Nutrients To Help Manage Your Stress, And Foods They Are Found In

Photo credit: Nik Shuliahin

Photo credit: Nik Shuliahin

Stress is complex in terms of its biochemical effects on the body, and everyone has their own level of tolerance for it. Exposure to stress leads to a series of reactions in the body cumulatively known as the stress response. The reactions that occur cause changes in behavior, autonomic function (the part of your nervous system that controls blood pressure, heart and breathing rates, digestion, elimination, body temperature, metabolism, and more), secretion of hormones, and physiological changes in the body.

Stress is an unavoidable aspect of life. There are strategies we can implement to help manage our stress levels to prevent the detrimental effects stress can have on the body. Exercise, meditation, relaxation techniques, yoga, reading a book, breathing exercises, taking part in a favorite hobby, spending time with loved ones, walking your dog, and being in nature, are just some examples of activities that can help reduce stress levels.

Stress creates greater demands on the body and therefore a greater need for metabolic cofactors (vitamins and minerals) to make biochemical reactions happen. If you are under stress, you need a more nutritionally dense diet. This means that another important strategy for combating stress is to eat foods rich in nutrients that can improve brain function and strengthen immune function, lower blood pressure, improve circulation, and reduce toxins in the body. There are also nutrients that play important roles in reducing levels of stress related hormones like cortisol and adrenalin, and the chemicals that stimulate the fight or flight stress response.

Stress also adversely affects the gut and can lead to leaky gut and imbalanced but flora, so addressing gut health is an important cornerstone of a comprehensive stress management protocol because if you can’t digest and absorb the nutrients from the foods you eat, eating the right foods won’t matter much, nor will it help reduce your stress levels.

Incorporate these nutrients into your diet for stress management

Nutrients important for stress management: Complex carbohydrates, proteins (tryptophan, phenylalanine, tyrosine, theanine), vitamin C, vitamin E, B vitamins, omega 3 fatty acids, antioxidants, magnesium, calcium, zinc, glutamine, selenium

Foods containing nutrients for stress management

Complex carbohydrates: Green vegetables, whole grains, starchy vegetables (potatoes, sweet potatoes, corn, squash), beans, lentils, peas

Proteins: High-quality proteins of any kind are the best choice, including lean, grass-fed, organic, non-GMO sources. Remember to choose wild-caught  fish, as farmed varieties may contain hormones and toxic chemicals called polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs).

Tryptophan: Turkey, chicken, eggs, sweet potatoes, chia and hemp seeds, bananas, pumpkin seeds, almonds, yogurt

Phenylalanine:  Soybeans, cheese, nuts, seeds, beef, lamb, chicken, pork, fish, eggs, dairy,  beans, whole grains

Tyrosine: Cheese, soybeans, beef, lamb, pork, fish, chicken, nuts, seeds, eggs, dairy, beans, whole grains

Theanine: Green tea

Vitamin C: All will be higher in vitamin C if uncooked: Bell peppers, papaya, citrus fruits, Brussels sprouts, strawberries, kiwi

Vitamin E: Sunflower seeds, spinach, Swiss chard, avocados, turnip greens, asparagus, mustard greens

B vitamins

B1: Can be depleted with alcohol. Pork, ham, dark green leafy vegetables, wheat germ, green pea, lentils, almonds, pecans

B2: Milk, yogurt, cheese, asparagus, spinach (dark green leafy vegetables), chicken, fish, eggs

B3: Chicken, turkey, salmon, canned tuna packed in water, legumes, peanuts, whole wheat

B5: Chicken liver, sunflower seeds, salmon, avocado, sun dried tomatoes, corn, mushrooms

B6: Poultry, seafood, bananas, leafy green vegetables (spinach, turnip greens, Swiss chard), potatoes

Folate: Leafy greens (spinach, turnip greens, Swiss chard), fresh fruits and vegetables

B12: Animal foods are the only natural source of vitamin B12, shellfish, sardines, salmon, tuna, cod, lamb, beef, liver, chicken, fish, eggs, rainbow trout, haddock

Biotin: Eggs, legumes, meats, oily fish, chicken, liver

Omega 3 fats: Flaxseed, eggs, fish (salmon) and fish oils, marine sources (sea vegetables/seaweeds), avocado, coconut oil

Antioxidants: Rainbow assortment of fresh, organic fruits and vegetables

Magnesium: Dark leafy greens (spinach, Swiss chard), dark chocolate, pumpkin seeds, almonds, black beans, avocado, figs, bananas, yogurt or kefir

Calcium: Tofu prepared with calcium sulfate (raw), plain yogurt, sardines, cheddar cheese, milk, white beans (cooked), Bok choy/Pak choi (cooked), figs (dried), orange, kale (cooked), pinto beans (cooked), broccoli (cooked), red beans (cooked)

Zinc: Beef, lamb, pumpkin seeds, lentils, garbanzo beans, quinoa, turkey

Glutamine: Beef, chicken, fish, eggs, beets, beans, spinach, parsley

Selenium: Brazil nuts, tuna, sardines, salmon, turkey, cod, chicken, lamb, beef

Avoid High Mercury Fish

High mercury fish: Swordfish, shark, king mackeral, tilefish, marlin, orange roughy, ahi tuna, bigeye tuna, yellowfin tuna

Low mercury fish: Anchovies, catfish, flounder, hake, haddock, herring, salmon (farmed may contain PCBs, not good either), mackeral, canned light tuna, trout, whitefish, pollock, sardines, butterfish

General Recommendations

Go organic when possible for fruits and vegetables.

Go organic, pastured, free range, grass fed, wild caught, etc. for animal products.

Drink at least 6-8 glasses of water per day.