Stress is a normal reaction of the body towards a threat, both physical and psychological. However, if the body does not get a possibility to retreat into a resting period, stress can be detrimental to your corporal and mental health. The consequence is constant fatigue, depression, and heart/lung diseases – even cancer.
Today’s rushed lifestyle is not exactly beneficial for keeping that balance. Stress can be triggered by anything from facing an exam, loss of a loved one, problems at work/home, or financial trouble etc.
Often we resort to a quick ‘pick-me-up’ fix, as they are perceived as alleviating the stress and give us a boost. However, the long term effects are extremely harmful. For example both caffeine and alcohol release adrenaline in the body and thus keep it in the ‘Fight or flight” mode.
Sugar has no vital nutrition, but is a stimulus that can exhaust the adrenal gland, and salt is no better. Fat will only cause obesity and add stress to the cardiovascular system. Junk-food and processed food contain some or all of the above, so including quick-meals in your diet means a vicious cycle of production and addition of toxins in your body.
Which foods should you then choose to combat the changes in your body caused by stress, like increase in adrenaline and cortisol, in blood sugar and cholesterol, in heart rate and blood pressure, and in respiration; accumulation of toxins; emotional changes, gastro-intestinal disorders; and suppression of immunity?
- Almonds. In only about 35 grams of almonds you will get 45% of the recommended daily intake of vitamin E (an antioxidant that protects the body tissue from damage caused by free radicals), and more than 15% of recommended vitamin B2 (or riboflavin, which plays an important role in maintaining health, vitality and wellbeing).
- Flaxseed. The seeds have a high content of dietary fibres and lignans, plus plenty of micronutrients and omega-3. The content of lignan in flaxseed is up to 800 times higher than in other plant foods. Lignan is an oestrogen-like chemical that also acts as antioxidant. Nevertheless, they also have a high calorie level, so you should limit your intake to one teaspoon/day.
- Camomile. Tea, made from the daisy-like plant, camomile, has for a long time been used to help with sleep, but has recently also been known to reduce stress and relieve anxiety. Drink a mug of camomile tea if you feel under pressure!
- Finger millet or Ragi – Finger millet can be ground and mixed into cakes, puddings or porridge. It has a high content of calcium (344 mg/100g), which is an important part of a healthy diet. Not only does calcium keep bones and teeth strong, but it is beneficial in reducing nervousness and irritability, especially helping stress in premenstrual women. 2 tablespoons a day mixed in your flour.
- Milk – Always good as a warm drink at bedtime as it has a calming effect and helps against insomnia, anxiety and mood swings. Avoid milk’s high content of animal fat by consuming skimmed or low-fat milk.
- Orange – Like all other citrus fruits, oranges have a high content of vitamin C. Your body cannot produce nor store vitamin C, so it is important to include lots of vitamin C-rich foods in your diet. Vitamin C is necessary for growth and repair of tissue; boosts the immune system and reduces stress.
- Spinach – The richly green leaves are high in nutritional value and extremely rich in antioxidants, but low in calories. Its content of vitamin B-complex improve your mood, and thus eases stress. It also contains magnesium – insufficient magnesium can cause headaches and tiredness.
- Sweet Potatoes – Rich in complex carbohydrates, dietary fibre, beta carotene, Vitamin C and B6. Their taste is great for satisfying the desire to eat carbohydrates when you are under stress.
In addition to putting your diet under scrutiny to minimise stress, try to incorporate a 30 minute work-out, three to four times in your weekly routine. A great remedy against stress is physical exercise, e.g. aerobics, which will increase oxygen circulation in your blood and will enhance production of the ‘happy hormone’, endorphin.