It’s no secret that stress is one of the leading contributors to disease and death. We understand the connection between stress and belly fat, stress and heart attacks, and even stress and cancer. 1
Yet, as a general society, we continue to push ourselves with longer work hours, more activities, more stimulation, and consequently less rest. We turn to substances such as caffeine and energy drinks to help us “power through” and “get it done,” and some people use stronger and more addictive substances to both stimulate and calm.
It seems to be a downward spiral to which there is no good end result.
In a comparison-driven world, it can be very easy to believe we’re not stressed. If we aren’t facing a major deadline or going through a traumatic life event, we accept our day to day stress as something that is just part of life.
In juxtaposition with high stress, daily stress may seem nominal and irrelevant. We become so accustomed to it that we don’t know there is any other way to live and feel.
However, as we look deeper, this low-level stress may very well be the real root issue of the stress-disease connection.
Why Does Stress Lead To Disease?
When we are under stress, our body responds by changing the release of hormones. Some hormones, such as cortisol, will increase* during stress while others, such as insulin or thyroid hormones, may decrease*.
Because the body works as an entire unit and not as separate, independently functioning systems, any change to the normal hormone balance can lead to a myriad of reactions in the body.
If it happens once or twice, these reactions may not do much to impact the overall health of the body, but repeated shifts to the body’s normal processes, such as digestion, blood sugar control, hormone production, or detoxification can impact health in a negative way. 2
One of the key areas impacted by stress is digestion. During times of both high and low stress, cortisol inhibits the digestive system to allow the energy to shift elsewhere.
The result is often undigested and unassimilated foods which can lead to malnutrition, digestive lining damage, development of food sensitivities, and more.
The health of our digestion and the quality of the foods we eat are strongly associated with the rate of disease, and thus, if stress impacts our digestion, it will subsequently impact our health.3
Can Diet Help With Stress?
While there is no substitution for the management and reduction* of stress, the right diet can support the increased demands during periods of stress. A balanced and healthy diet that nourishes the body without taxing it can help provide necessary nutrients.
Depending on the level and duration of stress, the foods we eat and the supplements we take can help support and promote recovery from both stress itself and stress-related health issues.
What Foods Are Best To Eat To Help With Stress?
The very foundation of any healthy diet is one full of unprocessed and organic foods. This is especially true when we are faced with stress because processed foods are often stripped of essential nutrients, and exposure to toxins, preservatives, and chemicals can add undue strain on an already over-burdened body.
Focus on creating a well-balanced diet with ample healthy fats, complete proteins, and unrefined carbohydrates. Additionally, here are some key foods to focus on consuming in order to help combat the effects of stress:
It goes without saying that vegetables are important, but many of us aren’t getting enough. Aim for 5 to 8 servings a day of fibrous vegetables, such as leafy greens, broccoli, cauliflower, asparagus, zucchini, cabbage, bell pepper, or beets.
It only takes a minor reduction* in water to start dehydrating the body, which can lead to inhibited ability to deliver nutrients to cells and to flush out unwanted toxins. Insufficient water can also cause unwanted symptoms such as headaches and fatigue, which increases* the overall stress on the body.4
A general guideline for adequate hydration is half of your body weight in ounces, plus additional water to compensate for exercise, exposure to heat, and the diuretic effects of caffeine and alcohol.
Aldosterone is a stress hormone that regulate sodium balance in the body. When aldosterone is out of balance because of stress, it can negatively impact the body’s sodium and electrolyte balance, which is necessary for cell hydration.
Well-seasoned foods with a high-quality Himalayan crystal salts that contain a well-balanced mineral composition can support the adequate minerals and electrolytes in the body.5
Magnesium can be in high demand during stressful periods as it can help to relax the body. Consume plenty of magnesium-rich foods, including cacao (chocolate), leafy green vegetables, pumpkin seeds, and avocado.
It also may be worth considering a high-quality supplement with a proper form of magnesium. 6
Stress can be taxing on the immune system, which can increase* our demand for vitamin C. Foods that are high in vitamin C, such as red bell pepper, broccoli, or oranges, can help boost* our intake of vitamin C to support the increased demands. 1, 6
What Foods Should Be Avoided During Stress?
Certain foods that would typically be considered healthy can be taxing on a digestive system compromised by stress. For example, raw foods, beans, grains, and nuts are often harder to break down and could cause trouble in a body overwhelmed with cortisol.
In order to combat these potential issues, these foods should be avoided and replaced with soaked and sprouted foods for easier digestion.
Other key foods to reduce* or avoid during stress include:
The increase* in energy from caffeine mimics the same response stress has on the body. For some people, a small cup of coffee may be okay, but any more than that should be avoided.
If coffee or caffeine is necessary to get through the day, slowly reduce* the total intake and consider substituting green tea as an alternative. 6
Sugar & Refined Carbohydrates
Sugar and refined carbohydrates can cause severe fluctuation in blood sugar levels, leading to feelings of fatigue and physical stress on the body.
Given that both blood sugar and insulin levels are impacted by stress and may already be out of balance, it is critical to regulate blood sugar levels with a proper diet and avoid sugar and refined carbohydrates.
Because of the relaxing effect of alcohol, it’s easy to gravitate towards having a daily glass of wine or a night cap. But there can be a backlash that creates a vicious cycle.
Alcohol is best kept to minimal consumption and ideally avoided altogether during periods of stress. 6, 7
The Moral Of The Story
Life happens and times of stress are as inevitable as change. First and foremost, recognize that even small, seemingly insignificant stress can impact your health.
Do whatever you can to manage and ideally reduce* that stress, and support the body with foods that help mitigate the damaging effects of stress.
Create a balanced diet that is full of nourishing foods and avoid foods that overburden the body. If your stress has gotten to a place where other health issues have already started to show, additional foods, supplements, and therapies may be necessary to facilitate a full recovery.
Above all, remember that while stress may be unavoidable, you can take action to be sure it does not control your health.
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