Feeling overwhelmed and exhausted? Craving something sweet? That is your body’s natural response to the psychological and physiological demands that stress is producing inside you.
Many of us reach for something sweet to eat when we are stressed because our bodies are craving carbohydrates, those wonderful dietary gems that trigger the body to produce serotonin. Serotonin, also known as “the good mood brain chemical”, helps our brain to take the edge off of anxiety, depression, and frustration. It’s calming nature also diminishes the feeling of being overwhelmed.
The temptation, though, is to run to the snack machine and grab a candy bar or down a sugar-loaded soft drink to get that serotonin rush immediately. The down side to this is that your blood sugar will rise sharply and then plummet down, leaving you feeling tired and lethargic not an hour or two later. Plus, too much of these type of sugars and you might start to notice an increase in your weight, which could add to your stress.
You can get the same stress-reducing benefits of munching on carbohydrates by substituting some healthier choices from nature’s bounty with these 6 stress-reducing foods that are good for you:
In recent years, much research has been done to show the stress-reducing powers of citrus fruits, especially oranges. Oranges are loaded with Vitamin C, which helps reduce the stress hormone cortisol.
Cortisol is that flight or fight hormone released by the adrenal glands. While it is designed to help us escape danger, prolonged exposure (read long-term stress) can deplete our body’s resources, impair learning and make people more susceptible to depression.
Research conducted on both humans and animals have shown that the test subjects receiving higher doses of Vitamin C in their diets had three times less levels of stress hormones in their bodies than test subjects without increased vitamin C. These results have many researchers now recommending that vitamin C be an essential part of any stress management therapy.
Oatmeal contains complex carbohydrates that help increase serotonin production. Plus, oats have magnesium and potassium. Research has shown that these minerals have a calming effect on both your brain and your blood pressure, thereby helping to reduce the effects of stress. Since the fiber-rich grains take longer to digest, the release of serotonin and the minerals is at a more slow-and-steady pace, boosting your mood for longer than other foods.
Salmon is full of Omega-3 essential fatty acids, which help boost serotonin production. Omega-3 can also reduce inflammation and improve blood flow to the brain, both of which are adversely affected during times of stress. In a recent study at Oregon State University, students who had an increase of omega-3 in their diets showed a 20% reduction in anxiety over those given placebo pills. Since a 3-ounce serving of salmon can have as much as 2,000 milligrams of omega-3s (several times more than the recommended daily allowance), doctors are recommending that salmon be a staple in today’s diets, especially for people suffering with heart disease.
Carrots and sweet potatoes both are a great source of fiber and complex carbohydrates, plus they are loaded with vitamins and minerals. As an added benefit, they are slightly sweet, which can help offset the sugar cravings that are brought on by stress.
Avocados are full of folic acid, pantothenic acid and vitamin K. Folic acid and pantothenic acid help to reduce the body’s stress levels. They also aid in thwarting depression and anxiety. Vitamin K and pantothenic acid also protect your nerve and brain cells from oxidative damage, as recent research on alzheimer’s patients has shown.
A recent study in the Journal of Proteome Research found that consuming 40 grams of dark chocolate daily for a period of two weeks reduced the levels of cortisol and the stress hormones catecholamines (part of the fight or flight response). Another study showed that subjects who ate larger amounts of dark chocolate had a 39% lower risk of having a heart attack or stroke compared to those who ate little or no dark chocolate.