We’ve all got those foods that we turn to when we’re stressed-out. My go-to foods are muffins and in those really overwhelming moments—I will destroy some buttermilk biscuits. In those moments, it’s my stress that calling the shots. That’s because stress has a profound effect on our body. Perhaps the most damaging effect is how stress depletes the nutrients needed for the body to do its many functions. What happens when we experience stress?
The body’s response to a stress is the release of stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones prepare the body for the fight-or-flight syndrome. This occurs when the body creates a surge of energy to fuel itself for a battle or quick escape (such as, moving out-of-the-way of an oncoming car).
Our heart rate increases, blood pressure increases, muscles contract and the body searches for fuel to use as an energy source. When this state of stress is prolonged, the body eventually depletes its resources and enters into a stage of exhaustion.
The body reacts the same to all types of stress; whether it’s emotional, physical, mental, or chemical. It doesn’t matter if you are in a car accident, giving a speech to a large audience, watching a scary movie, having an argument, losing your car keys, or having a baby. It all registers the same.
The body was not designed to be in a chronic or continuous state of stress and what eventually happens is a domino effect with our body systems. Damage occurs to our adrenal and thymus glands, the immune system gets overwhelmed, toxins and bacteria grow without regulation, food does not get digested properly and nutrients don’t get absorbed or get depleted.
The management of stress requires magnesium from our cells, calcium from our bones and depletes the body of B vitamins. Stress that goes unmanaged can cause all kinds of symptoms and disease: chest pain, cancer, constipation, eczema, high blood pressure, IBS, joint pain, neck and back pain, ulcers, PMS, psoriasis, sexual problems and weight loss/gain just to name a few.
One of the best ways to combat stress is with diet. When the body reacts to stress, it produces byproducts known as oxidants. The term oxidative stress describes when we have a high quantity of these oxidants in our bodies. In order to combat this condition, nature has provided us with the perfect superhero: antioxidants.
Antioxidants are amazing chemical compounds that have the unique ability to attach themselves to harmful oxidants and neutralize them. So, when the body is stressed, we can prevent cell damage (warding off illness, disease, accelerated aging) by eating foods that contain potent antioxidants like vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, selenium, and bioflavonoids.
Below is a list of the most common and most accessible antioxidants and their food sources.
Vitamin A – is made in the body from beta-carotene which is a phytonutrient found in yellow, red, and orange fruits and vegetables; Food sources: beef liver, carrots, watercress, cabbage, sweet potatoes, squash, pumpkin, mangos, tomatoes, broccoli, and tangerines
Vitamin C – a water-soluble nutrient that is exceptionally good at de-arming oxidants because it can give electrons to neutralize oxidants; this is why squeezing lemon juice on fruits salads and apples is effective as a way to prevent them from turning brown or oxidizing; Food sources: bell peppers, watercress, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, strawberries, lemons, kiwi, oranges, grapefruits, limes and tomatoes
Vitamin E – this vitamin is fat soluble and has powerful antioxidant properties; Food sources: wheat germ oil, nuts, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, tuna, salmon and sweet potatoes
Selenium – this mineral’s antioxidant properties help to protect against free radicals and carcinogens; Food sources: tuna, oysters, cottage cheese, cabbage, beef liver, and cod
Carotenoids – are natural pigments found in red, green, yellow and orange fruits and vegetables
Bioflavonoids – these pigmentation come in those fruits and vegetables that are blue, purple, and deep red
Dark Chocolate – yes, this is not a typo; dark chocolate has more antioxidant power than a bowl of blueberries, thanks to the bioflavonoids in chocolate
You’ll also want to increase your intake of B vitamins which are essential in helping the body to manage stress. These water-soluble nutrients work together to help keep up a healthy nervous system and combat stress. To get your daily dose of B vitamins, try adding these foods to your diet: eggs, lentils, cauliflower, cabbage, peppers, bananas, squash, broccoli, asparagus, clams, oysters, sardines, tuna, liver, lamb, cottage cheese, turkey, and chicken.
For more information on natural ways to manage stress and keep your body healthy read my book Secrets to Healthy Aging.
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