March 25, 2023

Stress often triggers cravings for unhealthy foods. Here’s a better way to eat your way out of stress.

When we get overwhelmed by work and personal obligations, many of us find solace in comfort foods — whether it’s savory pasta dishes, big bowls of ice cream or something salty. Ever find yourself staring sadly at the bottom of a chips bag?

These foods are satisfying in the moment, but later comes the guilt. Have you later felt bad about indulging too much in food that’s not good for your heart or waistline? That is exactly what stress eating will do to you.

One way to avoid the pattern of stress-related eating and guilt is to pack your everyday diet with foods that will actually make you feel better, helping to avoid stress — instead of reaching for the usual sugary or too-salty treats you should avoid.

These food strategies can help you fight stress:

1. Choose Cs:

To help boost your immune system and lower stress hormone levels, choose foods high in vitamin C. Foods such as oranges, kiwi, broccoli, strawberries, peppers and leafy green vegetables are excellent sources of vitamin C.

2. Grains and greens:

Whole grains and green vegetables contain complex carbohydrates, which help the brain produce serotonin. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that plays a role in regulating our mood and helps us feel more upbeat.

3. Happy hydrating!

Water makes up about 60 percent of the human body. Drinking enough fluids helps everything function smoothly, from head to toe. When you are dehydrated, you might feel tired, find it harder to concentrate and lack the energy to exercise — all of which makes it harder to keep up with your daily obligations. Aim to drink eight 8-ounce glasses of water each day to be sure you stay well hydrated. There are also healthy foods you can eat to stay hydrated!

4. Fun fatty acids:

Foods high in omega-3 fatty acids include salmon, anchovies, flaxseed, almonds, pistachios, and walnuts. Omega-3s are proven to reduce the flow of stress hormones and help guard against depression.

Overall, a healthy, balanced diet provides our brains and bodies with the nutrients necessary to improve our mood, boost the immune system and reduce the risk of chronic diseases that unhealthy stress eating couldn’t do. And of course, getting a full night’s sleep also protects against feeling fatigued and overwhelmed, so combine good sleep habits with good eating habits to keep stress at bay.

This information is presented by Health Plus, which provides resources to support the health of Vanderbilt University Medical Center faculty and staff.

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