Stress and Food

August 3, 2012 in General, Health, Nutrition, Whole Grains by Mary Ireland

In my blog post last week I discussed research on how stress hormones affect the brain, leading people who are stressed to choose habitual behavior - such as eating sugary, high-fat food and not exercising, instead of goal-directed behavior - such as choosing nutritious, low-fat, low-calorie foods (e.g. vegetables) and exercising. The point is that it is important to control your stress level. Exercise is a great stress reliever; so is meditation. But did you know that food can help you control your stress levels?

According to WebMD, food can help you fight stress in the following ways:

  • Increase serotonin levels
  • Reduce levels of cortisol and adrenaline
  • Boost the immune system to reduce the impact of stress
  • Lower blood pressure

You probably won't be surprised to learn that the foods that help you to fight stress are the ones in read about eat week in Dr. Grandma's blog posts: fruits, vegetables, complex carbohydrates including whole grains and lean meat. Specifically some foods your might want to frequently incorporate into your diet are:

  • Foods that increase serotonin Serotonin helps to regulate mood, appetite, and sleep and facilitates cognitive functions, including memory and learning. Serotonin also plays a major role in the regulating intestinal movements. Serotonin is derived from the amino acid tryptophan.
    The following protein-rich foods are high in tryptophan: poultry, dairy, walnuts and hickory nuts, and flaxseeds. However, to actually get serotonin into the brain, it is helpful to eat complex carbohydrates. Complex carbohydrates increase insulin which causes amino acids other than tryptophan to be absorbed by tissues in the body. The tryptophan is then more available to cross the blood-brain barrier and make the body more calm - think Thanksgiving dinner with turkey and sweet potatoes. Fruits and vegetables high in tryptophan include bananas, pineapple, plums, spinach, melon, eggplant, avocados. Oatmeal is also a great food to eat the increase serotonin levels. (See Foods with High Serotonin for more information.)

  • Foods high in Vitamin C  According to a German study in Psychopharmacology vitamin C helps reduce stress and aids in returning blood pressure and cortisol to normal levels after a stressful situation. Vitamin C is also boosts the immune system. Healthy sources of vitamin C are citrus such as oranges, tangerines and grapefruits; peppers: hot chili and sweet peppers, dark green leafy vegetables such as kale, mustard greens and garden cress; cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels Sprouts; and fruits such as papayas, guava, kiwi, and strawberry.

  • Foods high in omega-3 fatty acids A study reported in the journal Diabetes and Metabolism found that omega-3 fatty acids can help reduce levels of cortisol and adrenaline. Good sources of omega-3 fatty acids are salmon, shrimp, halibut yellow fin tuna and cod. Flaxseeds and some nuts also contain high levels of omega-3 fatty acids.

  • Foods high in magnesium The body become stressed when it doesn't have sufficient levels of magnesium. The symptoms of low magnesium levels are headache and fatigue. Spinach, salmon, whole grains, almonds, cashews and peanuts are all great sources of magnesium.

  • Foods high in potassium The body needs potassium for proper regulation of blood pressure. Foods high in potassium include dried herbs (Chervil, Coriander, Parsley, Basil, Tarragon and Turmeric), Paprika and Red Chili Powder, avocados, and bananas.

Plan your meals each day to do the most you can to thwart stress and be prepared with foods that will help you counteract stress if life presents you with more than you can comfortably handle. Dr. Grandma's recipes are an easy and tasty way to incorporate stress fighting foods into your diet. Dr. Grandma also has great tips that will help you stay with your healthy food plan. Explore our website and learn more about healthy living - the Mediterranean way.