The American Psychological Association reported that in 2010, 40% of Americans reported either overeating or eating unhealthy foods in direct response to stress. When you’re super stressed your cortisol levels rise and it is true that cramming your face full of cookies or chomping down on french fries can make you feel better initially because cortisol causes food cravings. Although your favorite ice cream may soothe you immediately, ultimately this will result in more negative feelings like irritability or mood swings on top of the stress you were trying to get rid of to begin with. But, when your cortisol levels tell you need something this second, there are foods that you can eat that can actually help you to relieve stress, feel calm and help you to feel focused and balanced so you can tackle stressful situations head-on.
Technically a fruit, avocados are often considered a source of fat, so it’s best to eat this stress-busting food in moderation. One of the potential problems when overindulging in unhealthy fats and sugars is more oxidative damage, and a substance, glutathione, in avocados specifically blocks the intestinal absorption of these fats. In addition to glutathione, avocados contain beta-carotene, lutein, folate and vitamins B and E. A serving of avocado is roughly ⅓ of the fruit and you can eat this is so many ways. Mash some with fresh chopped cilantro, onions and tomatoes and a squeeze of lime juice for a healthy, stripped-down guacamole or simply slice some thinly and add to your favorite sandwich.
Strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries…take your pick. Berries are an excellent source of vitamin C and a German study indicated that vitamin C is helpful in the fight against stress. In the study, researchers asked 120 participants to give a speech and then complete difficult mathematical problems. The participants who have been given vitamin C had lower blood pressure and cortisol levels (two indicators of stress) following these exercises than participants who had not been given vitamin C. Berries are delicious on their own, in healthy smoothies or on top of your favorite Greek yogurt.
You may have reached for chocolate before when you were feeling particularly stressed and ended up regretting doing so. This is most likely due to the variety of chocolate you decided to eat. Milk chocolate is loaded with extra sugar and it’s easy to polish off an entire bag of milk chocolate candies pretty quickly. The resulting sugar crash probably only made you feel worse. Good news, you can continue to eat chocolate during times of stress if you choose dark chocolate and enjoy it in moderation. Dark chocolate lowers your blood pressure, which leads to feelings of calm. Additionally, dark chocolate contains two important types of antioxidants, flavonoids and polyphenols, that are helpful to your overall health. Keep a few squares of dark chocolate in your purse or in a drawer at work and enjoy when you’re feeling particularly stressed. Remember that moderation is important, though it is easier to curb the amount of dark chocolate you eat because it is so rich tasting. Stick with dark chocolate that is 70% or more cacao to get the full stress relieving benefits of this sweet treat.
Reaching for food during periods of stress is a completely normal response in both men and women, but it often is done in an unhealthy manner. Training yourself to choose the right foods when you feel frazzled can help to reduce levels of stress, increase feelings of calm, help you feel energized and keep you focused so that you can meet your challenges head on.