During times of stress our adrenal glands, 2 cone looking endocrine glands resting on top of our kidneys, produce cortisol. In moderation this steroid hormone can be quite useful. It activates your “fight or flight” instinct in times of crisis, keeps inflammation down, regulates blood pressure and blood sugar, and controls your sleep/wake cycle. Once the stressful stimulus has passed, your body’s cortisol levels should go down.
However, if you are under pressure or danger for an extended period of time your body will experience prolonged stress and your cortisol levels will remain elevated. This state of high alertness can become tremendously harmful to the body and may lead to anxiety, depression, headaches, heart disease, trouble sleeping, issues with digestion, weight gain, and issues with memory and concentration. And the most interesting aspect to this is that your diet can propel this spiral of cortisol-driven issues, or on the contrary it can help regulate your body’s stress levels and relieve your feelings of fatigue and mood disruption.
Below are some dietary tips to help regulate your stress:
Choose the Right Carbs
Stay away from refined sugars, starchy carbohydrates, and foods with a high glycemic index. And choose complex carbohydrates like whole-grain breads and pastas, old-fashioned breakfast cereals, and oats. These will help you stabilize blood sugar, a measurement that often gets out of wack when cortisol is elevated.
Some studies showed that people’s blood pressure and cortisol levels normalized more quickly after a stressful task when they took Vitamin C before that stressful task. So don’t stray far from oranges, kiwi, leafy greens, and blueberries.
To help keep stress levels in check, make sure to not leave out omega-3 fatty acids from your diet. Foods high in this component include salmon and tuna. Omega-3 can have a great impact on feelings of sorrow, premenstrual syndrome, and times of anxiety. Make sure to consume at least 3.5 ounces of fatty fish about twice a week. And if you’re opting for a vegetarian or vegan friendly diet, foods like chia seeds, hemp seeds, walnuts, and flax seeds are both great source of omega-3 and easy additions to a breakfast smoothie bowl.
This Vitamin exists in high concentrations within the adrenal gland. It converts sugar into energy and makes adrenal hormones. One with an over worked adrenal gland is often deficient in this vitamin, and so foods high in vitamin B5 are recommended. These foods include mushroom, pork, duck, eggs, and cheese, as well as lentils, split peas, and soy beans.
Last but not least, magnesium is the most important mineral for adrenal health. It is found in abundance in foods like Brazilian nuts, cashews, spinach, kale, shellfish, beans, and white fish. Magnesium helps reduce over reactivity in your brain to the stress hormone cortisol. This helps mitigate feelings of anxiety, misery, and fatigue.
Now, while I am not at all suggesting dietary changes to be the only therapy for stress management. I do recommend we treat our body and its issues holistically, and diet is often a place to start. Recall, from one of our very first blogs that food to our bodies is like the gas we buy to fuel our cars. The quality of our food is essential to a smooth ride.