Managing Stress With Food – The Healthy Way

When we’re under stress, our brain tells us that we “need” three things: sugar, salt, and fat. It goes without saying that it’s probably not a good idea to give into stress-related cravings by pigging out on packaged foods that are high in one or more of these (and therefore, probably high in calories). Emotional eating is a big component of stress-related weight gain, but eating foods high in sugar, salt, or fat seems inevitable during stressful times – most of us can think of no better way to feel better and silence our cravings than by turning to less-than-healthy comfort foods.

While emotional eating can’t always be controlled as well as we’d like it to be, there are ways to lessen its impact on our waistlines and improve stress levels at the same time. Certain foods have been shown to actually help reduce stress, and shut off stress-related cravings. These foods work in one (or more) of four different ways to help reduce stress. Additionally, they all contain other health benefits, and are probably already in your house or part of your regular diet.

1. Foods that boost serotonin levels, to help relax you: Serotonin, a feel-food hormone that helps improve your mood while relaxing you at the same time, is produced from the amino acid tryptophan. Some of these stress-relieving foods contain tryptophan, and others help increase your body’s absorption of it.

  • Low-fat dairy (milk, yogurt)
  • Old-fashioned oatmeal
  • Whole grain bread, pasta, cereal
  • Spinach, other green, leafy veggies

2. Foods that trigger the production of melatonin, which help you sleep: Not getting your recommended 7-9 hours of sleep each night can leave you stressed, and prone to emotional eating. If you have trouble falling or staying asleep, reach for foods that help your body produce melatonin, a natural sleep aid.

  • Pistachios
  • Walnuts
  • Almonds

3. Foods that reduce cortisol and adrenaline levels: Cortisol and adrenaline are known as “stress hormones,” meaning they are produced by the body in high quantities during times of overwhelming stress. They’re partially responsible for such negative stress-related consequences as a slow metabolism and high blood pressure. Certain foods that contain antioxidants and other anti-inflammatory compounds actually help decrease the levels of these hormones in your bloodstream.

  • Oranges
  • Spinach, other green, leafy veggies
  • Salmon, other fatty fish
  • Black tea

4. Foods that keep blood sugar levels stable: A rapid rise or fall in blood sugar levels is almost guaranteed to make you more cranky, tired, and hungry throughout the day. Instead of reaching for the refined carbs you may be craving, try foods that are slower to digest and will keep your blood sugar stable in between meals.

  • Oatmeal
  • Whole grain bread, pasta, cereal
  • Nuts
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