Healing Foods to Combat Stress

According to a 2010 General Social Survey as reported through Statistics Canada, 27% of working Canadians described their lives as highly stressful; that is an estimated 3.7 million people, and this was not considering the unemployed population. Stress is the number one cause of all illness and at least three out of ten Canadians are feeling high levels of stress in their daily lives.

When experiencing stress, it is far too easy to skip meals and to choose to eat foods that are not good for us. The foods we eat and how regularly we eat them can greatly influence our moods and stress levels. Following a well-balanced meal plan that includes three meals a day with snacks in-between can reduce stress levels significantly. A well-balanced meal plan includes the four major food groups and choosing whole foods over highly processed, sugary and fried foods.

There are some foods that have been identified as especially beneficial in relieving stress that can also be added to the menu; just as there are a few foods to avoid. Foods beneficial for relieving symptoms of stress include chamomile tea, fermented foods, blueberries, dark chocolate, chlorella and foods high in vitamin D, vitamin C, magnesium, omega3, folate-rich foods and tryptophan-rich foods. Foods recommended to avoid when experiencing stress include caffeine, alcohol, sugar, gluten, processed foods, artificial foods and fried foods.

Chamomile tea has long been used by traditional healers to treat stress, anxiety, insomnia and depression. Chamomile promotes relaxation which reduces stress and anxiety, as well can be mildly sedative and can give a feeling of drowsiness when enjoyed at bedtime. With decreased levels of stress, anxiety and insomnia which are linked to causes of depression, depression itself is also in turn reduced.

Fermented foods work to improve stress by improving the health of the gut, which can impact mental health. Toxicity in the gut can flow throughout the body and into the brain, effecting brain chemistry which can impact a person’s mood and behaviour. Probiotics, plain yogurt and other fermented foods like pickles will add nourishment to the gut flora and support a positive mood.

Blueberries are beneficial in fighting stress because they contain an antioxidant known as anthocyanin which aids the brain in the production of dopamine, a chemical critical to regulating mood.

Dark chocolate is not just an enjoyable treat for most but produces a feel-good chemical that can also block feelings of pain and depression called anandamide.

Chlorella can help in the fight against stress and with symptoms of depression. Chlorella is a micro-algae high in protein and amino acids that are important for the healthy growth and development of muscle and hormone and brain neurotransmitters. Chlorella also helps to detox the body of heavy metals which can build up in a person’s system and produce symptoms of neuro-degeneration, fatigue, depression, irritability, stress and anxiety.

Sunshine (vitamin D) can elevate the mood and stabilize emotions. It is recommended that the average person get 20 to 30 minutes of sunshine a day with arms and legs exposed. On cloudy days, there are always foods high in vitamin D such as eggs, mushrooms and cold-water fish like mackerel, wild salmon, rainbow trout, sardines, clams and crab.

Vitamin C reduces cortisol production which is released by the adrenal glands in response to stress. Cortisol is the hormone that triggers the “fight or flight” response to stress. Frequent exposure to high levels of this hormone can exhaust the body, impair memory and make a person more susceptible to depression. Foods high in vitamin C include bell peppers, berries, guavas, green leafy vegetables, kiwi, broccoli, pineapple, cantaloupe, oranges, cooked tomatoes, peas, papaya, cabbage, cauliflower and brussels sprouts.

Magnesium is an important mineral needed to produce energy, to adjust cholesterol levels, to relax muscles and to regulate over 300 biochemical reactions in the body. When a person experiences chronic stress, magnesium is released and excreted through the urine, depleting the body of this important mineral. Magnesium deficiency can make a person more reactive to stressful situations and increase epinephrine / adrenalin levels, which adds further stress to the body leading to mental and physical fatigue. Magnesium is used for poor sleep, stress, anxiety, menstrual cramps, muscle cramps, high blood pressure, asthma attacks and abnormal heartbeats. Foods high in magnesium include spinach, Swiss chard, potatoes with skin, quinoa, plain yogurt, all types of beans, lentils, pumpkin seeds, brazil nuts, sunflower seeds, almonds, flax seed and salmon.

Chronic stress increases the number of cytokines produced in the body, compounds known to promote full-body inflammation, including neuro-inflammation. Omega-3 is known to decrease the production of cytokines, helping to reduce this inflammation; which in-turn helps reduce stress, anxiety and depression. Foods high in omega-3 include mackerel, salmon, herring, sardines, trout, flax seeds, chia seeds, walnuts, hemp seeds, eggs and plain yogurt.

