs.

2. Milk

It turns out that a glass of warm milk may just be the answer to a good night’s sleep and reduced stress after all. A protein found in milk, lactium, appears to have a calming effect on the body by lowering levels of the stress hormone cortisol, and may also reduce blood pressure. Whatever temperature you want to take it, a glass of milk may be the perfect thing to calm you down at the end of a stressful day.

3. Nuts and Seeds

Almonds, cashews, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, and sunflower seeds are all rich sources of magnesium. Magnesium is an essential mineral that is involved in over 300 chemical reactions in the body and plays a major role in both your physical and mental wellbeing.

Chronic stress can deplete magnesium levels in the body. Chronic stress leads to excess cortisol production, which can damage the hippocampus area of the brain, leading to impaired negative feedback and ongoing stress and depression. Magnesium can regulate the stress response by preventing stress hormones from crossing the blood brain barrier. Unfortunately, chronic stress can also deplete the body’s natural levels of magnesium. A deficiency of magnesium increases your susceptibility to the damage caused by stress, and increased levels of magnesium can protect against it. To naturally increase your magnesium levels before, during, and after times of stress, eat plenty of nuts, seeds, dark leafy greens, legumes, and oatmeal.

4. Avocados

In addition to healthy fats that protect the brain, avocados are a great source of potassium. When the body experiences stress, it produces the stress hormone cortisol to restore balance. The effects of cortisol are experienced all over the body. One of the ways cortisol tries to regulate is by protecting sodium levels and accelerating the rate of potassium excretion in order to regulate the body’s pH. With chronic stress, however, continually elevating sodium levels and decreasing potassium can lead to high blood pressure. Avocados are a delicious and healthy way to naturally increase potassium and help reduce sodium that can lead to elevated blood pressure.

5. Salmon

Salmon, and other fatty fish like herring, trout, and sardines, are excellent sources of Omega-3 essential fatty acids. Omega-3s have been found to regulate mood by quieting inflammation in the body, and protecting neurons from the damage caused by chronic stress. Studies have found that Omega-3s can be effective at improving symptoms of depression, so eating plenty of Omega-rich fish like salmon can elevate your mood and protect against the physical damage of stress.

6. Blueberries

Tiny berries that pack a big antioxidant punch, blueberries can be a protective force from stress on a cellular level. The antioxidants in blueberres include vitamin C as well as specific phytonutrients like anthocyanin. Wild blueberries in particular have more antioxidant power than most other fruits and vegetables, and twice the antixoidant power of cultivated blueberries. Why are antioxidants important? They help to fight off the free radicals that cause oxidative stress within the cells of your body that can lead to illness, disease, and aging. Blueberries fight stress on the cellular level.

7. Green Tea

Green tea is also bursting with antioxidant protection, and contains specific compounds that help calm the body and the brain. One extract found in green tea is L-theanine, which has been shown to naturally calm and focus the brain, and help center a racing mind. Studies suggest that the L-theanine found in green tea can protect the brain from excess glutamate, a neurotransmitter. The antioxidant polyphenols in green tea, such as catechin flavonoids, are thought to be more powerful than vitamin C and E in halting oxidative stress, and responsible for reducing the damaging impact of stress on the brain.

8. Dark Chocolate

Chocolate lovers, rejoice! A little dark chocolate can be a good thing at the end of a stressful day. Eating dark chocolate has been shown to help reduce levels of cortisol and reduce anxiety. Chocolate can cause the release of certain neurotransmitters such as endorphins and opiates that help to reduce stress and improve mood. One of these neurotransmitters released by chocolate is phenylethylamine, the “love” chemical that leads to the feelings of excitement, alertness, and increased mood that is felt when you are in love. Theobromine is another chemical found in chocolate that can affect the nervous system, help reduce stress, and lead to mental and physical relaxation. Rounding up chocolate’s stress-busting benefits is a large array of antioxidants found in raw and dark chocolate.

To experience the best benefits of chocolate without sabotaging your diet, try a small amount of dark chocolate or raw chocolate, and avoid milk chocolate. Dark chocolate has less sugar, and more theobromine, magnesium and potassium than milk chocolate.

Stress is a part of your survival system that can kick in your fight-or-flight response, and boost immune function to help healing. Unfortunately, the stress that you experience today is more likely to be a chronic and long-lasting stress than a running-away-from-a-hungry-predator stress that your ancestors needed to survive. This chronic and long-term stress can lead to major physical and mental problems if left unchecked.

Eating a diet rich in whole goods, like the ones mentioned above, can help keep your levels of stress-busting nutrients at the proper levels. Exercise and deep breathing can also help you to keep the damaging effects of stress at bay. If a stressful day is getting you down, grab a glass of milk or cup of hot tea, a handful of nuts, and a piece of dark chocolate to help you relax and unwind. You can eat to beat stress!


Melissa Zimmerman

Melissa Zimmerman is a freelance writer specializing in health and nutrition writing. A California native living in Central Oregon, Melissa enjoys the outdoor adventures and beauty of the Pacific Northwest. When she is not kayaking on the river, you can find her in a yoga studio or practicing asanas outdoors. Melissa is a big believer in the power of yoga and healthy food to radically improve anyone's quality of life.

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