Top 10 Dietary Tips to Combat Stress

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How many of you feel stressed right now? The holidays (while they are great!) tend to have a way of exacerbating stress for many of us. Too much to do in too little time. Gifts to buy, spending money that you may not have, traveling delays, dealing with family “issues”, parties to plan … or just feeling lonely.  So before you inhale another 5 holiday cookies, read my dietary tips to combat stress (and eating sweets is not one of them!)   (pic credit)

 Top 10 Dietary Tips to Deal with Stress

1. Limit caffeine. Caffeine has a direct effect on the brain and nervous system. Have you ever felt the “coffee jitters” when you have had too many cups of coffee? Because caffeine and stress can both elevate cortisol levels, high amounts of caffeine can exacerbate the effects of stress in the body, leading to prolonged elevated levels of cortisol. While small to moderate amounts of caffeine can lift your mood and give you a boost, excessive amounts can make you jittery and on edge. It can also interfere with your sleep. Bottom line, limit your caffeine intake and avoid consumption after 3 pm to prevent it from interfering with your sleep.

2. Limit alcohol. Many of us get the urge to hit the “the bottle” when stress levels rise. However this may actually be the worst thing you can do. Alcohol adds further stress to the body, can disrupt sleep and adds empty calories. In addition, alcohol is a depressant that slows brain activity down. While one or two drinks makes most people feel relaxed, more alcohol may cause feelings of anxiety, depression, and often aggression. 

3. Limit sugary foods. These foods can wreak havoc with your blood sugar levels. They will cause a spike in your blood sugar levels only to be followed by a crash. This “crash” can be associated with fatigue, weakness, headache, etc. These symptoms will only make exacerbate your stress!  (pic is me and my co-worker Amy who make delicious “chocolate balls” for the holiday) 

4. Don’t take your carbohydrate intake too low. All carbs prompt the brain to make serotonin. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that has a calming effect in the body. Basically it is our “feel good” hormone. Low levels can make us feel sad or depressed. Serotonin is also thought to give you that satisfied feeling from food and help promote sleep and relaxation. Following a very low carb diet can lead to low levels of serotonin, which in turn can worsen mood and increase cravings for carbs. It is best to select complex carbs such as whole grain cereal and breads, whole wheat pasta, brown rice, legumes, fruits and old fashioned oatmeal. These carbs are broken down more slowly, thus causing a slower rise and fall of blood sugar, resulting in a more even flow of energy and perhaps serotonin release.

5. Include foods rich in B vitamins
Stress can cause a slight increase in our bodies’ B vitamins requirements. Most of the B vitamins help to maintain the nervous system – which is working overtime when we are stressed.

6. Include omega 3 fatty acids in the diet. In recent years, research has linked omega-3 fatty acids in the diet with specific health benefits in the body, including: reducing the risk of heart disease and stroke, lowering blood pressure, reducing symptoms depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), joint pain and other rheumatoid problems, as well as certain skin ailments. Some research has even shown that omega-3s can boost the immune system. A 2003 study from Diabetes & Metabolism found that a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids can prevent surges in the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline. Omega 3 fatty acids are found naturally in fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, sardines, herring, and flaxseeds and walnuts

7. Include foods rich in antioxidants. Stress can take a toll on our immune system. Eating foods rich in antioxidants can help to bolster the immune system. Here are the major antioxidants:
Beta-carotene (found in apricots, asparagus, beets, broccoli, cantaloupe, carrots, corn, green peppers, kale, mangoes, turnip and collard greens, nectarines, peaches, pink grapefruit, pumpkin, squash, spinach, sweet potato, tangerines, tomatoes, and watermelon).
Vitamin C (found in berries, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cantaloupe, cauliflower, grapefruit, honeydew, kale, kiwi, mangoes, nectarines, orange, papaya).
Vitamin E (found in wheat germ, nuts, safflower oil, soybean oil, mango, chard, mustard and turnip. Zinc (found in oysters, red meat, poultry, beans, nuts, seafood, whole grains, fortified cereals, and dairy products).
Selenium (found in Brazil nuts, tuna, beef, poultry and fortified breads, and other grain products)  (pic credit) 

8. Avoid getting low blood sugar by going too long without eating. Skipping meals or going too long without eating can lead to low blood sugar. Symptoms include headache, irritability, shakiness and fatigue. Your best bet is to eat 3 moderate sized meals with a small snack in between. Suggestions for healthy snacks include: fruit and yogurt, cottage cheese and fruit, peanut butter and crackers, nuts and fruit. If you lose your appetite when stressed, try to eat multiple mini meals versus 2-3 larger meals. Keep healthy snacks such as dried fruit, nuts, whole grain crackers in your desk, briefcase or purse.

9. Avoid eating heavy meals late at night. They can trigger heartburn and have a negative impact on your sleep. You are better off eating a light dinner and then having a small carb rich snack prior to bed time. This may boost your serotonin levels and help you sleep better. Suggestions: slice of toast with jam, 3 cups of low fat popcorn or a small bowl of cereal.

10. Eat foods rich in magnesium. Magnesium levels can become depleted when the body is stressed. A magnesium deficiency in turn, raises the stress hormones. This process will escalate the stress response. Foods high in magnesium include legumes, nuts, whole grains, and green vegetables.

And of course it goes without saying that you need adequate sleep and regular exercise to best deal with stress!  DOWNLOAD MY 

 Happy Holidays to all! 





I especially love problem-solving, whether it’s helping women defeat issues plaguing them for years, helping a busy executive find practical ways to get heart healthy, or providing tips to help you reverse diabetes. That’s why I’m on a constant quest to expand my knowledge by staying on top of the latest research.

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