Believe it or not, stress can actually have an appetite-suppressing affect.
According to Harvard Health, short-term stress typically leads to the release of certain hormones that turn hunger cues off. Plus, when experiencing acute stress, the adrenal glands are told to pump out epinephrine (or adrenaline), which initiates the “flight or fight” response and also temporarily subdues the desire to eat.
But on the other hand, long-term stress can have the opposite effect. Chronic stress may cause a continuous spike in levels of cortisol, a hormone that increases appetite and possibly cravings for sugary and fatty foods.
Scientists aren’t sure of the exact reasons we crave these types of foods when we’re highly stressed, but research shows it likely has something to do with the combined increase in levels of cortisol, insulin and ghrelin.
So yes, when you’re feeling stressed, reaching for salty and sweet comfort foods is basically a natural reaction, but unfortunately it’s not exactly a smart strategy for dealing with anxious emotions.
According to the UK Stress Management Society, while eating “junk” food might help us feel temporarily relieved, it can actually increase the body’s overall volume of stress.
The main problem is that most “comfort” foods don’t offer much nutritional value. By making poor dietary choices, especially when you’re feeling highly stressed, you’re depriving your body of the essential nutrients it needs to function optimally. Plus, those nutrients play an important role in helping your body fight the negative effects of stress.
“It’s important to recognize that when under stress, the nutrients we have consumed will be drained at a much quicker rate then they are normally,” the UK Stress Management Society explains.
For this reason, it’s essential to support your body with stress-fighting nutrients, that will not only help you feel more relaxed, but aid your body in efficiently fighting off the internal effects of stress.
According to the UK Stress Management Society the following nutrients are essential for stress management:
- B vitamins: They help the body handle stress, build your metabolism and play an important role in the nervous system.
- C vitamins: They protect the immune system and help reduce cortisol levels in the body
- Magnesium: Plays an important role in several functions such as muscle relaxation, fatty acid formation and heartbeat regulation.
- Folate (or folic acid): Produces the pleasure-inducing brain chemical dopamine and may help to relieve symptoms of depression.
So next time you’re overly stressed, instead of reaching for a less nutritious comfort food, treat your body to the nutrients it really needs with one of the following stress-fighting superfoods.
Papaya and Fruits with Vitamin C
Fruits like papaya, pineapple, kiwi, cantaloupe and oranges provide the body with a boost of vitamin C.
Among other important nutrients, leafy greens like spinach and Swiss chard are packed with folate and magnesium. According to Health Magazine, a 2012 study published in the Journal of Affective Disorders associated a lower risk of depression with middle-aged and elderly people who consumed the most folate when compared with those who consumed the least. Plus, a 2013 study from the University of Otago found that college students felt calmer, happier and more energetic on days when they ate more fruits and vegetables.