Why is stress so harmful?
Many scientists believe that our increasingly stressed and fast-paced lifestyles have a direct link to higher than normal levels of cortisol (a compound linked to stress) in our bodies. It has been shown that elevated cortisol over the long-term results in increased blood sugar levels and weight gain from the impact of overeating. A cortisol infused body can also result in issues with digestion and absorption.
Systemic inflammation causes elevated cortisol levels. Naturally decreasing inflammation through diet and lifestyle can mean decreased cortisol levels. There is not one perfect anti-inflammatory diet because many factors play a role in reducing inflammation and cortisol.
Some anti-inflammatory diet tips from Today’s Dietitian include:
- Elimination of trans fats and minimal intake of saturated fats
- Elimination or reduction of caffeine
- Alcohol in moderation or not at all
- Boosting consumption of whole plant foods to maximize intake of fiber, antioxidants, and phytonutrients: with vegetables, fruits whole intact grains, nuts, seeds, and beans
- Meeting recommended intake of omega-3 fatty acids (may be best measured as a ratio to omega-6 fatty acids)
- Regular exercise
- Probiotics, if warranted
Sour Mood? How’s your food?
Have you ever felt depressed and stressed out after several days of starting a diet? Research has shown that this might be related to the diet-restricting carbohydrate-rich foods that also contain serotonin, a major mood neurotransmitter.
Serotonin is known to impact our mood, sleep, cognition, appetite and digestion. In other words, when serotonin is low, we feel more depressed and stressed out, and when levels are high, we tend to feel greater joy, calmness and even experience better sleep.
For these reasons, it is essential that we include serotonin-containing foods in our diet.
Furthermore, serotonin-containing foods also boost serotonin levels in the gut, given the fact that up to 90 percent of the body’s serotonin is found in our intestines. Therefore, we not only need to include serotonin-containing foods in our diet, but also foods containing its precursor, tryptophan.
Some great food options are nuts, seeds, spinach, turkey, fish, yogurt, eggs, beans, lentils, and chicken.
Including these foods as part of our everyday intake will result in increased levels of serotonin in our brain and positively influence our stress, mood and energy levels.
Would You Care for a Cup of Tea?
Have you ever felt a feeling of calmness come over you after having a cup of tea? It is likely from the chemical compounds found in tea, such as flavonoids and L-theanine, exhibiting soothing properties.
Studies have found that flavonoid and L-theanine can reduce blood pressure and cortisol levels, which aid in alleviating stress. Drinking a warm cup of green, black or chamomile tea can be a good remedy for your everyday stress.
Next time you feel stressed, reach for a cup of tea and feel the calming effect begin to take a hold of you.
Several herbs have also shown to exhibit anti-anxiety properties. The most commonly known include turmeric, basil and lemon balm.
Turmeric is very well known for its antioxidant properties, but some studies have shown that turmeric can increase the blood circulation to the brain, aiding in a feeling of calmness. Basil, on the other hand, has both immune enhancing properties along with a calming potential that can help reduce stress. Another herb that has shown to have a soothing effect is lemon balm. A small number of studies have shown that this herb can decrease stress-related hormones in the body.
As always, please check with your doctor before starting any dietary supplementation.
Information in this blog post was contributed by Mittal Patel, Marcela Lacayo and Emina Gibic, dietetic interns at Baylor University Medical Center at Dallas.