Nutrition for Stress

Stress is being called The Black Plague of modern times and is the leading cause illnesses, depression and anxiety. Stress is a simple fact of life for most of us, and can sometimes serve as motivation to meet challenges or goals. But when gone undetected and unmanaged,  constant daily stressors such as long commutes stuck in traffic, relationship/family problems, financial or work pressures can wreak havoc in our lives, eventually stealing our joy, health and beauty.

The “fight or flight response” we have while under stress is our body’s natural survival mechanism to a perceived threat.  Today’s stressors don’t commonly involve live-or-die situations like our ancestors faced.  Unfortunately, our body doesn't know the difference between "perceived" and  "real life" threats.  When we are in a continual state of  chronic stress, our immune system is overtaxed and depleted making us susceptible to premature aging, a plethora health issues and ultimately a shortened life span. Sadly and all too often, coping with modern day stress involves self medicating with drugs or alcohol, comfort foods, watching hours of mind numbing TV.

Unfortunately, these things don't help us process stress and build mental and emotional resilience, strength or offer a true peace of mind.  The good news is managing our stress is completely in our control and simply involves awareness, consistent self-care rituals and a holistic toolbox.  When we make the best choices we can in each moment, we are investing in ourself, our health and our future.    

When stress hits, we generally crave sweets and carbs.  We don't have to completely shun these cravings, as there are healthy alternatives to boxed alternatives that will help provide increase our feel good hormones. Dopamine helps control the brains reward and pleasure center and helps regulate emotional responses. Serotonin neurotransmitter that maintains positive mood, sexual desire, creativity, sleep, memory and learning, temperature regulation.

DRINK WATER.   One almost effortless way to unwind is by simply drinking a glass of water. This may sound way too easy, but the link between water and stress reduction is well documented. All of our organs, including our brains, need water to function properly. If you don’t give your body the fluids it needs, it isn’t going to run optimally, which can lead to stress. Even being just slightly dehydrated can raise your cortisol levels.  According to medical research, when you are under stress, your heart rate increases and you breathe heavier. This causes you to lose fluid and can lead to dehydration. Dehydration can sometimes be linked to adrenal fatigue, which is critical since your adrenals happen to be the glands responsible for regulating our stress response. If you can remain hydrated, you can reduce the magnitude of physiological responses to stress in the body.

Green leafy vegetables. Contain folate, which helps the body produce the neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin. Dopamine helps control the brain’s reward and pleasure centers and regulate emotional responses. Serotonin is also a chemical that is responsible for maintaining mood balance. Have you noticed that you tend to feel calmer, happier, and more energetic on days you eat adequate helpings of fruits and veggies? Pass the spinach, please!

Quinoa.  When stress hits, some people crave carbs. Don’t completely shun this urge. Healthy carbohydrates can help the brain make serotonin, that neurotransmitter known to positively influence mood, sexual desire and function, appetite, sleep, memory and learning, temperature regulation, and some social behavior - pretty important stuff. However, instead of reaching for that Twinkie, go for complex carbs like quinoa or wild rice. Stress can cause your blood sugar to rise, so complex carbs like these won’t add to your already potential spike in blood glucose that stress can trigger.

Fermented Foods.  It turns out that the type of bacteria in your gut might be contributing to your stress!Your brain regularly signals to your gut and vice-versa. Beneficial bacteria can have a direct positive effect on brain chemistry resulting in reduced anxiety and an upbeat outlook, whereas unbalanced microbiota can wreak havoc on brain neurochemistry and make people more vulnerable to anxiety and depression. Consuming probiotics in fermented foods such as kefir, sauerkraut, and kombucha offers an easy insurance policy to maintain healthy gut flora that supports balanced and feel-good brain communication.

Berries. When you’re stressed, reach for a handful of blueberries, blackberries, raspberries.  The antioxidants and phytonutrients found in them help support your body’s response to stress and fight stress-related free radicals.  Blueberries boost natural killer cells, a type of white blood cell that plays a vital role in immunity, critical for countering stress.

Green, orange or yellow veggies or fruits are loaded with vitamins and minerals that help the brain produce more dopamine and serotonin.

Raw Cacao or 70%  organic dark chocolate. Did you know that chocolate is a "super food" packed with vitamins and minerals necessary for good health and longevity?  Regular consumption supports balanced stress levels by increasing the serotonin and endorphin levels in the brain, and encouraging the reduction of stress hormones, including the stress hormone cortisol. Also, the antioxidants in cacao support healthy blood pressure and circulation. Dark chocolate contains many other unique natural substances, such as anandamide the “bliss molecule,” that enhance a sense of wellbeing. Slightly bitter to taste, cacao contains essential minerals such as magnesium, iron, manganese, theobromine and chromium important for building strong bones, purifying blood, supporting cardiovascular health and balancing hormones.

Seeds.  Flaxseed, pumpkin seeds, and sunflower seeds are all great sources of magnesium. Magnesium deficiency can contribute to depression, behavioral disturbances, headaches, muscle cramps, irritability, ataxia, psychosis, and even seizures. Loading up on this mineral may help regulate your emotions when times get tough.

Avocado.  Avocado may help prevent stress-eating by filling you up with healthy fats and making you feel more satisfied.  Avocados are also rich in stress-relieving B vitamins. We need B vitamins for healthy nerves and brain cells. Feelings of anxiety may be rooted in a B vitamin deficiency.

Cashews. Cashews contain significant amounts of iron, zinc, magnesium, vitamin B6, protein, tryptophan, and omega 3s  provides health benefits for your brain.   All of these nutrients support wellbeing and a balanced state of mind. Zinc affects the levels of a nerve chemical that influences mood and helps reducer anxiety. Make sure you eat unsulfured, raw, organic, unsalted cashews to get the most benefits without any added junk in them.

Spices.   You can use fresh sources or essential oils to your recipes of spices such as black pepper, cinnamon, oregano, basil, parsley, ginger and vanilla boost brain health.