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A Healthy Diet Can Relieve Stress

It's no a secret, we all know that good nutrition is the foundation of good health. Good nutrition is especially important during times of stress.

As we get busy and stressed, we tend to make poor nutritional choices that can actually increase our stress levels and cause other problems. Here are some tips for getting good nutrition and maintaining a more healthy diet, even under stress. After a few weeks, they’ll become habit and you won’t even have to think about good nutrition. And your body—not to mention your stress level—will feel the difference!


First lets talk about substances you should avoid if you are dealing with a lot of stress in your life.

Caffeine: Caffeine is a stimulant. Drinking coffee only increases feelings of stress. If you are drinking many cups of coffee a day, then you may find that you can reduce a lot of stress by switching to good decaffeinated coffee for a portion of your daily intake. When burning the candle at both ends, people often find themselves using coffee drinks to jump-start themselves in the morning, and a pattern of all-day coffee drinking often ensues. Caffeine depletes the adrenals and increases bone loss (osteoporosis).

Too much caffeine can lead to poor concentration and decreased effectiveness, sleep disturbances, and increased levels of cortisol in the blood, as well as increased headaches or migraines.


Alcohol: In small amounts, alcohol may help you relax. In larger amounts, it may increase stress as it disrupts sleep. In large amounts over a long term alcohol will damage your body and will also exacerbate the symptoms of any depression you may be experiencing.


Nicotine: In the short term, nicotine can cause relaxation but its toxic effects eventually raise the heart rate and stress the body. If you smoke, try taking your pulse before and after a cigarette, and notice the difference. The long term negative effects of smoking on your body aren’t worth the temporary, short-term relief you feel after smoking a cigarette.


Sugar: Sugar-rich foods can raise energy in the short term. The problem with this is that your body copes with high levels of sugar by secreting insulin, which reduces the amount of sugar in your blood stream. Insulin can persist and continue acting after it has normalized levels of blood sugar. This can cause an energy dip or what I refer to as a “sugar coma.” You may feel good after that candy bar but, you will eventually crash and feel worse than you did before you ate it.


The above substances actually rob your body of its stores of nutrients. They also stimulate your heart rate, affect mood, behaviours and brain chemistry, and can lead to dependence. These are all things that will only compound the health issues associated with stress. Sugar hits the reward centre in the brain at twice the rate of cocaine, and can become an addiction to stimulate dopamine, our happy hormone.

FYI: One can of cola has enough sugar to depress your immune system 60% for 4-5hours.


Supporting your adrenal glands

Good nutrition supports the adrenal glands, which is of great importance in your fight against stress. Stress shrinks your adrenal glands, and a healthy diet helps to maintain good adrenal function. To help fight the negative effects of stress you should increase the following:


B Vitamins: The B vitamins support the entire nervous system and the adrenal glands. They also are essential to energy production and provide support to the immune system. B vitamins also help maintain regular blood sugar levels, which may become irregular due to stress.


Foods that contain B-vitamins include liver, soy, broccoli, legumes, fresh meats, unprocessed grains, lentils, salmon, corn, nuts, sunflower seeds, egg and citrus fruit. these are water based vitamins, eating them in as many meals and snacks as possible allows a constant stream of energy!


Vitamin C: Vitamin C is an antioxidant. Most people know that Vitamin C helps improve immunity, but it also has been found to reduce blood pressure as well as reduce the actual symptoms of stress. This is because of its ability to lower cortisol levels, the stress hormone.


Foods that contain Vitamin C include citrus fruits, green leafy vegetables, melon, tomatoes, broccoli, mango, and red and green bell peppers. Keep in mind that Vitamin C is destroyed with heat and light, cutting and eating raw Vitamin C rich foods required.

Amino Acids: Amino Acids support brain function, especially that of neurotransmitters, which can dramatically influence mood and behaviours. Because of this, amino acids can help relieve symptoms of stress. Foods that contain Amino Acids include eggs, meat, fish, and beans with rice. Using a protein isolate powder in a smoothie can bridge the gap between too busy to eat and feeding your body. You get hydrated from the water, energy from a veggie/fruit based blend and protein to help your body cope during times of stress.


Magnesium: Magnesium helps with muscle relaxation and heartbeat regulation. It has been shown to help cure insomnia and anxiety, two issues common in people under chronic stress. Foods that contain Magnesium include dairy, meat, eggs, fish, seafood, green leafy vegetables, nuts, tofu, and whole grains.


Good Nutrition: How to Combat Stress with Good Nutrition

You’re Never Too Busy For Good Nutrition!


Eat Breakfast: You may rationalize that you’re not hungry yet, that you don’t have time, that lunch will come soon enough, that you need to diet anyway, or that the milk in the latte you pick up on the way is all the good nutrition you need. But skipping breakfast makes it harder to maintain stable blood sugar levels and effective functioning during your busy morning; you need it. (You can easily eat two hard-boiled eggs and a smoothie on your way, right?)


