The Connection Between Nutrition & Stress Management

April is recognized as National Stress Awareness Month to increase public knowledge on the causes of stress and negative impact it can have on physical and mental health. Stress has become a normal part of life for most people, with Americans being one of the most stressed out in the world1. Stress is our body’s response to external pressures, which can be caused by many situations or life events. However, the response to stress can vary from person to person as individuals experience stress in different ways. When we encounter stress, our body produces stress hormones that trigger a “fight-or-flight” response2.

While occasional, acute stress is a normal part of life, long term, ongoing stress can have a negative impact on our overall health. When stress becomes chronic, the primary stress hormone, cortisol, remains elevated in the body, which can lead to serious health problems down the road, such as obesity, heart disease and diabetes3. Therefore, managing stress properly is an essential part of maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

Although there are many strategies that can be used to help alleviate the impact of stress, proper nutrition is one of the most powerful tools for stress management. Chronic stress alters the way the body uses nutrients from the food we consume. Stress raises our metabolic needs, therefore, increases the use and excretion of many nutrients. It can also have a negative influence on our eating behaviors, with individuals often craving comfort foods high in sugar and fat that lack essential nutrients3.

A well-balanced diet is crucial to help prevent nutrient deficiencies and provide extra energy needed to cope when feeling stressed. Below are some specific nutrients that have been shown to provide stress relieving benefits that improve mood and increase energy levels.

5 Stress-Relieving Ingredients to Include in Your Diet

  1. Complex Carbohydrates. Whole, unprocessed grains, such as oats, quinoa and brown rice provide a steady release of energy and stimulate the production of serotonin, the mood-boosting hormone that promotes feelings of calmness. In addition, complex carbohydrates are digested more slowly than refined grains, which can help stabilize blood sugars to reduce stress 4.
  2. B Vitamins. B vitamins, found in leafy greens, seeds, legumes, meat & dairy products, maintain regular blood sugar levels and help keep your energy and mood stable. Vitamin B5, often referred to as the anti-stress vitamin, helps support adrenal glands and improve coping mechanisms. Vitamin B12 is involved in the production of serotonin to help regulate mood 3.
  3. Magnesium. Magnesium rich foods, such as nuts, seeds, beans, avocados, bananas, and dark leafy greens, are beneficial in reducing inflammation by regulating cortisol levels. In addition, magnesium can help relax muscles, reduce stress and anxiety, and improve sleep quality4.
  4. Vitamin C. Vitamin C reduces stress by supporting the adrenal glands, lowering cortisol levels and boosting the immune system3. Foods containing vitamin C include oranges, tomatoes, peppers, leafy greens and broccoli.
  5. Omega-3 Fatty Acids. Omega-3 fatty acids are essential fats known for their anti-inflammatory properties. Flaxseed, chia seeds, walnuts and fatty fish, such as salmon and tuna, are rich sources of omega 3s, which have been shown to reduce cortisol levels and alleviate symptoms of anxiety3.

Incorporating these stress-reducing nutrients into our diet can be beneficial in both nourishing the body and calming the mind during times of stress. By focusing on whole, nutrient-dense foods rich in complex carbohydrates, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins and minerals, you will be able to navigate everyday life challenges with ease.

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