Stress seems to have a designated spot in most of our lives these days, given all our activities and commitments. While the optimal solution is to address the root cause of the stress, there are dietary tips that can help shield your body against the effects of chronic stress.
What Happens to Your Body on Stress
When your body experiences stress, there are two main reactions. First, and immediately, the sympathetic nervous system triggers the “fight or flight” response. Your adrenal glands will release adrenaline, which will then activate many other actions throughout the body to help you “fight or fly.” In true emergencies this cascade of actions is necessary and helpful, but for individuals with chronic stress, the continuous release of adrenaline can throw the body awry. The second reaction, delayed by a few minutes, is a signal from the brain to the adrenal glands to release cortisol, or the stress hormone.
Constantly having high levels of cortisol circulating in the blood can have long-term negative effects, including high blood pressure. Two ways your body can manage adrenaline and cortisol are to limit how much of the hormones are released and to rapidly remove them from your blood. The good news is that different foods can help with these actions.
These foods contain high amounts of magnesium, a trace mineral stored in bone. When there are high levels of adrenaline in the blood, magnesium is released from the bones. Over time, this magnesium reserve becomes tapped out. Replenishing it with these foods can prevent a magnesium deficiency, and ultimately better control adrenaline. Here are a few recipes to incorporate these foods into your diet:
These two foods are excellent sources of omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to play a role in the body’s response to stress. Specifically, omega-3 fatty acids influence the amount of cortisol your body produces during times of stress. Research indicates that having omega-3 fatty acids around can protect you from having stronger responses to stress. Try these recipes rich in omega-3s:
Red Peppers, Broccoli
These two vegetables are among the richest sources of vitamin C. Vitamin C has many positive effects in the body, including the ability to act as a buffer against high cortisol levels. Put another way, regularly eating foods rich in vitamin C will come in handy when you are faced with a stressful situation. Try these two recipes to boost your vitamin C:
Green Tea and Chamomile Tea
A soothing cup of tea sounds like a stress-reliever, and in fact, there are phytochemicals in tea that have been shown to have a beneficial impact on stress. Green tea and chamomile tea, specifically contain theanine, an amino acid that helps your body clear cortisol from the blood.
The final food on our stress-busting list packs a double whammy by combatting both adrenaline and cortisol. Dark chocolate (with cacao over 72%), contains epicatechin, a flavonol. While more research is needed to understand exactly how epicatechin works its magic, it’s clear that it helps the body manage the negative effects of the two major stress hormones after they have been released. A good bar chocolate will do the trick, but those more adventurous can try this dark chocolate dessert: