Food Against Stress

Food is a set of substances (macro- and micronutrients) that a person consumes to provide his or her body with energy for vital activity and activity and material to maintain the body structure.

Stress is a reaction to the nonspecific adaptation of the body. It is a complex of physiological reactions that are triggered in the body in response to a sufficiently intense and prolonged stimulus, regardless of the specifics of the latter.

Stressors for us include too much physical impact (light, sound, temperature), emotions (positive and negative), lack of time, sleep, oxygen or calories, excessive information to be processed, illness, and the effects of unfavorable environmental factors.

It is this wide range of potentially threatening influences that have contributed to the development of a typical, nonspecific, identical in all cases body reaction to something potent, relatively unpredictable, but often affecting us.

If the stressor does not last long (such as shocking news or a sleepless night before an exam or the cold on the way to work), the sympathetic nervous system, followed by the hormone adrenaline, mobilizes the body to counteract the stressor. The heartbeat accelerates, blood pressure rises, respiratory rate increases, glucose enters the bloodstream from the reserves in the liver and muscles to fuel the brain and other organs, appetite is suppressed, and pain sensitivity decreases. The body either fights or flees from the threat.

In the case of prolonged exposure to a stressor (permanent business overload, heavy burden of responsibility, prolonged lack of sleep, lack of personal time, chronic illness, prolonged exposure to loud noise/light/pain), the body’s reaction develops differently. The hypothalamus comes into play, a part of the brain that, with the help of so-called releasing factors, changes the functioning of most endocrine glands, whose hormones have the final impact on organs and behavior.

For example, thyroid thyroxine speeds up metabolism, adrenal cortisol accelerates the breakdown of fats and the formation of glucose from them and even from body proteins, and increases appetite. All of this is aimed at providing the brain and muscles with energy for a long time by suppressing other important functions, such as immunity, reproduction, and cognitive processes. If the stressor lasts too long, the body becomes exhausted, sick, and dies.

So, stress first suppresses appetite and then disperses it. The body, having given up its energy reserves, tries to restore them and not deprive itself of stress. We can help ourselves.

Food against stress

Food against stress should include those foods that are rich in energy – carbohydrates.

For snacks, you should eat quickly available natural sugars from dried fruits, honey, and smoothies.

For main courses – whole grain cereals, which, when digested for a long time, will gradually saturate the blood with glucose for a long time, moderately potatoes, durum wheat pasta, and oatmeal.

Carbohydrates also increase the production of serotonin, a neurotransmitter involved in the formation of a positive mood.

Antioxidants of berries (blueberries, blackberries, blueberries), colored vegetables (carrots, pumpkin, bell peppers, apples, beets), and green leafy vegetables (lettuce, spinach, broccoli) will help protect body cells under stress and become a source of vitamins and minerals necessary for the work of enzymes and hormones.

Citrus fruits, thanks to vitamin C, strengthen the immune system and are also able to restrain the level of stress hormones in the blood. There are studies that show a decrease in physiological manifestations of stress after consuming vitamin C before challenging tasks.

Spinach, other greens, soybeans, and redfish are rich in magnesium, which will reduce the manifestations of fatigue, headaches, and seizures, and have a positive effect on the overall mental state.

Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, which are rich in fatty fish (salmon, tuna, herring), and vegetable oils (flaxseed, olive) will help maintain a balance in the nervous system and the number of hormones. Avocados, and nuts (pistachios, almonds) are also sources of healthy fats that can be easily incorporated into the metabolism under stress. They, like bananas, contain a lot of potassium, which is necessary for the stable functioning of the heart.

The body will receive great help under stress from a snack before bedtime – a glass of low-fat milk with berries and whole grain bread will fill the stomach, provide enough glucose to replenish glycogen stores in the liver (emergency energy), and increase the production of serotonin, which will help you relax and fall asleep.

Food as stress

It becomes stressful when you try to cram something “inedible, but healthy” into your body. When the thought of cooking makes you sick. When you drink your third cup of tasteless coffee and your once favorite donut has completely sparred your intestines.

What to do?

Eat what is healthy and what you normally perceive, expanding the range for the sake of curiosity. Buy a frozen vegetable mix, factory-frozen chicken cutlets, or a piece of fish, and cook it in the oven or in a slow cooker without stress. Or go to a restaurant and have a full dinner without fried or smoked food. Instead of another coffee with a donut, drink yogurt, chew on chocolate, and an apple.
And enjoy coffee with pleasure when the situation around you has defused, or you have taken half an hour for a well-deserved rest.

Stress is our way of not dying every time the body is feverish from stimuli. Therefore, regardless of whether we are used to eating it (stress), creating new points of tension, or reducing its negative effects by moving, sleeping, and eating a healthy amount of food, this will happen to us often. There is a choice of how to live with it.

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Written by Bella Adams

I'm a professionally-trained, executive chef with over ten years in Restaurant Culinary and hospitality management. Experienced in specialized diets, including Vegetarian, Vegan, Raw foods, whole food, plant-based, allergy-friendly, farm-to-table, and more. Outside of the kitchen, I write about lifestyle factors that impact well-being.

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