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Stress and Nutrition: What to Include, What to Avoid

We all deal with stress throughout our lives.  It affects us in different ways, at different times, and our ability to cope with it varies from person to person and even from incident to incident.  There are times when a bad grade or lackluster work project causes anguish.  Sometimes it is an issue in our relationships or a hiccup in our health.  There is no right or wrong thing to stress out about. 

It is an issue most people can relate to.  Luckily, there are many ways to combat stress, including nutrition.  Food nourishes us and heals us, but it can also help buffer — or in some cases prevent stress from occurring.  

A high number of neurotransmitters, the messengers that send signals (including feelings and emotions) from cells throughout the body are produced in the gut.  A disruption in the transmission of these messages can lead to a decrease/increase in certain emotions such as happiness, fear, or anxiety.  And since food is processed in the gut, it is not surprising that the foods we eat can ultimately play a role in our ability to handle stress.  There are foods that can boost the efficacy in how these neurotransmitters work, and there are foods that can compromise the ability of transmitting signals properly.  And when dealing with stress, you are dealing with an array of emotions and feelings, so ensuring the body is handling those emotions optimally is very important. 

Ready to learn which foods can help in reducing stress and which to avoid?  Check out the list below to get started.

Helps reduce stress:

  • Tryptophan-an amino acid that your body converts into serotonin, the neurotransmitter that regulates happiness and anxiety. It can be found in turkey, almonds, seeds, fish, oats, beans, and eggs.
  • Vitamin C-lowers cortisol (one of the stress hormones).  Foods rich in vitamin C include citrus, red peppers, strawberries, mangoes, tomatoes, spinach, kale, papaya, and kiwi.
  • Magnesium-acts as a precursor for neurotransmitters, like serotonin. It also helps regulate emotions and enhance well-being, not to mention relax muscles thereby releasing tension that sometimes accompanies stressful situations.  Sources of magnesium include spinach, almonds, avocados, pumpkin seeds, chard, bananas, and fish.
  • Folate-increases the production of serotonin and dopamine.  Folate can be found in spinach, avocados, chickpeas, asparagus, liver, and pinto beans.
  • Anthocyanins-a type of antioxidant that aids the brain in the production of dopamine.  Products containing anthocyanins include blueberries, blackberries, eggplant, concord grapes, red cabbage, and blue corn.
  • Gingerol-regulates cortisol levels, increases energy, and reduces inflammation. Not surprising, gingerol is found in ginger.
  • Probiotics-helps regulate gut health. Unhealthy gut flora can have a negative impact on brain health and mood, leading to anxiety and depression.  Beneficial bacteria have a direct effect on brain chemistry, transmitting mood-and behavior-regulating signals to your brain.  Found in fermented foods like sauerkraut, kefir, kimchi, yogurt, and kombucha.
  • Omega-3 Fatty Acids-may play a role in reducing anxiety and inflammation.  They are prominent in flaxseed oil, chia seeds, fatty fish, and walnuts.

Limit of avoid the following:

  • Sugar-sugar consumption triggers chemical reactions in your body that promote chronic inflammation, which in turn puts stress on your immune system.
  • Gluten- gluten inhibits production of serotonin (the happy neurotransmitter) for those with sensitivity or allergies to gluten.
  • Artificial everything (colors, flavors, preservatives, etc.)-linked to irritability and poor mood, which can trigger emotional stress.
  • Dairy- lactose can cause oxidative stress and chronic inflammation when consumed in larger doses than the body can tolerate.  It is estimated that 65% of the overall human population has some degree of intolerance to dairy.   

Bottom line: eating a certain food or nutrient doesn’t automatically get rid of stress, however incorporating certain nutrients into a regular diet can strengthen the body’s defenses so that when a stressful situation occurs, the body is well-equipped to handle it.  Similarly to how you can’t eat one salad and expect optimal health overnight, you cannot consume a turkey sandwich and expect bliss for the rest of the day.  It’s not that easy but by regularly consuming these nutrients, the chances of handling stress more effectively increase.  

– Progress, Not Perfection –








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