While stress is a healthy and normal response in certain situations, our cortisol levels spike for extended periods when we face chronic stress. In short bursts, cortisol can help ward off inflammation when necessary, but it can become an issue with adverse consequences when levels remain high. At one point or another, we all have experienced a chronic stress situation. Whether that be from routine stress related to school pressures, work, daily responsibilities, or stress caused by a sudden negative change, such as losing a job, divorce, or illness, living a modern, dynamic lifestyle with many commitments, to-do lists, and responsibilities can easily lead to chronic stress.
Coping with the chronic impact stress can play in our life is challenging. However, there are many ways we can manage and reduce stress levels — and food can be a significant ally (or our biggest enemy.) When our body is experiencing stress, it requires more energy, oxygen, and circulation. It also requires more of the building blocks – vitamins and minerals. The irony of stress is we often reach for calorie-dense comfort foods when we feel stressed — rather than nutritionally-dense foods our body needs.
The management of stress is a powerful tool for staying healthy. One of the most effective ways to manage stress and help our body restore homeostasis comes down to food choices. Food can cause our stress levels to go up or down, so as part of a healthy coping mechanism, it’s critical to pay attention to what we’re eating when we are feeling frazzled.
The good news is that a well-balanced and nutritious diet is a practical and delicious approach to help counter the impact of stress by stabilizing blood sugar, supporting the immune system, and lowering blood pressure.
Here are 6 top healthy food picks to help reduce stress and get you back to life refocused, refueled, and less overwhelmed:
1. Wild Salmon
The omega-3’s in salmon may be beneficial in reducing stress by combating cortisol. It contains nutrients known to promote brain health, including vitamin D and the omega-3 fatty acids DHA, and EPA. Both DHA and EPA help regulate the neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin, which positively and relax our mood. The omega-3 fatty acids in salmon promote healthy regulatory responses throughout the body, including the brain’s neuro-pathways and reducing surges in stress hormones produced. Lastly, salmon is a good source of Vitamin D. Vitamin D has a positive effect on improving serotonin levels in the brain, the calming neurotransmitter.
Avocado is one of my favorites and has impressive anti-stress and antioxidant properties like monounsaturated fatty acids, B Vitamins, and potassium. The primary fat in avocado is oleic acid – a monounsaturated fatty acid known to reduce inflammation and aid the brain in better absorption of serotonin, the hormone known as the “happiness” hormone. Also, avocados are high in B vitamins, helping nourish and maintain healthy nerves and brain cells. Avocados are also a great source of potassium. Potassium is a mineral, and an electrolyte essential for maintaining several physiological responses, including healthy blood pressure. A diet high in potassium has a beneficial effect on relieving stress and tension. So, spread it over some toast, or make your favorite guacamole.
Did you know that eating a handful of different nuts every day can reduce stress and anxiety? Stress leaves you open to sickness. Almonds, pistachios, cashew, and walnuts are rich in Vitamin E and a good source of minerals, particularly magnesium and zinc. Vitamin E, magnesium, and zinc can help boost our immune system. Like avocados, nuts are also a great source of B Vitamins to support our nerves and brain cells. Cashews and sunflower seeds also contain the amino acid tryptophan and a rich source of Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acids, which can help boost serotonin production and take the edge off a stressful day. So, grab a small handful, or sprinkle some on a plate of greens to give your salad a crunchy boost of nutrition.
4. Dark Chocolate
Chocolate lovers know that just a taste can cure all our ails — and the science backs it up! Research shows that eating a small amount of Dark Chocolate a day composed of 70% cacao, 30% organic cane sugar can positively affect stress levels, inflammation, mood, memory, and immunity. The compound in dark chocolate called anandamide boosts our mood and helps our body deal with stress better. Although dark chocolate contains less sugar than its milk counterpart, there are sugar-free options on the market. The Spa Dr.® Thalia Bars are a sugar-free, guilt-free bar with a decadent dark chocolate coating rich in antioxidant properties with a fiber-rich coconut filling.
Oats provide a triple threat to stress — containing B vitamins, magnesium, and fiber, all nutrients vital in reducing stress. Eating complex carbs increases serotonin production, and oats are among the best food sources for serotonin production. Serotonin can support a soothing feeling that helps you overcome stress. Studies have shown that eating oatmeal for breakfast can help you stay sharper throughout the morning. And beta-glucan, the soluble fiber found in oatmeal, has been shown to promote satiety. Oat also contains 18 different amino acids, which are essential to healthy skin! All varieties of oats are great, but I particularly love steel-cut because they’re minimally processed and stabilizes blood sugar better than other whole grains — a definite advantage for regulating mood.
Rich in stressing-busting magnesium and other nutrients such as vitamin B9 (folic acid) are both quickly exhausted during extended periods of increased cortisol secretion. Magnesium – which most people are low in – helps our body regulate healthy cortisol levels and blood pressure. Spinach is also a good source of vitamin B9, which helps stimulate dopamine production, a neurotransmitter in the brain that is referred to as the “pleasure and reward” hormone. All you need is one cup of spinach to start reaping the benefits. Are you looking for a delicious way to eat your greens? Try this “It’s Easy Being Green” smoothie recipe.
Reduce Stress With A Clean Mind And Body
Stress is a constant companion in our daily lives. But eating a well-balanced diet rich in anti-stress foods can improve our body’s ability to handle stress more productively. The foods we eat play a powerful role in how we manage stress (or don’t). Important advancements in research indicate a strong link between digestive health, the brain, and emotional well-being. Next time you’re feeling the pressure build — pay close attention to what you put on your plate.
Beyond what you put into your body, try other stress-busting techniques. These can include exercising regularly, incorporating mindful meditation, using massage, and practicing yoga. To learn more, read my blog on “Tips For a Positive Mindset and Stress Management.”
Stop overreacting to stress and reset your eating habits by providing your body with proper nutrition. The Spa Dr.® All-In-One 14 Day Cleanse is a comprehensive nutritional program to support a safe and effective transition by ridding the body of the toxins and providing a healthy dietary plan.
Want support on your journey? Learn which foods to eat to achieve a clean mind and body by going through The Spa Dr.’s® ‘Clean Skin From Within‘ 2-Week Program during your All-In-One 14 Day Cleanse.
I’d love to hear from you! What strategies have you found to help cope with stress? What’s worked and what hasn’t?