Folate-rich foods help your body produce mood-regulating neurotransmitters, including serotonin and dopamine. These pleasure-inducing brain chemicals help to promote a calm mental state. Foods high in folate include spinach, salad greens, artichoke, broccoli, asparagus, Brussel sprouts, lettuce, beets, potatoes with skin, avocados, papaya, peas, beans and lentils, sunflower seeds, whole-grain cereals and breads.

Foods high in the amino acid tryptophan help reduce stress and improve sleep. Tryptophan is responsible for many neurological functions in the body and acts as a precursor to many neurotransmitters and neuro-chemicals including serotonin and melatonin. Melatonin helps with insomnia and promote sleep where serotonin helps to improve mood and mental health. Tryptophan has also been found to help with depression, irritability and anxiety. Foods high in tryptophan include seaweed, spirulina, spinach, chicken, turkey, salmon, sardines, scallops, eggs, pumpkin seeds, oats, beans, lentils, sunflower seeds, almonds and walnuts.

When experiencing stress, food is not always a negative way to find comfort, it all depends on what you reach for. Other beneficial forms of stress management include breathing exercises, meditation, tai-chi and yoga. Living a balanced lifestyle with good nutrition and light exercise will not only reduce stress and improve your mental and emotional state but will also improve your overall physical health.

Written by: J. Marshall

Try my Oven-Roasted Brussels Sprouts recipe! Brussels sprouts are an excellent healing food to combat stress.

Try my Mushroom Spinach Frittata recipe! Eggs, mushrooms, spinach and peppers are all excellent food sources to combar stress.

 

References
•    Prevention.com / 13 Foods That Fight Stress: http://www.prevention.com/mind-body/emotional-health/13-healthy-foods-that-reduce-stress-and-depression
•    Mercola: Take Control Of Your Health / 10 Superfoods for Stress Relief: http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2015/04/27/10-stress-relieving-superfoods.aspx
•    Physicians Committee For Responsible Medicine / How to Eat to Reduce Stress: http://www.pcrm.org/health/health-topics/how-to-eat-right-to-reduce-stress
•    Body and Soul / De-stress Diet: http://www.bodyandsoul.com.au/diet/diets/destress-diet/news-story/835b91b47c379ef584b3c2858d2ab4b3
•    PsychCentral / Stress And Diet: You Aren’t What You Eat: https://psychcentral.com/lib/stress-and-diet-you-arent-what-you-eat/
•    Women’s Health / The 11 Best Foods to Eat When You’re Stressed Out: http://www.womenshealthmag.com/food/stress-fighting-foods
•    Good Food / Stress & Diet – Can food help?: https://www.bbcgoodfood.com/howto/guide/stress-diet-can-foods-help
•    Health Matters / The Low Stress Diet PDF: https://healthmatters.idaho.gov/pdf/stress/low_stress_diet_notes.pdf
•    Food & Nutrition / Perfect Health Harmony: Sleep, Stress, Diet: http://www.foodandnutrition.org/Stone-Soup/May-2013/Perfect-Health-Harmony-Sleep-Stress-and-Diet/
•    Gentle Stress Relief / Health Benefits of Chamomile: http://www.gentle-stress-relief.com/health-benefits-of-chamomile.html
•    Heal Naturally: Science-based Natural Health / Chamomile Treats Clinical Depression and Anxiety: https://www.realnatural.org/chamomile-relaxes-fights-anxiety-and-depression/
•    NCBI / Fermented foods, microbiota, and mental health: ancient practice meets nutritional psychiatry: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3904694/
•    The Med Circle / Calm Anxiety and Stress Understand Fermented Foods: https://themedcircle.com/calm-anxiety-stress-understand-fermented-foods/
•    Natural News / Consuming Chlorella Helps reduce oxidative stress, prevent cognitive decline: http://www.naturalnews.com/042621_chlorella_oxidative_stress_cognitive_decline.html
•    PaleoLeap / Important Nutrients for Stress Management: https://paleoleap.com/important-nutrients-stress-management/
•    Nutritionist Resource UK / Stress: http://www.nutritionist-resource.org.uk/articles/stress.html

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