Food is such an important part of our lives that eating right can have a huge effect on our physical and mental well-being. Good eating habits, such as drinking lots of water and maintaing a balanced diet, can help alleviate symptoms of stress and help our bodies be better at combating its negative effects. Bad eating habits may contribute to or exacerbate stressful situations and lower our immune systems so that it’s harder for us to fight stress.
Unfortunately, when many of us are feeling stressed, we tend to eat worse rather than better. We grab fast food on the run rather than take the time to cook a healthy, balanced meal. Some people like to relieve their stress by consuming large amounts of junk food, such as chocolate or cookies.
Though pigging out or eating unhealthily may temporarily relieve stress, foods that are high in salt or sugar can make stress harder to deal with later on. Food that is high in sodium can actually raise blood pressure, and too much sugar-filled foods may cause mood swings. When we don’t have a balanced diet and skip meals, hunger and a lack of energy make it harder to think clearly and work effectively, which may increase stress.
The following are ways to eat better to help reduce the effects of stress on the body:
- Eat a balanced diet. Instead of going out for a hamburger or putting something in the microwave, try to cook full meals at home as much as possible. Processed foods such as fast food and microwave dinners may be easier to make, but they have very little nutrition and if eaten too much over time, may have disastrous effects on your health. Instead, find recipes that use a lot of fruits and vegetables, as well as grains and fiber. What you eat affects how you feel. If your body feels good, there’s more of a chance that you will too.
- Get enough antioxidants. Antioxidants are thought to reduce the risk of heart attack, stroke, and cataracts, as well as slow down the aging process. You can get antioxidants from citrus fruits, broccoli, tomatoes, leafy greens, and vegetables that are dark orange, yellow, and red.
- Eat breakfast. Breakfast is arguably the most important meal of the day, as it affects your energy levels throughout the day and reduces the likelihood that you’ll eat too much at lunch or dinner. Overeating can lead to bloating and inactivity. Eating the right amount of food during mealtimes keeps your sugar levels balanced so that you feel healthy and alert.
- Avoid too much caffeine. We’ve all had that extra cup of coffee to help us cope with stressful situations, whether it be writing a paper last minute or hyping ourselves up before a presentation. Because caffeine is a stimulant, it has the ability to speed up the brain and make you more alert. However, too much caffeine can cause you to have trouble sleeping at night or get shakes and jitters, which in turn can increase stress.
- Eat a lot of fiber and carbohydrates. Fiber and carbohydrates fill us up more quickly so that we don’t eat too much at mealtime, reducing sluggishness and keeping sugar levels balanced. Carbohydrates are also thought to produce serotonin, a well-known contributor to feelings of well-being.
- Drink lots of water. Staying hydrated is important whether you’re stressed or relaxed. But even the slightest bit of dehydration can upset your body and drain it of energy and motivation. Know much water you need to drink a day in order to stay healthy. Most adults need at least 8 or 9 cups.