For most of us, stress and food go hand-in-hand. Food can give us the feelings of power, control and
satisfaction that we need in stressful situations. It’s no surprise that when our stress levels go up our
resistance to ‘comfort’ foods goes down.
This isn’t always a bad thing — our favorite foods actually can reduce our stress levels. But moderation
Giving your body the nutrition it needs, is a positive step you can take every day toward combating
stress. With the correct nutrition, you are better prepared to face the challenges of the day.
Adrenaline is produced during times of intense stress. That gives you a burst of energy, but your blood-
sugar level drops after the crisis is past. Sustaining food is needed to replenish it. Certain foods increase the physical stress on your body by making digestion more difficult, or by denying the brain essential
nutrients. Stress itself can cause bad digestion. Drinks can have just as great an effect — caffeine and
alcohol both put a considerable strain on the body.
With a sensible diet it’s possible to reduce the effects of stress, avoid some common problems, and
protect your health.
Think about it. Your brain is always “on.” It takes care of your thoughts and movements, your breathing
and heartbeat, your senses — it works hard 24/7, even while you’re asleep. This means your brain
requires a constant supply of fuel. That “fuel” comes from the foods you eat — and what’s in that fuel
makes all the difference. Put simply, what you eat directly affects the structure and function of your
brain and, ultimately, your mood.
Like an expensive car, your brain functions best when it gets only premium fuel. Eating high-quality
foods that contain lots of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants nourishes the brain and protects it from
oxidative stress — the “waste” (free radicals) produced when the body uses oxygen, which can damage
Unfortunately, just like an expensive car, your brain can be damaged if you ingest anything other than
premium fuel. If substances from “low-premium” fuel (such as what you get from processed or refined
foods) get to the brain, it has little ability to get rid of them. Diets high in refined sugars, for example,
are harmful to the brain. In addition to worsening your body’s regulation of insulin, they also promote
inflammation and oxidative stress. Multiple studies have found a correlation between a diet high in
refined sugars and impaired brain function — and even a worsening of symptoms of mood disorders,
such as depression.
It makes sense. If your brain is deprived of good-quality nutrition, or if free radicals or damaging
inflammatory cells are circulating within the brain’s enclosed space, further contributing to brain tissue
injury, consequences are to be expected. What’s interesting is that for many years, the medical field did
not fully acknowledge the connection between mood and food.
There are many consequences and correlations between not only what you eat, how you feel, and how
you ultimately behave, but also the kinds of bacteria that live in your gut.
How the foods you eat affect how you feel
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that helps regulate sleep and appetite, mediate moods, and inhibit pain.
Since about 95% of your serotonin is produced in your gastrointestinal tract, and your gastrointestinal
tract is lined with a hundred million nerve cells, or neurons, it makes sense that the inner workings of
your digestive system don’t just help you digest food, but also guide your emotions. What’s more, the
function of these neurons — and the production of neurotransmitters like serotonin — is highly
influenced by the billions of “good” bacteria that make up your intestinal microbiome. These bacteria
play an essential role in your health. They protect the lining of your intestines and ensure they provide a
strong barrier against toxins and “bad” bacteria; they limit inflammation; they improve how well you
absorb nutrients from your food; and they activate neural pathways that travel directly between the gut
and the brain.
This may sound implausible to you, but the notion that good bacteria not only influence what your gut
digests and absorbs, but that they also affect the degree of inflammation throughout your body, as well
as your mood and energy level, is gaining traction among researchers.
Good nutrition is an important stress management tool. When our bodies are poorly fed, stress takes an
even greater toll on our health. Nutrition and stress are interlinked. Here are some tips to eat well for
Eat regularly: – Your brain needs glucose to work at its best. Eating regularly throughout the day helps
keep your blood glucose stable. Studies have shown that more stable blood sugar levels are associated
with better academic performance.
Get your healthy fats: – Omega-3 fatty acids found in walnuts, flax seed and fish oil are associated with
brain function. Deficiencies of this fatty acid can result in depression and/or anxiety.
Eat your veggies: – Fruits and vegetables contain vitamins and minerals like copper, zinc, manganese,
and vitamins A, E and C. Leafy greens are especially good for you. These vitamins and minerals work to
neutralize harmful molecules produced when your body is under stress.
Add high-fiber foods: – High fiber intake has been associated with greater alertness and decreased
perceived stress. So, add fiber-rich foods like oatmeal, nuts, beans, fruits and vegetables to your diet.
Trade caffeine for more sleep: – Caffeine leads to increased blood pressure and may make you anxious,
especially if you are already prone to anxiety. While consuming caffeine may seem to help you
concentrate better, some studies show that caffeine only restores what is lost through lack of sleep.
Instead of turning to caffeine, try the natural grade booster – sleep!
Stock up on healthy snacks: – If you know that a stressful or busy time is approaching, prepare by
stocking up on quick, healthy snacks. Healthy snacks are high in protein and/or fiber. Some examples are
low fat granola, almonds, peanuts or yogurt with fresh fruit.
When it comes to food and stress, one of the best things you can do for your body is to choose a
balanced, healthful eating style. Participating in regular physical activity is also beneficial for managing
stress. As little five minutes of exercise a day can be beneficial. A Dietitian Nutritionist can help you
establish an individualized healthy eating plan that includes specific food preferences and goals for
Other ways to help ease stress might include:
• Relaxation activities, such as meditation, guided imagery or breathing exercises.
• Socializing with friends and loved ones for emotional support during stressful situations.
• If stress has you craving crunchy foods, reach for lower calorie, healthful foods such as carrots,
celery or plain popcorn.
• Consider seeking professional help. Stress can become debilitating. Counselors and other health
care providers can offer treatments to help combat stress.
How you deal with stress is a choice. Too often people turn to cigarettes, sweets, television, coffee
and/or alcohol to “manage” stress. Instead, control stress by adopting a healthful lifestyle which
includes eating well, exercising, sleeping adequately and enjoying your free time.