Stress is a part of our daily lives and it’s not going away anytime soon! Whether you are a mom managing an entire household or a CEO making important decisions in the boardroom, we all deal with stress in today’s always-connected world.
Stress is something that I struggle with on a daily basis. It’s not uncommon to find me over-scheduling myself (I have a hard time saying no), rushing around trying to fit it all in (any typically running late). But while doing so, I am harming my body. I’m creating chemical reactions that lead to obesity, illness and depression.
Did you know that stress makes it impossible to lose weight? Or that stress leads to belly fat? Stress can cause you to become tired and worn out, which leads to moodiness and over-eating. Stress makes you feel forgetful and older than your age. Stress causes wrinkles and dark circles or bags under our eyes. Stress decreases our immune system, which leads to more frequent colds or allergies.
How do we beat stress without quitting our jobs and moving to a deserted island? The answer is found in your diet. Eat whole foods that decrease cortisol production!
Cortisol is our fight-or-flight hormone that is released when we are under attack or in an emergency situation. We need cortisol to survive these uncommon situations (for example, a bear is chasing you in the woods or you are in a car accident). Unfortunately, most of us find ourselves in situations everyday that increase our cortisol. Running late, fighting with a spouse, spending all day in front of a computer, eating processed foods, worrying, fighting traffic or a long commute to work…the list goes on and on.
Stress leads to high cortisol – which when sustained – is linked to diabetes, high blood pressure, belly fat, brain changes, depression, suicide, insomnia and poor wound healing. Fat cells in the belly have four times more cortisol receptors compared to fat cells located in other parts of our body. So as your cortisol continues to climb, your muffin top gets bigger and bigger.
Here’s the good news. We can fight stress with healthy food choices. Dump the processed food (anything that comes in a box, bag, can or package) and choose whole foods. These are foods that don’t come with a label. They are just one ingredient. Whole foods contain vitamins and minerals that decrease cortisol in our body and lead to feelings of relaxation, joy and fulfillment. My top stress busting foods include avocados, blueberries, almonds and salmon.
We need B vitamins for healthy nerves and brain cells, and feelings of stress may be rooted in a B vitamin deficiency. Avocados are rich in stress-relieving B vitamins. Next time stress has you reaching for a pint ice cream, opt for a non-dairy DIY version made with avocado blended with banana, raw cacoa, coconut milk, and stevia. Freeze, then chill-out.
Blueberries may seem small, but just a handful pack a powerful punch of antioxidants and vitamin C, making them colossal stress-busters. When we’re stressed, our bodies need vitamin C and antioxidants to help repair and protect cells (because stress damages our cells in a big way). Vitamin C also reduces the secretion of cortisol. A serving or two of this fruit may also help curb those sugar cravings that are common when you’re under stress, especially if you eat it with some filling protein and healthy fat.
Get some stress-relief munching on almonds, which are rich in vitamins B2 and E. Both of these nutrients help bolster the immune system during times of stress. Just a quarter cup of almonds each day does the trick. For variety, spread some almond butter on apple or add to your smoothie. The magnesium in almonds can be especially calming. Nuts can also stave off hunger and regulate your blood sugar when you can’t sit down for a balanced meal.
Put more fish on your dish to help you feel at ease. A diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids helps keep cortisol and adrenaline from spiking when you’re feeling tense. According to Dr. Barry Sears, developer of the Zone Diet, protein can help reduce cortisol production because protein doesn’t significantly increase blood sugar levels and induce insulin spikes, which is stressful for the body. Replenishing your body with dietary protein while under stress is important because cortisol can break down your body’s protein stores for energy. Protein-rich foods are also calorie dense, filling and usually a good source of vitamins and minerals, which all help combat the physiological effects of stress.
What is your favorite stress-reducing whole food to eat? Please comment below, I would love to hear from you!
In Good Health,