After a tough day, stress leaves us craving chocolate, potato chips, and other processed foods. Although comfort foods may provide momentary relief, the inevitable blood sugar crash leads to more emotional eating. We repeat this pattern over and over until eating becomes a go-to coping strategy for stress. If you want to look and feel better, try reaching for some real stress-busting foods.
A handful of nuts (particularly almonds, walnuts or pistachios) can give a boost of vitamins B and E, which support the immune system and stabilize mood. In a 2007 Penn State study, eating one and a half ounces of pistachios a day actually lowered blood pressure.
#2 Fatty Fish
Salmon, light tuna, and other fatty fish are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which can keep stress hormone levels steady, improve brain function, and elevate mood. Foods high in omega-3s can also protect against heart disease, a health problem commonly associated with chronic stress. If youâ��re not big on fish, buy foods fortified with DHA like eggs, soy products, yogurt, and milk.
Complex carbohydrates like steel-cut oatmeal (not the sugary kind) ensure a steady supply of the feel-good chemical serotonin in the brain. Since oatmeal is high in fiber, it takes longer to digest and keeps blood sugar stable over time, helping you feel calmer and more relaxed. â�¨Other great options are vegetables, beans, and whole grain products like brown rice, millet, whole grain bread, and wheat pasta.
#4 Dark Leafy Greens
Dark leafy vegetables such as spinach, kale, and Swiss chard are natureâ��s super foods. These veggies contain magnesium, B vitamins, and folic acid, which boost serotonin. Itâ��s common for women to be deficient in magnesium, so also stock up on grains, soybeans, and fish as well as sunflower and pumpkin seeds.
Avocados are packed with potassium, which studies show may reduce blood pressure. Other potassium-rich foods include bananas, corn, potatoes, and chicken.
Vitamin C, which can be found in oranges, brussels sprouts, berries as well as other fruits and vegetables, can stabilize blood pressure and stress hormone levels while boosting immune function.
Just as some foods can ease stress, some can make it worse. Try to moderate your intake of sugar, salt, caffeine, and alcohol, which can cause rapid spikes in blood sugar, contribute to high blood pressure, and make it difficult to get a good night’s sleep. In addition to stocking up on stress-busting foods, follow these general dietary guidelines to help combat stress:
Ã�Â¢Ã�Â�Ã�Â¢ Eat four or five small meals throughout the day rather than three big meals. This will help stabilize your blood sugar and give you more energy.
Ã�Â¢Ã�Â�Ã�Â¢ Strive for a balance of protein, carbohydrates, and fats each day so your body functions at its best.
Ã�Â¢Ã�Â�Ã�Â¢ Don’t diet or skip meals. Deprivation sends signals to the body to store fat as well as calories, and can lead to mood swings along with even more stress.
Ã�Â¢Ã�Â�Ã�Â¢ For many people, food is comfort. In addition to changing your diet, find other ways to soothe yourself, such as yoga or meditation.
Ã�Â¢Ã�Â�Ã�Â¢ If you’re eating well and following these guidelines but still struggle with chronic stress, talk to your doctor. You may have an underlying mental health issue that requires a different type of treatment.
Food really can change how we feel. That’s why we need to make better choices when it comes to what we eat. So next time you’re feeling stressed, opt for foods that will you give you a lasting physical and emotional boost rather than a momentary fix.
Images courtesy of Minx.com.au, Blogs.bodyandsoul.com.au
Dr. Carolyn Ross is an internationally known physician, author and speaker on addictions, obesity and eating disorders. She serves as a consultant to The Ranchâ��s eating disorder treatment program in Tennessee, maintains a private practice in Denver, is the author of The Binge Eating and Compulsive Overeating Workbook: An Integrated Approach to Overcoming Disordered Eating as well as The Joy of Eating Well and also hosts a weekly radio show, The Vital Life.