Guide To Eating For Stress Management

Photo credit: Nik Shuliahin

Photo credit: Nik Shuliahin

Chronic stress, whether it’s physical, chemical, or emotional, burns through nutrients and steals them from other needs your body has.

Chronic stress can lead to nutrient insufficiency and deficiency over time. This can cause imbalances in your body, and symptoms and health problems follow.

  1. Examples of physical stress include restricted diets, over exercise, and physical trauma

  2. Examples of chemical stress include prescription medications, environmental pollutants, pesticides and processed foods

  3. Examples of emotional stress include personal, financial, and work related concerns

Stress is a complex phenomenon and everyone has their own tolerance for it. Your stress response is triggered by a variety of factors, like the examples noted above. When you are exposed to ongoing stress, it becomes chronic.

Your body responds to stress by initiating a series of reactions that effect your behavior, nervous system function, the secretion of hormones, and cause other physical and chemical changes.

Your body doesn’t differentiate between the different kinds of stress, these changes happen regardless of where your stress comes from. In fact, chronic psychological stress is associated with the body losing its ability to regulate its inflammatory response, and this can promote the development and progression of disease.

All of the extra work your body does while under stress uses more fuel, and that fuel is in the form of nutrients.

You can support the needs of your body and help it cope with stress by nourishing it. Eating whole, real foods and not restricting foods, food groups and categories of foods has powerful stress reducing benefits. It can improve brain function, strengthen your immune system, improve circulation and lower blood pressure, and lower levels of toxins in your body.

Nutrients your body needs to respond to stress include complex carbohydrates, protein, omega 3 fatty acids, vitamin C, vitamin E, B vitamins, magnesium, selenium, zinc, calcium, iron, and antioxidant nutrients. These nutrients play MANY roles in your body in addition to helping you cope with stress, so make sure to include foods rich in these nutrients in your diet.

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. For little ones, drink one 8 oz glass per year of age, per day.

In addition to nourishing your body, stress management techniques are an important piece of the puzzle.

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