Recently Dai wrote a blog post about adrenal fatigue that explained the perspectives of conventional and alternative medicine towards the diagnosis. That post inspired me to go deeper and let you know simple and effective dietary changes you can make to support your body when you’re stressed.
Chronic Stress and What It Means to You Physically, Mentally and Spiritually
Chronic stress is something I’m very familiar with.
I remember a time about three years ago when I didn't know what it was like to be relaxed. My body was in the fight or flight mode constantly from the stress I was facing at work and in my personal life. When it wasn't one, it was the other. Or both at the same time.
I felt like I was constantly managing crisis after crisis, and I started to expect and prepare myself for what was coming next which caused more stress. I was exhausted and could never really relax. I was waking up with racing thoughts at 4am, I was constantly tired, and my immune system couldn't withstand one late night out. I was reliably getting a cold about every six weeks.
Health and eating healthy has been a big part of my life since a young age. During this stressful time I was putting so much effort into what I ate and I was eating healthy foods all the time to help me mitigate the effects of being stressed. What I didn't realize is that although I was eating healthy, I wasn't concentrating on eating nutrients that would really support my body while stressed. I was making a couple of key mistakes that were actually doing me more harm than good.
Food Can Be Medicine for Dealing with Stress
My turning point was when I began doing research and talking to a naturopathic doctor. I started to eat foods with nutrients that my body needed to deal with stress, and I noticed an almost immediate difference in my energy levels. One of the biggest changes I noticed was how my immune system improved – I didn't get sick for nine months as my immune system got the nutrients it needed to work.
I share my story because I want you to know that you’re not alone.
In my journey since then doing research and getting trained as a holistic nutritionist, I've been fascinated by how our bodies experience stress. What I get excited about is that there are simple things you can all do to help your body manage stress through what you eat.
All this being said, as a holistic nutritionist I also believe in getting to the root of the issue and I want to divert for a moment to discuss this point. While I will give nutritional advice on foods to eat to mitigate the effect stress has on your body, I want to acknowledge it’s important to consider what the underlying cause of the stress is.
You may never get rid of work deadlines or never again have conflict with loved ones, but when a stressor is impacting your quality of life, it’s a sign that something needs to shift. I assert that in many cases, there are some stories you have about yourself that need to shift to cut stress.
OK, back to the food.
You are what you eat.
You've probably heard that saying before, either from your mom growing up or on a health blog, and I’m going to say it again here. The building blocks of our cells come from essential nutrients and they’re called essential nutrients because our body doesn't make them. You need to eat good quality carbohydrates, fats and proteins to enable basic mechanisms in our body such as producing energy, boosting the immune system, cell and tissue repair and so much more.
Stress impacts nearly every system in the body, and our body doesn't differentiate between mental, physical, emotional, financial, or nutritive stress. It’s all stress.
Stress can physically manifest through the endocrine system, nervous system, digestive system, the circulatory system, among others. It may not be your first instinct to think about diet when you’re stressed and yet the food you eat has a huge impact on how you feel.
Eat these 3 Nutrients to Reduce the Stress in Your Life
Below I've listed my top 3 nutrients I recommend adding to your diet that will help your body manage stress, and why they’re important:
Magnesium is the best friend of a stressed out person. Known as the anti-stress mineral, it naturally relaxes muscles and helps put our body in to the parasympathetic nervous system, otherwise known as ‘rest and digest’ mode. Its support of muscles and nerves functioning may help reduce people’s anxiety, nervousness and insomnia, which are all common in symptoms of stress. It’s also a blood vessel vasodilator, which can reduce tension headaches and has a mild effect on reducing blood pressure.
Your best food source of this great macro-mineral is dark leafy greens, avocado, pumpkin seeds, Brazil nuts, sunflower seeds, almond, and quinoa.
2. Vitamin C
You’re all familiar with the role Vitamin C plays in the immune system, and it’s one of the reasons I list it here. Chronic stress can suppress the immune system and decreases Vitamin C levels in the blood, so increasing your consumption when stress is a critical piece of staying healthy. Vitamin C is an antioxidant and protects against free radical damage caused by stress, and it’s been shown to reduce both the physical and psychological effects of stress on people.
Great sources include red/yellow peppers, kiwi, citrus fruits, guava, cabbage, and broccoli.
3. B Vitamins (particularly B5 & B6)
B5, or Pantothenic Acid, is known as the anti-stress vitamin because it supports the adrenal glands and the production of adrenal hormones that counteract stress. B6, or Pyridoxine, is an important vitamin to support reducing stress because of the role it plays in central nervous system functioning and its role in the production of important neurotransmitters that cut markers of stress.
Good sources of whole food B vitamins are eggs, fish, nuts, seeds, leafy greens, Spirulina, and avocado.
Breakfast is Key to Your Success: Use this GREEN Smoothie Recipe to Super-charge your Day
To make it easy, one of the best ways to consume all these nutrients is to combine them all in a morning smoothie to break the fast! This breakfast takes less than 5 minutes to make and will give your body a nutrient boost it needs to start the day off right.
I recommend this easy green smoothie that incorporates food-based vitamins and minerals that will support your body in managing stress.
- 1 1/2 cup of water
- ½ cup Spinach
- ½ banana
- ½ cup Blueberries
- ½ tsp Spirulina
- 2 tbsp Almond butter
- 1 scoop Protein powder (I like Vega Chocolate)
Directions: put all the ingredients in a blender and blend.
I recommend you take a green smoothie challenge for two weeks and see if you see a difference in your stress levels. I’d love to know what you notice!
For more information or questions, please email me at [email protected]
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Kristin Price is a holistic nutritionist, life coach and food lover. Kristin's passion for healthy foods is inspired by a deeper commitment to whole-body approaches to health and wellness. Motivated by her own journey doing the 9-5 grind and dealing with stress, anxiety and recurring health issues, she has become a facilitator of health to work with others to restore their balance, energy and vitality in their lives. Be sure to follow and connect with Kristin on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn and her blog, KristinPrice.ca