Stress is a part of our lives, whether we like it or not. The truth is not all stress is bad. For example, when we exercise, we stress our bodies to get stronger and perform better. Stress can push us forward, but too much stress is not good for your body or your mind.
When you start looking at ways to reduce your chronic stress levels, you probably focus on how much work you are doing, what your daily responsibilities are, and whether or not you practice good self-care. These are all very important, but don’t forget about a simple choice you make every day that could be impacting your stress … your diet.
Some foods can increase stress, while others help to reduce it. In fact, your diet has a much larger impact on your stress levels than you might expect, and your stress can determine what your food choices end up being. This can turn into a negative cycle of high stress levels and poor nutritional choices. The solution begins with focusing on proper nutrition to sustain and fuel your body throughout the day.
The first thing that can happen if you have a poor diet is that your body may be experiencing nutritional deficiencies. These deficiencies can affect not just your physical health, but your emotional health as well. It’s a good idea to focus on nutrient dense foods because stress can deplete your absorption of vitamins and minerals from the foods you eat. Aging also has an affect on how well we absorb nutrients from foods.
For example, did you know that folate affects your mood and being deficient in folate may lead to more depression? You get folate from foods like eggs, asparagus, spinach, and avocado.
Some other nutrients you need to help balance your mood and fight stress naturally are:
Omega 3 fatty acids – Healthy fats are still important! You can get your fatty acids from healthy sources of fats like salmon, tuna, walnuts, and olive oil.
Vitamin D – Do you know why you feel more energized and happier during sunny days? It is the vitamin D from the sun’s UV rays. If you live somewhere that is cloudy and rainy a lot, or it is the winter where there isn’t much sun, you will need to supplement vitamin D through your food. You can get it from foods like fatty fish, eggs, dairy, and fortified cereal.
Fiber – For more fiber, eating more fruit, vegetables and whole grains is usually a good place to start.
Calcium – While many people get their calcium from dairy and yogurt, you might be someone who isn’t able to tolerate dairy or someone who chooses not to eat dairy. In this case, you can get calcium from foods such almonds, sesame seeds, tofu, tempeh and kale. Yes kale! Kale is a power-house green that won’t inhibit your body’s absorption of calcium like spinach. Note: Don’t avoid spinach though. Definitely mix things up!
Iron – You also want to make sure you have enough iron in your diet. Iron can help with your mental health and help balance your energy levels. Get iron from red meat, turkey, some nuts and seeds like pumpkin seeds and almonds, broccoli, and dark chocolate (you read that right!).
Protein – You get protein from many of these same foods, including meat, poultry and fish, dairy, cheese, eggs, and nuts.
Feeding Emotions with Unhealthy Foods
Another link between stress and nutrition is that many often deal with stress and emotions with food. The problem here is that many probably go for the more unhealthy nutritional choices … which are actually not nutritious at all. Using food to deal with a bad day or a bad experience can be an occasional occurrence.
However, using food as a way to deal with chronic stress can become a problem. You might overeat, choose unhealthy foods, and even suffer from malnutrition because you aren’t getting enough vitamins and minerals from good wholesome, healthy foods.
Unhealthy Habits from Stress
Having too much negative stress in your life can contribute to other unhealthy habits such as overeating and eating the wrong foods, not getting enough exercise, sleeping too much (or not enough), drinking too much alcohol, smoking, or doing drugs. Stress can make these things worse, but these things can also exacerbate your stress levels.
The Cycle Continues
This is a vicious cycle that is very hard to get out of. Once you start leaning on unhealthy habits to deal with your stress, you feel that temporarily it is helping. It’s a false belief that can only hurt your physical and mental health and wellbeing in the long-term. The best thing you can do is recognize this cycle and take steps to stop it now, start eating right, and look for healthier ways to manage your stress.
Don’t feel like you can never emotionally eat. I mean when we celebrate milestones or hang out with friends, there’s almost always food and drink involved, right? We just need to make sure we don’t rely only on managing our stress levels with unhealthy food.
Healthier habits to incorporate can be connecting with friends and family, taking up a hobby, getting outside, playing with your dog, or getting in a more exercise.
Your body and mind will thank you.
Yours in health and wellness,
Francine Alleyne (RHNP™)
Holistic Nutritionist, Registered Holistic Nutrition Practitioner™
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DISCLAIMER: Please consult your healthcare practitioner if you are experiencing any symptoms. I am not a doctor. This post and anything else you find on my website is intended for informational, educational and self-empowerment purposes ONLY and is not intended to treat or diagnose any condition or disease.