While we won’t ever be able to completely avoid stress, we can put practices in place to better deal with it. One of those practices is choosing the right foods to put into our bodies. You worry about your health and the health of those you love. You have uncertainty around your kids’ school. You deal with work-related pressures. The list of potential stressors is long.
While there are many stressors outside of our control, there are ways that we can control our reaction to stress. Our eating habits, including the foods we eat, have a major impact on stress, how we deal with it, and how we recover from it.
Think before you eat.
Mindfulness is a powerful tool for stress relief. Taking a mindful approach to our food can have a positive impact on stress-related eating. Before eating ask yourself, “Will this give me sustained energy, or will it take it away?” When we stop to think, we give ourselves a moment to pause and that allows us the time we need to make a better choice.
Stress eating is often impulsive. And stressful situations tend to have a negative effect on both the foods we choose and the amount we consume. The high-sugar, high-fat foods that we typically crave during times of high stress are the exact foods that we should avoid when trying to reduce stress. Studies suggest that we should expect cravings to occur, especially in stressful times, and that it’s not that we can eliminate cravings, but that we can learn to better deal with them when they happen. Before going for the chips, indulging in a late-night snack, or serving an extra portion onto your plate, wait just two minutes. Often if we take a step back and wait, the craving and urge will subside.
Eat real, whole foods
When we think about eating to reduce stress, it’s important that we focus on real, whole foods—a practice called “clean eating.”
Clean eating means that we build the majority of our diet around unprocessed foods: vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, eggs, fresh meats, fresh seafood, herbs and spices. When we focus on including these foods, it enables us to crowd out the high-sugar, high-fat foods with nutrient-dense, fiber-rich foods that sustain energy and help us fight stress.
There are key vitamins and nutrients that we want to include daily when eating to reduce stress. These include the vitamins B and C, omega-3 fatty acids, magnesium, and selenium.
There are six key foods to include in your diet to reduce stress.
Bananas are nature’s perfect snack. They contain the perfect combination of natural sugars and fiber to create sustained energy. Bananas also contain two of our key nutrients to include to reduce stress: vitamins B6 and C.
Berries are beautiful little superfoods. They’re packed with fiber, vitamin C, and antioxidants, and the anthocyanins found in their skins are a powerful tool in fighting diabetes and obesity.
Spinach is the king of greens. Loaded with vitamins B, C, and magnesium, it is one of the most important foods to include to reduce stress. In addition, its mild flavor and versatility make it easy to include in smoothies, sauces, stir-fries, and soups.
Eggs are an excellent stress-fighting food. They are a potent source of vitamins B and D, choline, and selenium. Selenium and choline are important nutrients for brain health and are essential for dealing with stress. In addition, boiled eggs are easily portable and can be eaten alone or added to a salad for a boost of high-quality protein.
Salmon is rich in high-quality protein. Along with other fatty fish including tuna, sardines, mackerel, and trout, salmon contains stress-busting vitamin B and omega-3 fatty acids that boost serotonin to improve mood.
Walnuts have brain-boosting benefits. This nutrient-dense nut is high in vitamin B, omega-3 fatty acids, and uridine—the combination of which has been shown to be a natural antidepressant.
While we will never be able to completely alleviate stress in our lives, we can do a better job of managing it, and our diet plays an important role in our daily stress management system. By taking time to pause, taking a step back, and focusing on eating real, whole foods with key vitamins and nutrients, we can take control of our nutrition and fight stress with food.