If you have been stressed out recently, you are likely not alone. With the current COVID-19 crisis and resurgence in some areas, political unrest and overall uncertainty of what’s to come over the next few months, stress is perhaps the number one health issue many people are facing. Strategies to reduce or even manage stress come in many forms, from medication to meditation. A somewhat overlooked tool to combat stress is the food and drink we put in our body – and no, we’re not just talking comfort food. Read more to learn how nutrition can be used to reduce stress during turbulent times.
Scientists are just beginning to understand the link between body and mind. The mind can affect physiology of the body and vice-versa. For instance, gut health has been shown to be intrinsically linked to brain health (close to 90% of chemicals used in the brain to stabilize mood are created in the gut), which makes the food we consume incredibly important in supporting emotional wellbeing. Stress, especially in the chronic form, can cause ongoing inflammation in the body. Over time, high levels of inflammation can lead to diseases including cancer, heart disease, diabetes and Alzheimer’s. Diet can also contribute to inflammation, most notably a diet high in processed food and low-quality meats.
Nutrition can often be the source of additional stress on the body, but it can also be a tool in reducing stress – both physiological and emotional (like we said, both are linked). Eating foods that are fermented like kimchi and pickles, or taking a high-quality probiotic supplement, can help support gut health. Omega-3 fats found in fatty fish help increase serotonin, the mood-boosting hormone. Consuming foods like onions, garlic, ginger and turmeric help reduce inflammation in the body (and mind), and cooking with olive oil and dark-colored vegetables can reduce oxidative stress.
Supplements like magnesium and vitamin C have been shown to lower levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) and improve sleep. Teas are also beneficial in reducing stress, not only due to their soothing taste. Compounds found in chamomile, mint barley and passionflower teas help relieve stress-induced symptoms, support gastrointestinal health, and reduce anxiety.
So…what about comfort food? Giving yourself a break to indulge in a treat to reduce stress after a long day isn’t necessarily bad. In fact, it’s sometimes more beneficial to build in opportunities to “cheat” in order to maintain a long-time nutrition plan. However, too much of a good thing isn’t great. Use “cheat” meals to keep consistent and motivated to maintain healthy habits, not to binge every time you feel stressed. Instead, pack your nutrition plan with calming foods to reduce physiological stress, and in-turn, support mental wellbeing.
Using the power of nutrition, along with other stress-reducing practices like meditation, breathing exercises, staying active, getting sunshine and maintaining [safe] social contact can all contribute to a general sense of wellbeing and help manage period of stress.
Curious about how to best optimize your nutrition plan? Give our Nutrition Coaches a call today! (Note: This article is not intended to diagnose or prescribe mental health care. if you are feeling episodes of extreme sadness, anxiety or unease for a prolonged amount of time, contact a health care professional for professional guidance.)