Stress – a high dollar word with overloaded explanations. People losing homes, loved ones and jobs donate to one group of stress pupils, while those with punishing routines, i.e. diets, exercise, Type A personalities, and low self-esteem contribute to another. Regardless of the group you fall into, food plays a crucial role in the way that we manage stress.
Our body is not designed to handle the fast-paced lifestyle that we live today. Nor is it designed to function properly with the processed and fast foods that we encounter on a daily basis. Stress attaches an extra burden onto the biological inner workings of the body. Continued stress, without time for rejuvenation rids us of vital nutrients necessary to sustain life. In a society where the average American diet consistently lacks the proper amount of vitamins and minerals needed for stability and health, additional stress doubles or triples our risk for increased nutrient deficiency and disease. Stress replaces our joy in life with angry, violent outbreaks and overwhelming feelings of inadequacy. The foods we consume can keep us on the roller-coaster ride or provide grounding for safe landings.
Stress can be colorful or it can be black and white. When colorful, we feel on top of the World yet notice that our tank is often running on fumes, ready to explode at any time. We search for comfort foods, often craving things such as sugar and complex processed carbohydrates, caffeine, tobacco, alcohol and even prescription drugs to maintain our revved up status. These types of foods continue the roller-coaster ride, going up and down with everyday events.
In the black and white stage, we begin to realize that we have been burning the candle at both ends. Our drive and ambition wane, our ability to focus ebbs and that feeling of depression will just not go away. A lack of good nutrition keeps us down and out.
To minimize the overall effects of stress, a high protein, high fat diet filled with good Omega-3 nutrients, proteins that provide adequate amino acids and foods that provide healthy vitamins and minerals needed to regulate communication between the brain and body is required.
Protein: Foods, Supplements, Vitamins
Foods with the highest concentration of protein include fish, Cornish game hens, chicken, turkey, lamb, beef, buffalo, liver, shellfish and milk. Protein is of “prime importance” for all cells and is necessary for the growth and maintenance of the brain and nervous system neurotransmitters (electrical signals that run throughout the body). Protein produces hormones that keep us grounded and it boosts the immune system and adrenal glands, our glands of survival. It is the quality, not quantity of protein that counts. Select the protein right for your body type.
Almonds, black walnuts, mackerel, organic non-lean animal meat, i.e. beef, lamb, venison and bison, provide high amounts of the protein amino acid GABA. GABA acts as the body’s natural form of valium and helps calm rather than excite the neurotransmitters of the central nervous system. Decaf green tea also helps calm the system. Adding a few complex carbohydrates such as whole grains, oatmeal, brown rice, and rich farm raised potatoes can be useful as they will help transport good nutrients to areas of the body where they are needed. Go easy on the complex carbohydrates as we tend to use them for comfort vice nervous system support.
Dark green leafy vegetables, raw or cooked, provide a high amount of the B-Complex vitamins. GABA and B-Complex vitamins work together to give a new lease on life and restore some of the happiness (and energy) lost during stressful situations. While all of the B vitamins are important, B3 serves as the happy vitamin, B5 provides adrenal gland support and B12 acts with the central nervous system of the gut and brain to regulate our moods. Other foods high in B-Complex include eggs, fish, various types of seeds, whole grains, cheese, nuts, seafood, beans, bananas, yogurt, organic dairy. Many vegetables contain the minerals needed to lift our moods. High carbohydrates that are filled with empty calories and low fat diets provide little support in stressful situations.
Other Proteins Vital to Stress Therapy
- L-tryptophan acts as a natural anti-depressant to advance the serotonin level of the brain and enhance a more positive outlook. It provides emotional stability, heightens self-confidence and restores mental agility and flexibility. Found in brown rice, cottage cheese, turkey, peanuts and some soy protein items.
- L-tyrosine helps regulate moods and equalize the metabolism and function of the adrenal, pituitary and thyroid glands. Almonds, avocados, bananas, raw dairy products, lima beans, pumpkin and sesame seeds offer this grounding food.
- L-glutamine fuels the body and improves brain function. When deficient in the diet, the body will begin to pull this protein from muscles, causing fibromyalgia type symptoms. Raw vegetables like cabbage, parsley, spinach are best; cooking can destroy the value of this element. Beef, beets, eggs, fish, legumes, chia and hemp seeds also supply this nutrient.
- DL-phenylalanine works with glutamine to supply dopamine and norepinephrine, two nutrients essential for brain alertness, mood stability, pain and memory. Brussel sprouts, dark green leafy vegetables, goat’s milk, summer squash, onions, broccoli and bananas will increase the level of this nutrient in the body.
Good Fat from Good Food
We have been taught to avoid fat, however, good fat allows us to step off the roller coaster ride and return to earth. Good fats help fight those incapacitating cravings for carbohydrates and sugars and promote a stable environment.
Omega 3 Essential Fatty Acids
Wild salmon, sardines, anchovies and mackerel usher in excellent sources of the Omega-3 fatty acids often referred to as “our brains best friend”. The more omega 3 foods consumed, the better our mood. Traditionally, we consume double the amount of the “bad mood” Omega-6 foods; those cooked in vegetable oils of corn, soybean, sunflower, safflower and trans fats, than good Omega-3 foods. Research shows that an increase of Omega-3 foods in our diet, coupled with a decrease of the Omega-6 types can raise our body’s natural anti-depressants by up to 40%. Omega 3 foods may also help decrease stroke, improve balance and memory and reduce weight.
Flaxseed is the richest natural source of Omega 3 fatty acids. Cod liver and hemp oil supplements also provide good sources of Omega-3. Oily animal foods such as duck, grass fed beef and chicken contain good omega-3 fatty acids. Raw organic nuts contain some omega-3 richness. Look for DHA and EPA in any supplement you buy.
Raw or real butter and milk are examples of good fat needed to help the brain function. Extra virgin olive oil is another good saturated fat as are egg whites and yolks, cheese, tuna and grass fed beef. Even the skin of the chicken is sometimes fuel for the brain. Products containing trans fats, found in many of our processed products, should be avoided. Your local farmer’s market is a good place to find natural products with these saturated fats.
Good nutrition, foods rich in proper vitamins at the right time can actually decrease our appetite and help us lose weight. If you are constantly bombarded with stress, feelings of uneasiness, stiff/tense muscles, cravings for comfort foods, drugs or other addictions, or if you have been on a low fat diet for years, you may find that adding these foods to your daily routine can help. Remember to use moderation for any food or supplement you use.
Susan M. Dykes is a Licensed Massage Therapist, Holistic Health Counselor, Master Herbologist with emphasis on Nutritional Psychology. As a counselor, writer, speaker and consultant, Susan helps us understand how our physical ailments are attached to our emotional and nutritional encouters, and how our lifestyle may be contributing to our ups and downs. Visit her website www.healinggifts4u.com for more information.