Does your diet influence stress? The short answer: yes, poor diet and stress are linked.
The long answer: People often think about how stress influences their diet. You’re probably not a stranger to that late night drive through, or ending up with your spoon deep in a bowl of cheesy pasta. You’re stressed out, and it’s making you eat more poorly.
But what about the other way around? Diet is usually overlooked as a way to cope with stress. You might not think about it often, but another way to address diet and stress? Eat more stress-free foods.
Does My Diet and Stress Hurt Me?
When you’re stressed, blood flow through your body and to your heart is reduced. This can weaken your heart, and decrease your brain health. When you eat well, the nutrients from food can come to the rescue and help restore that flow. But, of course, if you eat poorly, you’ll double your damage.
When you eat specific foods, your stress levels can spike. When your body is experiencing stress, it releases the stress hormone called cortisol.
Cortisol is the hormone that’s trying to calm you down and manage your stress levels. Sugar, however, sends cortisol into overdrive. That might lead to insomnia, headaches, a lowered immune system, and a feeling of anxiety. And when you have anxiety, you can’t sleep. It’s a vicious cycle of stress and diet.
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Can Eating Processed Foods Increase Problems of Diet and Stress in Your Life?
Artificial sweeteners are even worse: they get you hooked on the taste of sweetness, which causes your body to crave it. You’re going to want to crash your diet and feast on sweets if you’ve trained your brain too long to get used to their taste.
Eating processed carbohydrates also leads to more to increasing diet and stress. They come with low nutritional value and a guarantee that you’re going to have fluctuating blood sugar. Most processed carbohydrates are also going to be high in sodium levels.
When you eat a lot of sodium, your body retains fluid more easily. Retaining fluid causes your heart to have to pump harder to get your blood flowing. Say hello to increased blood pressure, from an increased diet and stress.
Does Excess Alcohol Use Increase stress?
Ironically, alcohol is one of the biggest offenders of all. You might want a drink when you’re feeling stressed out, but it’s a trigger for increased heart rate and high blood pressure.
And if you’re drinking a cocktail, you’re mixing your alcohol with a big dose of sugar. Trying to use alcohol to make you feel more sleepy? It might, at first, but when you fall asleep, it inhibits you from falling into a deep sleep. So you’ll wake up feeling more stressed.
Drinking too much caffeine can also skyrocket your stress levels. You’ll overstimulate your adrenal glands, and made yourself more stressed. Aside from coffee, energy drinks, soda, and chocolate can also contain large amounts of caffeine that are going to make you feel more stressed.
Stress Management Impacts Diet and Stress
Alright, so what do you do? You love your sugar and carbs, but moderation is key. You can still have your alcohol, too! (In moderation.)
Red wine has been shown to help improve blood flow. Foods like red wine, blueberries, and dark chocolate all contain Vitamin E and omega-3s that are shown to reduce stress.
Foods like fish that are high in omega-3s are also great in your fight against stress. If you serve up salmon, you’re giving yourself a game-changing amount of omega-3s. People who supplemented their diet with lots of fish through omega-3s actually saw a reduction in their stress and anxiety by up to 20 percent.
Certain plant compounds also impact diet and stress. The polyphenols found in brightly colored peppers and your leafy green vegetables are going to go to work fighting the restriction of blood flow in your body that stress is causing.
Stress and Gut Health
The brain and feelings of stress are also influenced by the health of your gut. The microbiome in the gut can make you feel stressed and unhappy if they’re out of balance. Eating foods rich in fiber can help, like vegetables, beans, yogurt, and cereal.
It probably doesn’t come as a surprise, but regular exercise is also necessary to pair with a stress management diet. Nothing gets your blood pumping through your brain like your daily exercise. Yoga is a great way to de-stress.
To make small steps toward a larger goal of having a better diet, add in nuts. They’re packed full of vitamins that go to work in your body. Vitamin B boosts neurotransmitters, which aid in our fight-or-flight response and keeping it at the levels we want. They’re also rich in potassium, which helps ward off the strain our hearts are under when we’re stressed.
Next time you’re about to pick up a sugary drink or a big ol’ donut, think about diet and stress and how it’s going to make you feel later. Will it be worth those sleepless nights, bloated feelings, and of course, stress? The answer is usually always no, and it’s important to keep in mind. When you know exactly what the food you eat is doing in your body, it makes it easier to make the healthy choice to eliminate impact of diet and stress.
Julie Ferrell is a freelance writer originally hailing from Ohio (O-H!) but now calls North Carolina home. Julie enjoys writing on a number of topics but ultimately aims to help others enrich their lives by sharing personal experiences and practical advice.