Blog > How to Optimize Your Diet to Reduce Stress Levels

How to Optimize Your Diet to Reduce Stress Levels

Eat your way to a calmer existence
Person eating avocado for stress management purposes

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You might have explored various stress management techniques, from refining your time management skills to integrating practices like meditation into your regimen, yet you still find yourself grappling with persistent stress.

You may be ticking all the boxes for fostering mental wellness, except for one crucial aspect: maintaining a nutritious diet that supports your body’s stress management. Your diet’s influence on stress levels is significant, as certain foods and beverages may exacerbate stress responses while others can help your body manage it more effectively. Understanding the intricate link between stress and nutrition is essential, and making informed dietary decisions can significantly diminish your body’s overall stress levels. Here’s what you should know to navigate this relationship and optimize your diet for better stress management.

The Science of Stress and Nutrition

When you’re stressed, your body is impacted in more ways than just a sudden feeling of nausea or a pounding headache. A surge of hormones is released throughout the body, including adrenaline and cortisol, the primary stress hormone.

According to Mayo Clinic, these hormones make your body do a few things. Adrenaline gives you more energy to deal with a perceived threat immediately. At the same time, cortisol increases sugar in the bloodstream while slowing functions that are unnecessary during a fight-or-flight situation.

These hormones operate under the biological understanding that if you’re stressed, it means your life is in danger. In modern reality, that’s not exactly the case. When you’re stressed about a work interaction, and your cortisol rises (and remains heightened), it unhelpfully slows your digestion, making it more difficult for you to lose weight. Increased cortisol also leads to higher blood pressure and high blood sugar.

In addition to these hormonal responses to stress, today’s busy professionals may also be more inclined to make less healthy decisions due to stress. This only exacerbates the existing issues, leading to more health problems, such as insulin resistance, excess visceral fat, and a higher risk of type 2 diabetes.

Luckily, though, there are foods that can help you lower your cortisol levels, decrease your overall stress, and help you feel better, faster.

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Foods That Fight Stress

Certain foods have been recognized for reducing cortisol levels and helping to alleviate stress. Avocados are a prime example, brimming with omega-3 fatty acids. They are also abundant in salmon and linked to anxiety reduction. Spinach deserves a special mention for its folate and phytochemical content, which targets cortisol and helps stabilize blood sugar levels, lessening the impact of stress on the body. The polyphenols in dark chocolate contribute to reduced cortisol levels, while bananas support serotonin production and are a good source of vitamin C. This nutrient, particularly prevalent in citrus fruits, effectively manages stress responses.

Additionally, fermented foods can be beneficial for reducing stress levels in the body due to the gut-brain axis and how your gut health actively impacts your brain health. Probiotics like those found in fermented foods and probiotic supplements can help you perform better under stress and lower cortisol levels. Prebiotics, likewise, can help you deal with stressful events in a healthier manner.

Nutrition-Based Stress Management Goes Beyond What You Eat

While choosing the right, specific foods for your wellness goals is vital to a nutrition-backed stress management plan, you must also consider a few other factors. Beyond what you eat, think about how you eat.

Mindful Eating

Incorporating mindfulness into your eating habits can be a powerful stress-reduction tool. It begins with deliberately selecting foods and considering their effects on your well-being. Beyond just choosing wisely, it’s about fully engaging with the act of eating. Take a break from work and electronic distractions to immerse yourself in the sensory pleasures of your meal—the flavors, textures, aromas, and the experience of nourishment. Such mindful engagement enhances your dining experience and helps prevent overindulgence by promoting greater awareness of satiety signals.

Balanced Blood Sugar

According to the University of Michigan, high blood sugar goes hand in hand with high cortisol levels, and unstable blood sugar levels can lead to poor mental health. To maintain stable blood sugar and avoid blood sugar spikes, balance your meals with a blend of non-starchy vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats, and protein.

Adequate Hydration

Dehydration can cause stress, and stress can cause dehydration. Therefore, if you’re specifically looking to develop healthy habits to help you manage your high stress levels, start with the habit of staying adequately hydrated. Begin your day with warm lemon water to help reduce stress and increase hydration.

Enhance the Benefits of a Stress-Reducing Diet with Other Lifestyle Changes

Maximizing the stress-diminishing effects of your diet involves embracing a broader spectrum of healthy habits.

Integrate daily exercise into your routine to unlock its stress-relieving potential—perhaps followed by a nutritious smoothie to complement your workout. Adjust your lifestyle to include a consistent sleep pattern, ensuring restorative rest each night. Embed relaxation techniques into your everyday life, such as meditation, yoga, or mindfulness exercises. And don’t underestimate the power of a supportive social network to facilitate and reinforce these positive changes.

The Bottom Line

Making the right nutritional choices can significantly reduce stress levels, but lessening stress through nutrition isn’t only about what you eat. It’s also about how you eat and other lifestyle factors.

Looking to build healthier habits and develop better stress management techniques? Sign up for a complimentary coaching call with an Arootah Health Coach to learn how we can support your wellness goals.

Get actionable tips to help you energize and reprioritize self-care. Sign up for The Wellness Return newsletter today.

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Disclaimer: This article is for general informational purposes only and is not intended to be and should not be taken as professional medical, psychological, legal, investment, financial, accounting, or tax advice. Arootah does not warrant or guarantee the accuracy, reliability, completeness, or suitability of its content for a particular purpose. Please do not act or refrain from acting based on anything you read in our newsletter, blog or anywhere else on our website.

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