How A Superfood Diet Can Reduce Your Stress Levels

Comfort foods vs superfoods: why reaching for the healthier option can help you manage your stress more effectively
Flickr/deanhochman CC by 2.0

Sally JamesAfter an awful day, week, or even year, you might find it comforting to pig out on unhealthy foods. Foods that are rich in salt and fat can make you feel instantly better, as long as you don’t care about the potential adverse health effects.

In fact, you may not know that eating salty, fatty and sugary foods could very well be the reason you’re feeling emotionally drained in the first place. Your diet is closely linked to your levels of stress, and eating sensibly can reduce tense, anxious feelings.

If you’re at a point where work is becoming unbearable, your energy levels are depleted and all you want to do is hide in bed all day, perhaps a simple change in how you approach your diet could be what you need.

The Problem with Junk Food and Stress
Many studies have linked eating too much junk food to increased levels of anxiety and stress. Not only can the adverse physical effect of such a diet lead to low self-esteem and even to serious health problems such as bulimia and anorexia, but salty, fatty and sugary diets can also have a short-term effect on your anxiety.

While there is help for eating disorder sufferers readily available across the states, avoiding this situation by taking a sensible approach to your diet on your own is the most desirable course of action. You have to act fast, however. Junk food can give you temporary pleasure, but it’s only going to make you feel worse in the long run, and the longer you continue on that course, the harder it will be to reverse. By swapping “comforting” unhealthy foods for healthy foods you can easily make a big difference in how you feel both physically and emotionally.

Chronic Stress Resulting from a Poor Diet
Chronic stress is a physiological condition, as well psychological. When you’re stressed, your body naturally releases hormones to deal with that stress. These hormones include adrenaline and cortisol, which increase your heart rate, respiration, blood pressure. muscle tension and metabolism. Stress that is left unresolved can build up slowly leading to serious physical and psychological problems such as impaired memory and learning abilities, coronary heart disease, hypertension, osteoporosis and an under-performing immune system.

Chronic stress is extremely harmful to your body and has been linked to insulin resistance, an increase in body fat retention and (one which may explain comfort eating) a decreased ability to control appetite. An appetite that is out of control and an increase in body fat retention is not a good combination.

Combating Chronic stress with Superfoods
When you are stressed, your body craves a quick hit of energy from fat and sugar, which is why we tend to turn towards so called comfort foods. A consequence of this stress-induced eating is that your body becomes unable to produce leptin, the hormone that controls your appetite and tells you when you’ve had enough to eat. This is why you will often find yourself overeating when you’re stressed, as a lack of leptin enables you to take on more than you would feel comfortable with under normal circumstances.

Without being able to tell when you’re full, and with your brain telling you to keep eating, it’s easy to get caught in a cycle of overeating. However, research has shown that superfoods can help combat this cycle. A diet rich in ‘good’ carbohydrates and high in protein has been shown to reduce ghrelin – the hormone that does the opposite of leptin in increasing appetite—much more effectively than a diet high in fat. In other words, eating healthy carbohydrates instead of carbohydrates which are high in fat and sugar can stop you from eating too much.

Superfoods and Serotonin
Not only do superfoods combat an overindulgent appetite, but they also go straight to the heart of the issue. Stress increases your body’s production of serotonin, a hormone which helps to keep stress at bay. However, chronic stress will soon deplete your bodies serotonin levels. In order to suppress the depletion, your body needs to produce serotonin more effectively, which can be done with an increase in the amino acid called tryptophan.

Tryptophan is essential for serotonin production and you can get and abundance of it from eating superfoods. Lean white meat such as turkey and chicken breast, wild salmon and other cold water fish, and soybeans: all of these foods are rich in tryptophan and will help you combat your stress levels much more effectively than junk foods.

Just remember, the next time you go to a fast food chain for comfort foods, you’d be much better off eating healthily instead.

Sally James is a freelance writer specializing in health and travel.

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