Stress & nutrition: what can you do to reduce stress in your body?

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stress and nutrition
stress and nutrition

stress. Who can say she never has stress? Many stress factors in your life such as a demanding job, a busy family life, a relationship that you are not happy with or money worries cannot always be easily changed. Fortunately, food does. Few people know that stress has many faces and can also be caused or exacerbated by food. Your body can get (extra) stress through food, but you can also reduce stress with food. I have listed which healthy foods you can use to reduce an excess of stress and what you should not eat if you want to get rid of that stress in a healthy, natural way. Below I tell you all about it. 

These are stressful times for women

In The Energetic Women’s Nutrition Compass I describe how women between forty and sixty form the first generation, who usually work fully and at the same time keep the household running. In addition, we want meaningful relationships and also look good. And all this in our hectic, fast-paced world, which in itself causes stress. Because everything around us changes so quickly, nothing seems certain anymore, which can make us feel unsafe. For women, a feeling of powerlessness is an important stressor.

This powerless, insecure feeling causes stress, which becomes chronic if it persists for a long time. Chronic stress is very unhealthy for us. It can cause all kinds of unhealthy physical and psychological symptoms such as: sleeping problems , feeling rushed, restlessness, lack of concentration, gaining weight, difficulty losing weight , lack of energy , skipping meals and eating a lot of sweets or drinking coffee and alcohol.

Overeating in response to stress

To start with the latter, one of the stress responses that women tend to have more than men is that they overeat. Due to the need for extra energy, we naturally like to choose fast energy sources. These are often those tempting, unhealthy, addictive foods such as sweets, junk food and coffee that actually do you no good at all.

When stressed, we tend to reach for junk food because it gives us a good feeling and an energy boost

When I was in my burnout I ate very badly. Sometimes I could hardly eat anything for a day because I wasn’t hungry at all. But in the evening I would reach for sweets and fast carbohydrates such as a pizza or a box of chocolate ice cream. Preferably both.

All those sweets and fast carbohydrates are of course unhealthy, make you fat and do not give your body what you need to get back into balance. If you’ve been following me for a while, you know that I often warn about the rapid blood glucose spikes and subsequent glucose dips that these foods cause. They make us more tired and sicker than we often think. 

Cortisol really works like sugar in your body

What actually happens in your body hormonally when you are under a lot of stressStress means that your body will provide extra energy. Your body’s job is to keep you alive for as long as possible. So it will protect you by giving you extra energy to keep the stress under control.

Stress for a short period of time is fine, for a long period it will wreck your body.

With chronic stress, the hormone cortisol is produced in your body (alongside other stress hormones such as adrenaline). This hormone, like sugar, provides fast energy, because it ensures that glucose is available. Just like sugar does.

The result is an increase in your blood glucose level and therefore an increase in the hormone insulin. Insulin transports the glucose to your cells where it can be converted into energy.

But….if you are not in physical danger because, for example, a lion is chasing you for which you have to run away, then the released glucose (energy) is not used at all. Your body then stores it for later in your fat cellsSo you can get fat from a lot of stress.

I know many women who, after years of struggle with their weight, suddenly lost weight effortlessly after saying goodbye to a major stressor in their lives

Fight stress with your diet

We now know what not to eat when you are stressed. No sweets, fast carbohydrates and junk food. Most of us know that there are many ways and methods to deal with stress, such as yoga, mindfulness, making time for yourself, walking in nature, talking about it with friends. These things can certainly help reduce stress.

But how can nutrition contribute to this? How can you make sure you don’t keep giving in to that sweet, junk food, coffee or alcohol? Your body is still crying out for (fast) energy. Fortunately, there are plenty of healthy and tasty foods that you can eat and drink to literally tackle your stress. 

Good nutrition for stress

Let me first say that almost all processed foods contain substances that literally stress your body and cost you a lot of energy. It is mainly the chemical, unnatural substances in this that your body does not recognize as something natural. That is why your body will try to get rid of those substances as quickly as possible. This process costs you tons of energy.

