You are what you eat. It’s trite but true and some of the most common foods we eat increase the negative effects of stress on our mental and physical health. Changing your diet may help change your life in a positive way by helping you manage stress more effectively while enhancing your overall physical health.
The worst foods for stress can and should be all but eliminated from your diet to be replaced by wholesome, more natural foods with the essentials like lean protein, high quality carbohydrates, very little sugar, low in fat and with fiber, vitamins and minerals and antioxidants.
The Dirty Diet
Highly processed foods are your body’s worst enemy. They provide very little nutrients while being loaded with empty calories made up of sugar and artery-clogging fat. The foods that fall into this category are most things that come in a box or plastic wrapper and have white flour, sugar and hydrogenated oils listed first in the ingredients. Here are some of the worst offenders:
Doughnuts, cookies, and cakes: These are just sugar and fat bombs without fiber, vitamins or minerals of any kind. One glazed doughnut can have upward of 600 calories and will send your blood glucose levels soaring. You may get a temporary sugar high but it won’t be worth the ugly sugar crash that will leave you feeling sluggish and less able to tolerate life’s daily stressors.
Pretzels, potato chips, tortilla chips and crackers: These foods are usually just a substitute for an eating utensil to transport some kind of fatty dip to your mouth. They offer no real vitamins or minerals, no fiber and are made with highly processed white flour, which spikes glucose levels in the blood. They are usually loaded with fat, excess salt and it is so easy to eat half of a bag of them. They don’t fill you up so once you come down from the sugar high they provide you will be looking for more food, packing on pounds and increasing your risk of diseases like diabetes, heart disease and even cancer.
Drinks: Lattes, soda, juice, cocktails and beer: It is so easy to guzzle down these empty calories that offer nothing in the way of health benefits. The caffeine boost in the latte will not be able to offset the sugar crash it also brings with it, and the carbonation in soda will leave you feeling bloated but still hungry. Hello obesity! Hard liquors mixed with sugary concoctions like juice will only make you tipsy and ultimately hung-over. Beer, while not sweet, is basically drinking a glass of sugar. Even a glass of pure orange, apple or cranberry juice is just a lot of sugar minus the fiber and nutrients you would get if you ate the fruit whole that it comes from.
Fast food and take-out: Most of what you get at the drive-thru or have delivered is unhealthy with excess sodium, fat and calories without many healthy ingredients like vitamins, minerals or fiber. You might think the Chinese take-out with broccoli and water chestnuts is healthy, but the greasy fatty meats, MSG preservatives and sugar-loaded soy sauce outweigh any health benefits a few vegetables have. Any kind of fast food sandwich accompanied by French fries is just a lot of fat and carbs with little or no health benefits. The buns are white flour and sugar, the meat is fatty and the sodium levels are more than you should consume in a week, let alone one meal.
Eating these kinds of foods increases the negative effects of stress on the body. They may provide temporary comfort, but your weight creeps up and you feel increasingly fatigued because you have been denying your body essential nutrients to rebuild, you will find stress levels rising.
Unfortunately these foods are staples of Western diets, but research is not only showing these kinds of foods are not only physically unhealthy, but also mentally. People who consume highly processed foods and drinks, and regularly drink beer are at an increased risk for depression and anxiety, certainly things that will increase your stress levels.
The good news is, you can avoid all these kinds of foods and still enjoy delicious meals, drinks and treats. It just takes a little extra effort to plan your day so that you are not starving and find yourself chugging a soda to make it to the end of your day. Healthy options are out there and it’s worth your time and energy to find them and stave off the negative health consequences poor diet and stress will have on you.