Stress is an inevitable part of life. The stressors most of us face in our daily lives (toxic work environments, relationship problems, financial stress) are very different from the stress factors our ancestors have faced; our body and brain still experience these tensions as real threats.
Our body is programmed to respond to stress in order to protect us from threats to our safety (surpassing a predator who wants to eat us, for example), but in the context of modern life, where these types of threats are much rarer, yet we have a strong response to stress.
When confronted with what he perceives to be a threat, our brain sends a series of nerve and hormonal signals to alert the adrenal glands located at the top of the kidneys to secrete hormones like adrenaline and cortisol.
Adrenaline is what increases our energy and speeds up our heart rate. Cortisol – also known as the stress hormone – increases the concentration of glucose in the bloodstream and increases the availability of substances that our brain and body tissues need for repair. Cortisol also holds functions that are not essential during the “fight or flight” situation, and that is why you may feel momentarily invincible or numb with physical or emotional discomfort. Although cortisol levels should decrease when the episode ends, when stress continues, cortisol may remain elevated, leading to inflammation.
Activation of the long-term stress response has been associated with conditions such as:
- Cardiovascular Problems
- Digestive problems
- Impaired cognitive function
- Sleep Disorders
- Weight gain
The good news is that even if we can not directly control things that stress us, we can develop coping mechanisms to help us regain the sense of calmness – and more normal levels of cortisol. What we eat can greatly improve our response to stress and certain foods can also help in fighting the effect of cortisol.
You have to eat balanced meals that provide a combination of complex carbohydrates, fats and protein in order to sustain energy and blood sugar. It is also important to go slowly with foods that have been shown to cause inflammation, especially sugar and simple carbohydrates, such as sweets and white flours.
Studies in humans and animals have also looked at stress-induced changes in food preference – that is, a trend toward highly palatable comfort foods, especially foods high in fat and sugar. It is believed that increased levels of cortisol, insulin and / or hunger hormone, ghrelin, may be at work.
If you notice a desire or an increase in general appetite, ask yourself what is going on and if there is a more nutritious option to help you feel stable and satisfied. It’s also worth noting: skipping meals or letting yourself forget about eating is something to watch. If you are going through a stressful time, practice good self-care, making sure to eat three meals a day and have a snack or two during the day if necessary.
Some essential nutrients to put on your list are:
Omega-3 fatty acids, especially EPA and DHA from fish oil, have been shown in numerous studies to combat the inflammatory effect of stress.
Pre and probiotic meals
Helps reduce cortisol levels. Fermented foods like yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut and kimchi provide these beneficial intestinal bacteria, and the consumption of foods rich in prebiotics such as onion, garlic, leeks, asparagus, apples and bananas provides food for these probiotic bacteria, so to speak.
All carbohydrates stimulate our brain to produce more serotonin, but choose wisely. Complex carbohydrates, such as whole grains, beans, peas, lentils and starchy vegetables help sustain more stable blood sugar levels. Fiber is also important for stabilizing blood sugar, so working with lots of vegetables and including other high-fiber foods like nuts and fruits also helps tame blood glucose spikes.
Helps support the functions of the immune system also helping to combat cell damage related to stress.
Foods rich in potassium such as avocado, greens and tomatoes also help keep blood pressure under control, which is important because it is something that also tends to increase when stress hormones are released.
Besides diet, some other tips are: Prioritize sleep, meditate, practice physical activity. Believe me, all this can make a big difference.