Especially preservatives and chemical fragrances, colors and flavors in processed food are very bad for your mitochondria; the energy factory in your body.

Below you will find a list of things that you can eat in abundance to support you during a stressful period. You’ll find that a few of the foods listed have all kinds of different stress-reducing and energy-giving nutrients.

Especially (green) leafy vegetables, fruit, seeds, nuts and kernels (and their oil), whole grain (pseudo) grains such as quinoa and seafood occur more than once. If you make sure that you often choose plenty from those groups, you can start to notice that the stress decreases, in addition to all the other healthy effects that this food has.

Fiber

Fiber-rich food provides energy, because it ensures that your blood glucose level (and therefore your insulin level) becomes more even and will rise and fall less quickly.

A stable blood glucose in itself already means a lot less stress for your body

In addition, certain fibers are food for the good gut bacteria (prebiotics) and that makes your gut bacteria very happy. More and more is known about the strong connection between our gut and our brain; they have a huge influence on each other. The good bacteria can literally reduce your stress.

In short, but essentially true: happy gut bacteria ensure that you have a healthy gut, and healthy guts make for healthy, happy people.

Fiber-rich foods include:

  • Green leafy vegetables, raw vegetables, seaweed, asparagus
  • Fruits such as berries, blackberries, raspberries, apples and pears (unpeeled). Do not choose too sweet fruit to avoid a glucose spike.
  • Legumes such as beans, chickpeas, lentils
  • Whole grain products such as oats, quinoa or other (gluten-free) grains or pseudo grains

Magnesium

Stress will certainly cause the magnesium supply in your body to become depleted. It is consumed and urinated out. This can lead to a vicious circle, because a magnesium deficiency itself also leads to stress.

During a stressful period, your body consumes a lot of magnesium. Many women have low levels of magnesium in their bodies

Magnesium-rich foods include:

  • Leafy greens such as spinach and kale
  • Seeds and nuts (including pumpkin and sesame seeds, cashew nuts, almonds, walnuts)
  • legumes
  • Seafood such as oily fish, kelp, seaweed, shellfish
  • Quinoa
  • bananas
  • Avocado
  • Garlic
  • Dark chocolate, cocoa

Magnesium is such an important mineral in a woman’s body that I have included it in my basic supplement. It helps you relax.  You will find an excellent form of easily absorbable magnesium here.  Magnesium is easily absorbed through the skin. Take a foot bath with magnesium crystals in the evening and you will sleep like a baby. Click here for effective Himalayan magnesium crystals.

Zinc

Stress weakens the immune system, which can make you more susceptible to all kinds of diseases. It is therefore important to keep your immune system as healthy as possible. The mineral zinc can help you.

Zinc is a mineral that can boost your immune system.

Where can you find it? Among others in:

  • Green leafy vegetables
  • Beef and shellfish
  • Seeds and kernels (pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds)
  • lentils
  • Almonds
  • whole grains
  • mushrooms
  • Dark chocolate

Omega 3

A major drawback of chronic stress is that it promotes chronic inflammation in your body and can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease.

You can reduce the unhealthy effects of stress by providing plenty of omega-3 fatty acids in your diet.

We often have a serious shortage of this. In addition to food with omega 3, it is therefore often advisable, especially in times of stress, to provide extra omega 3 in the form of a supplement such as krill oil  (with MSC quality mark against overfishing) and   algae oil .

Omega 3 contributes to the regulation of the production of serotonin in the brain. Serotonin promotes a positive mood. Omega 3 is mainly found in fatty fish. There are a few vegetable sources, but they usually do not provide enough omega 3 in the right form on their own. You can find omega 3 in:

  1. Fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, tuna, sardines, herring and anchovies
  2. Perilla oil, linseed oil and walnuts.

B vitamins

B vitamins are very important if you want to combat stress. Vitamin B1 ensures a stable blood glucose level, B3 helps in the production of the happiness hormone serotonin, B5 contributes to a good hormone balance, folic acid (B11) and B12 are stress-reducing. Vitamins B3, B6, B11 and B12 are all essential not only in breaking down and removing used hormones (important in estrogen dominance) but also in the production of energy in your mitochondria.

