The current statistic says that 75% to 90% of all physician visits are for stress-related issues. From the stats, we can conclude that stress is America’s leading health issue. One way to combat stress is with nutrition. Let’s start with food since eating is the one essential activity you do throughout the day.
In the past, we assumed that stress afflicted mostly adults. Knuckled fisted commutes to work, tight deadlines, and long hours impacts your body. More recently, the burden of stress affects teenagers, college students, and the elderly.
Managing the changes brought on by a pandemic adds another layer to the existing stress in our daily life. Financial and health concerns, involuntary isolation, and a general feeling of lack of control increase anxiety.
Long-term, negative stressors place our fight or flight response on autopilot, which often leads to chronic health issues.
Prolonged stress will eventually incite nutritional deficiencies. The body does not function well under pressure. Phyllis A. Balk’s comprehensive reference book, Prescription for Nutritional Healing, asserts that “as a result of a complex of physical reactions, the body does not absorb nutrients well when under stress.”
Unfortunately, chronic stress can suppress your immune system. With a suppressed immune system, you become vulnerable to infectious diseases. An impaired immune system makes your body less able to make a full recovery from illness.
During stressful periods, your body uses more vitamins and minerals. Dr. Marita Schauch suggests “that it is crucial to have an ample supply of vitamins and minerals in your diet.”
The food that you eat can impact your mood and provokes a response in your body. Make sure that response is an anti-inflammatory one.
Remember, stress influences food choices. During stressful periods of life, we tend to rely on fast food or skip meals altogether. When life pummels you with one crisis after another, it’s essential to resist the drive-thru at your favorite fast-food chain.
Foods that combat stress
Foods that help combat stress will come from an eating plan of foods mostly direct from nature and predominately plants. These foods provide vitamins and nutrients but also flavonoids, which offer antioxidants.
You can get flavonoids in seeds, spices, nuts, and some herbs. Great sources of flavonoids:
Cultured dairy products: kefir, plain yogurt, buttermilk (as near to raw as possible)
Essential Fatty Acids:
Fruit and Vegetables: apples, Aronia berries, blueberries, broccoli, citrus fruits, dark leafy vegetables (spinach, kale, tomatoes, onions, strawberries), goji, and golden berries. When shopping, consider opting for organic since most of the list is on the dirty dozen.
Mushrooms: more specifically, maitake, reishi, and shiitake offer not only nutritional value but also medicinal properties as well. Greg Marley, author of Mushrooms for Health: Medicinal Secrets of Northeastern Fungi, says that “medicinal mushrooms are known for giving our immune system a kick-start and increasing the healing potential of our body.”
When it comes to helping with stress, the mushrooms listed above contain adaptogens that help the body “adapt” to stress and normalize the body’s functions.
Extracts of mushrooms are available.
Grains: amaranth, barley, buckwheat, einkorn, millet, oats, quinoa, rice, rye, spelt, teff, and wheat. As always, I recommend the consumption of these grains only when milled at home or soaked/fermented.
Herbs: basil, bilberry, chickweed, dandelion weed, mint, oregano, and thyme
Nuts: almonds (raw)
Seeds: chia, flax, hemp, pumpkin, and sunflower
Processed foods and food products add stress to body systems, so its best to eliminate them from your eating plan.
How does eating in-season help with nutrition, which in turn helps with stress? In short, when you buy produce in-season, it has not traveled a zillion miles to get to your grocery cart. Most likely, the farmer harvested the fruit or veggie a few hours, maybe a day before featuring the food at the farmers’ market.
In other words, foods consumed in-season are more nutritionally dense.
Writer and self-imposed farmer, Barbara Kingsolver writes, “eating home-cooked meals from whole, in-season ingredients obtained from the most local source available is eating well, in every sense. Good for the habit, good for the body.”
Farmers’ markets offer a variety of in-season produce, meat, and dairy options. Farmers are a reliable resource to find out which supermarkets sell their dairy, meat, or produce. Find a list of the nearest farmers’ market here.
Reduce caffeine intake
If you are trying to manage chronic stress, then eliminating caffeine would be best. Caffeine increases cortisol levels, so switch to herbal tea. Try drinking herbal teas that contain adaptogens.
The practice of using adaptogens, a group of herbs that assist in helping your body “adapt, “respond, and reset during times of stress, is a part of Ayurveda medicine. Ayurveda is one of the oldest approaches to wellness.
Flavored adaptogenic herbal teas are available. These teas can provide “a sense of calm, improves mental clarity and memory, and reduces stress.”
As you shop, look for teas that add or blend several of the following adaptogens: ashwagandha, astragalus, hawthorn berries, holy basil, lemongrass, or nettles.
Fermenting food encourages the development of friendly bacteria and probiotic colonies: Lactobacillus, acidophilus, and BifidoBacterium. The “good” bacteria multiply in the gut and colon, which improve digestion and elimination.
Author and herbalist Rosemary Gladstar affirm that “fermentation improves the nutritive value of food, increasing the availability of vitamins, and minerals, including the B vitamin complex, vitamin C, calcium, and protein—all essential to the nervous system.“
As a timesaving option, you can buy fermented foods like sauerkraut, kefir, pickles, kimchi, miso, yogurt, sourdough, and kombucha. On the other hand, fermenting food is a relatively simple process.
Combat stress with nutrition, the obvious step
Your body needs food to function optimally, so why not fill it with the best possible food at your disposal. Suppose that we leave behind fad diets that echo empty promises of relieving us of this or that.
Instead, you can choose to treat your body with the greatest of care, especially during times of stress. Nutritionally bankrupt foods fill your belly with empty calories and harmful additives.
The very act of eating is a gift.
Remember this, be kind and compassionate to yourself as you take small steps that lead to long-term change.