The following article was written by Heinen’s Chief Dietitian, Melanie Jatsek RD, LD.
Most people don’t realize how stressed they are. I’ll often hear them say, “Yeah, I’m stressed, but I’m handling it.” My first thought is: Are you really?
You may think you’re coping, meanwhile a different story is likely being told underneath your skin. If stress continues unchecked over time, it can translate to:
- High blood sugar
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Heart disease and stroke
- Compromised immune system
- Chronic constipation
- Junk food cravings
- Decreased metabolism
- Weight gain
- Increased belly fat
Types of Stress: Acute vs. Chronic
Acute stress is typically short-lived and can be part of a positive experience. It often inspires you to take action and builds you up to be a better person. Vacationing, giving a speech and falling madly in love are three examples.
Chronic stress is ongoing, negative, disempowering, and paralyzing; it leaves you feeling worse than before. It can be brought on by relationship trouble, death of a loved one, financial crisis, loss of a job, overwhelming and ongoing demands at work or chronic illness of a loved one or oneself.
Known as the “fight-or-flight” response, chronic stress triggers the release of stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol in response to a perceived threat (i.e., loss of job). These hormones work to increase your heart rate and blood sugar while slowing digestion. It’s a natural biological response that is hardwired in your DNA and serves you very well when a real threat presents itself, like hitting the brakes to avoid a collision or running from a grizzly bear. It’s not meant to be a daily occurrence, and when it is, the body responds with one or more of the effects from the above list.
In addition to adopting a healthy stress-management practice (i.e. meditation, exercise, rest, etc.) your food choices play a big part in reducing stress in your body.
Build Stress-Busting Meals
Stress-busting meals are those that balance your blood sugar and mood. That’s really what it all comes down to. These meals are built on whole, plant-based foods and fuel your body with filling fiber and mood-enhancing nutrients like omega-3 fats, B-vitamins, vitamin C and selenium.
Follow these five steps to build your own satisfying and delicious stress-busting meals:
- Fill half of your plate with non-starchy vegetables and leafy greens. (Club Fx Pillars 1 and 2)
- Reserve a quarter of your plate for wholesome protein like lentils, tofu, trout, organic chicken or grass-fed beef. (Club Fx Pillar 4)
- Add a starchy vegetable, whole grain or fruit to the remaining quarter of your plate. Half of a sweet potato, a scoop of quinoa or a cup of berries will do! (Club Fx Pillars 2 and 5)
- Don’t forget healthy fat! A small amount of good-for-you fat does wonders for stabilizing blood sugar. Half of an avocado, ¼ cup of nuts or seeds or a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil is all it takes!
- Add a sprinkle of functional foods in the form of herbs, spices or fermented foods! A recent study showed that consuming fermented foods reduced perceived stress in a healthy population. Top off your meal with a spoonful of Cleveland Kitchen sauerkraut, a few Wake Robin fermented pickles or an ounce of Big Picture Foods fermented red peppers.
Minimize Stress-Boosting Foods
It’s important to be aware of and minimize these foods that can raise stress hormones in your body:
- Sweet treats
- Salty snack foods
- Meals rich in unhealthy fat (i.e., cheeseburgers, fries, mac-n-cheese, wings, etc.)
Stress can be a good thing if you use it to your advantage. It pushes you to take action and get things done. But when it gets to be too much, it can make you sick! One thing I know for sure is that stress will always be a part of your life, yet how you respond to it makes all the difference in the world. Will you be overcome by it or get out in front of it and be an overcomer? It’s your choice!