You can find these vitamins in:

  • avocados
  • legumes
  • asparagus
  • Leafy vegetables
  • Broccoli
  • Citrus fruits
  • Eggs
  • Liver
  • Chicken and turkey

I have not included vitamins B in my basic supplement, but if you have been struggling with a high level of stress for a while, I can certainly recommend it. Preferably choose a well-absorbable vitamin B complex, for example this one.

Vitamin C

Vitamin C increases the resistance and that is much needed in case of stress. Not only with ‘normal’ stress, but also with ‘environmental stress’, such as due to the chemicals that are everywhere in the environment and in many of our products.

The chemicals in our environment also give our body stress

So make sure you have plenty of vitamin C in your diet if you experience a lot of stress. It strengthens your immune system, it is an antioxidant that fights inflammation and vitamin C also ensures that the amount of cortisol in your blood decreases faster after a stress reaction.

It includes:

  • Green leafy vegetables
  • Bell pepper
  • Cauliflower
  • Citrus fruits, especially lemons
  • strawberries
  • Blackberries
  • Watercress
  • tomatoes
  • Red cabbage
  • Broccoli

Vitamin C is also in the basic supplement that I advise women to take daily. Especially when stressed. This one from Royal Green is an easily absorbable, biological variant.

Vitamin D3

Vitamin D3 can also help to reduce tension and stress. It helps against depression and strengthens the immune system. Although we can find it partly in food, we need to get much of the required vitamin D from sunlight. It is therefore important (for several reasons) to be outdoors often. Vitamin D3 from food is actually only found in animal foods. You can find vitamin D3 in:

As far as I’m concerned, vitamin D also belongs to the basic supplement if you live in the Netherlands. Especially if you are vegetarian. But we all don’t get enough sunlight here because we live too north on the globe. A good option for vitamin D3 can be found here.

GABA

GABA (Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid) is a neurotransmitter (also called brain hormone) that has a calming and calming effect . GABA can ensure that you relax more and can respond better to all kinds of stimuli. For example, if you suffer from a ‘busy head’ that you cannot ‘turn off’, it may be due to a deficiency of GABA.

Poor sleep can also improve if you take in more GABA.

It is sold in supplement form, but you can also find it in food. Dietary sources of GABA include:

  • Broccoli
  • Green vegetables such as spinach
  • Seeds
  • Nuts (almonds, walnuts)
  • potatoes
  • bananas
  • Onions
  • Eggs

Drink: water and herbal tea

When it comes to drinking, when stressed, many people quickly turn to coffee and energy drinks to get energy and to alcohol in the evening to relax a bit. That’s not smart, because the caffeine in coffee can make a feeling of stress and restlessness worse. Energy drinks are even worse, because they always contain a lot of sugar, among other things. Alcohol is also not recommended for stress complaints, because it disrupts your hormone and energy balance.

Alcohol can feel relaxing, but your body, especially your liver, has to work hard to get rid of the alcohol.

Instead, make sure you drink enough water, preferably 1.5 to 2 liters per day. Many herbal teas can also have a calming effect, such as chamomile, passion flower, valerian or lemon balm.

Black tea contains theine which has a stimulating effect, just like caffeine. It is better to leave this alone in times of stress.

Although green tea also contains some caffeine, it can still have a stress-reducing effect because it contains L-theanine. This ensures the production of more serotonin and dopamine, two neurotransmitters that can improve your mood and have a relaxing effect. Green tea is also very good for your adrenal glands, which are often overloaded with a lot of stress.

One last tip: eat heated food during a burnout

Do you really have a burnout? Do not burden your digestion too much with raw vegetables. Raw foods are very healthy, but you need a well-functioning digestive system for that. A burnout often has a negative effect on your intestinal flora and therefore your digestion.

In the event of a burnout, rather eat food that has been briefly cooked or steamed. This is then easier for you to digest. Eat slowly and chew well. And take some rest after a meal if you can. Digestion is a verb, your body really goes to work for you!

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