by Michelle Luhan, a nutritionist in private practice who’s affiliated with Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City.
How we handle stress varies from person to person. Some of us eat more, others eat less, some of us binge on ice cream and sweets while another might turn to caffeine or alcohol. Both stress and poor nutrition can suppress the immune system. So the next time you reach for a quick fix to combat stress, remember, now is not the time to short change your diet.
When your body is stressed, be it physical or emotional, it goes into overdrive to provide more energy for the hormone responses taking place. A consequence of this stress response is an increased excretion of essential vitamins and minerals. Without enough B vitamins, carbohydrates and fats have a difficult time converting to energy, leaving you lethargic. B vitamins are also responsible for maintenance of the nervous system, hence the insomnia, outbursts, and tearfulness when under stress. Without enough antioxidants like beta-carotene, selenium, and vitamin C, we become more susceptible to disease. Without enough essential minerals, like magnesium and zinc, our immune system is compromised. Reports show vitamin and mineral levels dropping up to 33% during a stressful week, despite an adequate diet.
Vitamin and mineral deficiencies caused by extended stress:
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin B6
The foods to balance stress should come from whole grains, legumes (beans), fruits, vegetables, nuts, fat-free dairy and lean protein foods (like fish, shellfish, chicken, and lean cuts of meat). Processed foods, sweets, caffeine, and alcohol should be avoided. If carbohydrates are all you want to eat because of the need to replace serotonin (the calming hormone) then choose complex kinds — those found in high fiber natural foods like whole grains, beans, fruits, and vegetables.
If you can’t control your cravings, the best thing to do is plan ahead. Dilute your coffee with decaf or switch to green tea with less caffeine and more antioxidants. Drink decaf beverages if more than 2 cups, and try dark chocolate instead of milk chocolate. Avoid sodas of all kind, diet included, and all alcoholic beverages. Consume more water and vegetable juices. Snack on fruit, fat-free yogurts, nuts, and crunchy veggies. Exercise, get to bed earlier, and plan your next healthy day.
Remember when we experience extended periods of stress, we lose essential vitamins and minerals. Though it is best to get these nutrients from foods, a multivitamin and mineral supplement is a must during times of stress.