Why is it that when we get stressed we begin to crave exactly the opposite of what is good for us? For many of us that struggle with stress, as soon as we begin to feel those anxieties creeping up on us, we would do anything to alleviate it. However, when we are stressed and anxious we are often not thinking very straight, and we might make choices that are hurting us, instead of helping us to feel better.
Consider the typical comfort foods: things like mac & cheese, potatoes, and sweets. These foods are what your brain craves most when it’s stressed, and because you feel so anxious you figure, “Why not? I deserve it; I just want to feel better…”
But, if you listen to your stressed-out brain, you will only end up feeling worse. These foods, because they are high in carbs send your blood sugar on a roller coaster, are what your stressed-out brain craves. They even increase your cortisol (the stress hormone) levels. This only makes it more difficult to calm your anxieties, and will cause you to feel depressed and groggy when all that sugar in your bloodstream is used up. Additionally, foods that contain sugar, gluten and casein from dairy actually trigger the pleasure center in your brain.
Next time you start to feel stressed, just breathe and remember indulging your craving for a candy bar will only ramp up your anxieties and leave you feeling tired. Instead you should pick up a copy of The Brain Warrior’s Way Cookbook – where I have over 100+ brain healthy recipes.
- Wheat Based Products – (bread, tortillas, etc). They are truly addictive and nearly impossible to get people off of – when this food is processed in your body it is immediately broken down to sugar. These are truly addictive- when the carbohydrates break down they quickly turn to sugar. Also, when the gluten in wheat and other grains mix with stomach acid, the resulting compound stimulates the pleasure center in the brain- the same area of the brain that is stimulated by drugs like morphine and cocaine. Gluten also damages your intestinal lining, which can affect the production absorption of serotonin in your body. Serotonin is your “don’t worry be happy” neurotransmitter, so it’s a good idea to keep your gut healthy.
- Corn – Eating corn or corn-based products will only make you more anxious, as it is high in carbs which will increase your blood sugar, and starch, which will leave you feeling drowsy and lethargic.
- Sugary Processed Treats- I know, when anxiety hits you would do anything to make it go away. You think maybe if I go get a snack from the vending machine, I’ll feel better and have more energy. You go for the Kit-Kat, you deserve a break, after all. However, not long after your chocolate break, you feel jittery, your anxiety is back and worse. Not long after that, you crash, lethargic and unable to focus. Your Kit-Kat did a lot more harm than good, sending your blood sugar skyrocketing, only to let it plummet back down a short time later. Go for a healthier option instead, and you’ll feel like you got the break you deserve.
- Alcohol – When we are stressed, turning to these drinks may do more harm than good, as alcohol is a depressant and has been shown to lower serotonin levels in the brain, causing you to feel down and irritable. Alcohol dehydrates you, and even mild dehydration has been shown to reduce brain function and cause anxiety. And alcohol kills healthy bacteria in your gut associated with forming serotonin and tryptophan.
- Avocado – They are rich in glutathione, which works to specifically block your gut from absorbing certain bad fats that cause oxidative damage. In addition, they have more folate than any other fruit, are high in monounsaturated fatty acids, and have more potassium than a banana, helping to keep your blood pressure down when you get stressed.
- Berries – Whether you go for blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, strawberries, goji berries or any of the other incredible varieties of berry, these superfruits will be working overtime to keep your brain and body sharp. Blueberries are rich in an antioxidant known as anthocyanin, which has been shown to have all sorts of positive health outcomes, including sharper cognition.
- Red peppers – Red peppers have nearly twice as much, boasting 95 mg per 1/2 cup compared to the 50 mg of vitamin c per ½ cup of an orange. When researchers had people engage in stressful activities like give an oral presentation, followed by solving math problems out loud, those who had high doses of vitamin C before starting had lower blood pressure and recovered faster from the stress than the control group.
- Salmon – A diet rich in omega-3s can help you keep it all together. Those who took an omega-3 supplement for 12 weeks reduced their anxiety by 20% when compared to the placebo group, and if you’d rather get your omega-3s the natural way, try adding a little more salmon or other oily fish to your diet to help reign in those pesky anxieties.
- Spinach – Some research has estimated 75-80% of American adults are not getting enough magnesium in their diets, which could contribute to higher stress levels and a higher risk for depression. Magnesium and folate in spinach will help you keep your head on straight when stressors come knocking.