Stress can cause a wide variety of health problems, but it can also wreak havoc on youroverall health. The impact of stress on nutrition is one of the major reasons why stress can be so damaging.
During stressful periods, people often start ignoring their health and begin making unhealthy food choices. Too much caffeine, not enough water and too many high-sugar snacks are some of the most common culprits.
By learning about how stress affects nutrition, you can avoid problems and ensure that your nutritional needs are met
During times of stress, people often turn to traditional “comfort” foods such as pizza,macaroni and cheese, and ice cream. Ironically, these high-fat foods are usually the worst possible choices because they can make individuals feel lethargic and less able to deal with stress. Not only that, but stress can drive up blood pressure and raise serum cholesterol levels, wreaking havoc on arteries and increasing the risk of heart attack.
The best solution? Low-fat, high-fiber, carbohydrate-rich meals with plenty of fruits and vegetables. They soothe without sapping energy and give the nutrients needed to boost the immune system. Here’s a guide from the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, Washington, D.C., to which foods reduce stress and which ones make it worse:
Include high-fiber, carbohydrate-rich foods. Scientists believe carbohydrates cause the brain to produce more serotonin, a hormone that relaxes people. Lots of fiber is helpful in preventing late-night binging. Some examples of healthy comfort foods include baked sweet potatoes, minestrone, or sauteed vegetables over rice.
Fruits and vegetables. Chronic stress can weaken the ability to fight disease. By upping intake of antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables, it’s possible to boost the immune system. Acorn squash and carrots, for instance, are excellent sources of the antioxidant beta-carotene, and citrus fruits provide plenty of vitamin C, another stress-busting antioxidant.
High-fat foods. Fatty dishes such as meat or cheese and many baked goods thicken the blood, which, in turn, make people feel tired, even lethargic. This is clearly not a good way to reduce stress. Even just one high-fat meal can increase the risk of a heart attack.
Caffeine. Many individuals deal with a stress-induced lack of sleep by turning to coffee, tea, and colas. However, caffeine stays in one’s system longer than many realize. Cutting back on caffeine can help with both sleeping problems and jitters.
Sugar. As a carbohydrate, sugar tends to calm people. The problem is that it’s a simple carbohydrate, so sugar enters and leaves the bloodstream rapidly, causing those who eat it to, in effect, “crash.” On the other hand, complex carbohydrates such as pasta, beans, and lentils serve to soothe without bringing one down.