Opt For Green Tea: If you’re a coffee junkie, you may not realize the effects caffeine has on your system. However, you can reduce your stress levels and improve your mental performance throughout the day if you gradually wean yourself off of large amounts of caffeine. A relatively easy and healthy way to do that is to replace coffee with decafinated green tea, which has a soothing taste and the added benefit of loads of antioxidants.


Try Sparkling Juice or Perrier: If you’re a cola drinker, you’re probably experiencing the same health consequences from caffeine that coffee drinkers experience. A more healthful alternative is sparkling fruit juice, or sparkling water. You’ll still be getting a refreshing treat, but you’ll be adding water to your system, rather than detracting it (caffeine saps your system of water, so drinking it is akin to un-drinking water!), and you’ll be avoiding other caffeine-related side effects.


Carry a Snack: Having some protein-rich, healthful snacks in your car, office, or purse can help you avoid blood sugar level dips and accompanying mood swings and fatigue. Trail mix, granola bars, and certain energy bars all contain good nutrition. Along these lines, you should always have water handy, as it’s so vital to health and proper physical functioning.


Healthy Munches: If you find that you absently munch when you’re stressed, or have a pattern of snacking at certain times in the day or week, you can replace chips, cheese puffs and other less-healthy munchies with carrot sticks, edamame, celery sticks, sunflower seeds or other more healthy choices. (Even popcorn is a better choice if you leave off the butter and salt!)

Brown Bag It: Many people go out for lunch to fast food places, coffee shops or restaurants that serve less-than-optimally-healthy fare. While this does save a bit of time, you can save money and usually eat much healthier if you take a few extra minutes to pack and bring a lunch from home. Even if you do this only a few days a week, it would be an improvement over eating every lunch out.


No Caffeine After 12pm: Since caffeine has a half-life in your body of at least 6 hours, caffeine you ingest with dinner can interfere with your sleep at night.


Banish the Bad Stuff: It’s easier to avoid sugary, fatty, and otherwise unhealthy foods if they’re not in your home, practically begging you to eat them! This may sound like a no-brainer (yet it’s sometimes harder to do than you’d expect), but you should go through your kitchen and throw out anything your body can’t use in a healthy way. (Or at least most of it.) That way you’ll be forced to snack on healthy food when you’re stressed.


Organize and Stock Your Home With Healthy Foods: Even more important than getting the bad stuff out of your house, is getting healthy food in! The best way is to plan a menu of healthy meals and snacks at the beginning of each week, list the ingredients you’ll need, and shop for everything once a week. That way you know you’ll have what you want when you need it, and you won’t have to stress over what to eat each night; you’ll already have thought of it! (This makes eating at home much easier, too!)


Tension Tamers: Adopting stress reducing techniques should also reduce your stress-induced cravings for unhealthy or excessive food. I recommend yoga, meditation, martial arts, journaling, laughter and walking outside.


Stress: The Link Between Stress and Nutrition Deficiencies

Stress and Nutrition: Stress can be a problem in itself, of course. But stress can sometimes lead to unhealthy lifestyle patterns—which lead to more stress! For example, when we’re harried and under stress, we tend to make poor food choices. Unfortunately, these food choices can create more stress in the long run, as well as other problems. As you read the following ways in which stress can affect our nutritional choices, ask yourself this: when feeling overwhelmed, have you found yourself doing any of the following?


Eating The Wrong Foods: Due partially to increased levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, stressed people tend to crave foods high in fat, sugar and salt. Think about it: how often have you turned to your good friends Ben & Jerry or a bag of chips after a long, stressful day?


Skipping Meals: Another thing overly stressed people tend to do is skip meals. Have you ever found yourself rushing out of the house without a healthy breakfast (picking up a latte doesn’t count!), or realizing you’re starving in the late afternoon because you didn’t eat enough? Then you go home and scarf down a huge dinner only to feel awful an hour after you’ve put down your fork? Eat regularly and your body will learn to burn.


Mindless Munching: Conversely, stress also makes us prone to emotional eating, when we eat when we aren’t hungry, or eat foods that are bad for us. Have you found yourself mindless snacking on junk food, or eating when you aren’t hungry, because of stress? Or because your bored? Be mindful of why your and what your eating or snacking on and choose foods that support you body.


Forgetting Water: With busy lives, it’s easy to forget to drink your water, In fact, a good portion of North Americans drink no water, and get water only from soda or coffee. Do you get a full 2L/day in filtered water? Water is the oil to our engine, we need to consume water all day to help: hydrate our cells (body and mind), detox our organs, increase elimination and reduce body and headaches.


Fast Food: People these days eat at home less than in generations past, as it’s easier to just drive through a fast food place or go to a restaurant than to go home and cook something. Unfortunately, this gets expensive, and is often unhealthy. Did you know it takes 100days for your body to process one large order of fries? Can you imagine how long it takes to process a whole fast food meal?


Crash Diets: Because of weight gain from stress, some people intentionally eat less food than they need, or try dangerous fad diets in order to lose the excess weight. Diets that aren’t balanced with fruits and vegetables, protein and healthy carbohydrates can often be bad for your health in the long run, even if they look attractive short term.

When pressures in your life increase learning good coping skills, the importance of good self-care and maintaining good nutrition can help you through those stressful times.

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