Your life is already stressed enough without having to worry about what goes into your mouth. However, what you eat — and how you eat it — can contribute significantly to your ability to cope with stress. Eating the wrong things or eating at the wrong times can add to your stress level. Not to worry. Help is here.
If you’re like most people, your dietary habits are probably less than perfect. Your eating is probably a hit-and-miss affair — inconsistent, rushed, and tailored to meet your busy schedule.
Feed your brain to decrease stress
In recent years, a lot of attention has been paid to the relationship between food and mood — what you eat and how you feel. Researchers now have a better idea of how different foods affect your psychological states and how food can increase or decrease the stress in your life.
One of the major biochemical elements involved in your stress experience is something called serotonin. Serotonin is a naturally occurring chemical neurotransmitter in your brain. Changing serotonin levels can dramatically change the way you feel. Antidepressant medication like Prozac, Paxil, and Zoloft can alter the amount of serotonin in your brain, which can alter your mood and affect how you cope with a potential stress.
The foods you eat can also change the serotonin levels in your brain. Your diet is an important way of regulating your serotonin levels. Putting the right stuff on your plate means you have a better chance of giving your brain what it needs.
Choose low-stress foods
The following are some specific food guidelines that can help you choose foods to lower your stress and help your body cope with stress:
Include some complex carbohydrates in every meal. Complex carbohydrates, such as pasta, cereals, potatoes, and brown rice, can enhance your performance when under stress. Foods rich in carbohydrates can increase the levels of serotonin in the brain, making you feel better. Too many complex carbohydrates, however, are not the best thing for you. Remember: Moderation.
Reduce your intake of simple carbohydrates. Sweetened, sugary foods — simple carbohydrates, like soda and candy — can make you feel better in the short run but worse in the long run.
Eat adequate amounts of protein. This means eating more fish, chicken, and other lean meats. Foods high in protein enhance mental functioning and supply essential amino acids that can help repair damage to your body’s cells. Should your dietary preferences take a vegetarian direction, look to beans, nuts, and seeds (garbanzo beans, pinto beans, soybeans, tofu, and lentils), dairy (yogurt and cottage cheese), eggs, and fruits and vegetables (avocados, broccoli, and spinach) to meet this source.
Eat your vegetables. Beans, peppers, carrots, squash, and dark-green leafy veggies, whether cooked or raw, provide your body with the vitamins and nutrients it needs to resist the negative effects of stress.
Don’t forget fruit. Fruit can be a good source of vitamins and minerals that can help your body combat stress. Vitamins A, C, and E are antioxidants which have been shown to relieve stress. The B vitamins, thiamin (B1), riboflavin (B2), niacin (B3), pantothenic acid (B5), pyridoxine (B6), and biotin (B7), help your our body obtain energy from the food you eat.
Get plenty of potassium. Milk (especially the low-fat variety), whole grains, wheat germ, and nuts all can provide your body with potassium, a mineral that can help your muscles relax. Bananas are also a good source of potassium.