To say that we are experiencing stressful times is an understatement.
Life is often full of stressors whether it’s work, kids, or simply trying to find enough time in your day to relax and take a moment to breathe but right now our stress is amplified.
But have you ever stopped to consider what role your diet could play in managing stress?
As a Toronto naturopathic clinic, one of our areas of focus is nutrition, and how it can help you stay healthy both physically and mentally.
Let’s take a look at stress, and how your diet can affect it.
How Does Diet Affect Stress?
All of us have experienced some level of stress eating.
You might be tired, stretched thin, and searching for a little bit of comfort when you reach for your go-to chocolate bar or bag of chips.
But your diet can affect your stress levels even before you feel those cravings.
Instead of going through the usual cycle of feeling stressed, reaching for junk food, and then feeling gross afterward, you can work on eating healthy foods first to reduce the feeling of stress in your body.
When you are eating a healthy diet that is rich in vitamins and nutrients, your body can get a healthful boost that helps you achieve mental clarity and a positive mood which in turn helps you to deal with life’s regular stressors.
Does Poor Diet Make Stress Worse?
We know that a good diet can be helpful in dealing with stress but we should also consider how a poor diet affects stress.
It’s easy to feel the siren call of a tub of ice cream or a bag of chocolate chip cookies when we’re stressed but in fact, unhealthy foods like this can actually make stress worse.
It’s known that when you first eat junk food as a response to stress, your body feels good but after that initial response it drops off quickly.
The more junk food you eat, the more likely you are to feel the negative effects (think sugar crashes and feeling slow and sluggish) which in turn can create a stressful effect on the body.
Some studies have even shown that eating more junk food is linked to depression.
Why Do We Reach For Junk Food When We’re Stressed?
When we’re stressed, we have an innate response that wants to find comfort and one of the easiest ways to do that is to eat certain foods.
There are several reasons that we gravitate toward junk food when we are stressed.
The first reason is the sensation that we get when eating food.
This includes the smell of food, the taste, and how it feels in your mouth which is also known as orosensation.
The second reason is that junk food is manufactured specifically to get the right combination of salt, sugar, and fat that hits your brain’s pleasure centre and keeps you coming back for more.
The brain likes variety and as you eat the same foods over and over, it gets bored and wants something to shake up your usual routine.
But junk food is specifically designed to override your brain’s response by providing enough taste to be interesting, but not so much that the sensory response gets dulled over time.
What Food Should You Eat Instead?
You might be reading this and thinking, okay, if junk food is bad for stress then what should I be eating instead?
We’ve got you covered.
There are plenty of healthy foods that provide your brain with sensory satisfaction while also giving your body the nourishment it needs to better fight stress.
1. First of All, Water
You’ve heard it before, staying hydrated is vital to healthy living.
Water has very real effects on the body and can help with headaches, satiety, and surprisingly, your mood.
One study showed that people who initially had a low water intake experienced several benefits when they increased their water intake including calmness, satisfaction, and positive emotions.
2. Dark Chocolate
Chocolate is a known comfort food but if you want something to satisfy your craving, opt for dark chocolate (with a minimum of 70% cacao) over milk chocolate.
Dark chocolate benefits brain health due to the flavonoids found in cacao which act as potent antioxidants.
One study found that an intake of 40g of dark chocolate per day over a period of two weeks was an effective way to reduce stress in women.
3. Citrus Fruits
You might already know that when you are stressed out, your brain releases cortisol which is a hormone that increases your appetite and can lead you back down the path of junk food.
But high levels of vitamin C have been known to reduce stress hormones as well as protecting your body’s immune function.
Citrus fruits are known to be high in vitamin C so go ahead and make, oranges, lemons, grapefruits, and limes a regular part of your diet and you can reap the benefits of all that extra vitamin C.
If you’ve experienced indigestion, you’ve probably reached for a nice cup of peppermint tea, but it can also have benefits to help reduce feelings of stress.
Not only does peppermint help to calm your stomach but studies have shown that peppermint has an analgesic effect on the central and peripheral nervous system.
Whether you enjoy it as a tea or in your food, clearly peppermint has some very real benefits.
5. Raw Fruits & Vegetables
We all know that getting more fruits and vegetables into our diet is the best way to help our overall health but you should also note that the way your fruits and veggies are served makes a difference.
In this case, raw is best.
Fruits and vegetables are full of micronutrients but these can be lost when they are processed by cooking or canning.
In a study of over 400 adults, researchers found that subjects who had a regular intake of raw fruits and vegetables as opposed to processed ones reported reduced depressive symptoms, higher positive mood, satisfaction, and flourishing.
Some of the foods that subjects reported eating most often include carrots, bananas, apples, lettuce, dark leafy greens such as spinach, citrus fruits, fresh berries, cucumber, and kiwi.
Book An Appointment At Annex Naturopathic
Are you looking to reduce the amount of stress in your life and want to do it naturally?
Would you like to know more about how you can boost the number of stress-relieving foods in your diet?
If so, booking an appointment at Annex Naturopathic is the first step to achieving that lifestyle.
During your first appointment with us, we’ll go over your specific goals and devise a plan to help you eat the right foods for stress management.
From there, we’ll check in with you and help you stay on track while you follow your new, custom, naturopathic plan.
Book an appointment with us today.