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Management of Stress through Balanced Diet

By Dr. Ashok Kumar Sinha

What is stress management?

We all respond to stress differently so, theres no one size fits all solution to managing
stress. But if you feel like the stress in your life is out of control, its time to take action.
Stress management can teach you healthier ways to cope with stress, help you reduce its
harmful effects, and prevent stress from spiraling out of control again in the future. No matter
how powerless you may feel in the face of stress, you still have control over your lifestyle,
thoughts, emotions, and the way you deal with problems. Stress management involves
changing the stressful situation when you can, changing your reaction when you cant, taking
care of yourself, and making time for rest and relaxation. The first step is to recognize the
true sources of stress in your life.

Stress management strategy: Adopt a healthy lifestyle

In addition to regular exercise, there are other healthy lifestyle choices that can increase your
resistance to stress.

Eat a healthy diet. Well-nourished bodies are better prepared to cope with stress, so
be mindful of what you eat. Start your day right with breakfast, and keep your energy
up and your mind clear with balanced, nutritious meals throughout the day.

Reduce caffeine and sugar. The temporary "highs" caffeine and sugar provide often
end in with a crash in mood and energy. By reducing the amount of coffee, soft
drinks, chocolate, and sugar snacks in your diet, youll feel more relaxed and youll
sleep better.

Avoid alcohol, cigarettes, and drugs. Self-medicating with alcohol or drugs may
provide an easy escape from stress, but the relief is only temporary. Dont avoid or
mask the issue at hand; deal with problems head on and with a clear mind.

Get enough sleep. Adequate sleep fuels your mind, as well as your body. Feeling
tired will increase your stress because it may cause you to think irrationally.

Is There a Stress Management Diet?

Stress: We all have it, and how we handle it can make all the difference. Stress
management can be a powerful tool for wellness, since too much stress is bad
for you. There are many strategies, and one of them includes what you eat.
Foods can help tame stress in several ways. Comfort foods, like a bowl of warm
oatmeal, boost levels of serotonin, a calming brain chemical. Other foods can cut
levels of cortisol and adrenaline, stress hormones that take a toll on the body
over time. A healthy diet can help counter the impact of stress by shoring up the
immune system and lowering blood pressure. Do you know which foods are
stress busters? All carbs prompt the brain to make more serotonin. For a steady
supply of this feel-good chemical, it's best to eat complex carbs, which take
longer to digest. Good choices include whole-grain breads, pastas, and breakfast
cereals, including old-fashioned oatmeal. Complex carbs can also help you feel
balanced by stabilizing blood sugar levels. Dieticians usually recommend
steering clear of simple carbs, which include sweets and soda. But in a pinch,
these foods can hit the spot. They're digested quickly, leading to a spike in
serotonin. Still, it doesn't last long, and there are better options. So don't make
these a stress-relieving habit; you should limit them. Oranges make the list for
their wealth of vitamin C. Studies suggest this vitamin can curb levels of stress
hormones while strengthening the immune system. In one study of people with
high blood pressure, blood pressure and levels of cortisol (a stress hormone)
returned to normal more quickly when people took vitamin C before a stressful

How to Manage Stress with the Right Foods

What does food have to do with your stress levels? More than you might realize. About 40
percent of Indians say that stress drives them to overeat or eat unhealthy foods, which, in
turn, trigger physiological changes that can make your mood worse. If you become ill or gain
weight due to stress-induced poor eating habits, it will only make your stress worse,
prompting a vicious cycle than can be difficult to break out of. On the other hand, carefully
chosen healthful foods can have the opposite effect, working to boost your spirits and even
lessen anxiety. A proper diet may not only help you feel calmer but can even lessen the
damage that stress does to your body.

Which Foods Are Best for Managing Stress?

When you're under fire at work, juggling multiple responsibilities at home, or going through
a difficult time emotionally, these are the foods you should reach for. Really, though, you
should strive to eat these foods regularly (not just in times of stress) to help maintain mental,
emotional, and physical balance in your body.
1. Dark Chocolate
If you're one of these individuals who get a nice mood boost whenever you sink your teeth
into a bar of pure, unadulterated chocolate, it is not happenstance.
There's actually a chemical reason called anandamide, a neurotransmitter produced in your
brain that temporarily blocks feelings of pain and depression.
It's a derivative of the Sanskrit word "bliss," and one of the great things about chocolate is
that it not only produces this compound, it also contains other chemicals that prolong the
"feel-good" aspects of anandamide. Chocolate has even been referred to as "the new antianxiety drug." One study in the Journal of Psychopharmacology also revealed that people
who drank an antioxidant-rich chocolate drink equal to about 1.5 ounces of dark chocolate
daily felt calmer than those who did not.

2. Protein
A small amount of high-quality source of protein like organic eggs, a piece of Gouda
cheese, or a handful of macadamia nuts or pecans helps keep your blood sugar levels steady
for enhanced energy and mood.
3. Bananas
Bananas contain dopamine, a natural reward chemical that boosts your mood. They're also
rich in B vitamins, including vitamin B6, which help soothe your nervous system, and
magnesium, another nutrient associated with positive mood.
4. Coffee
Coffee appears to affect a number of neurotransmitters related to mood control, so drinking a
morning cup could have an effect on your general sense of wellbeing. Research has also
shown that coffee triggers a mechanism in your brain that releases BDNF, which activates
your brain stem cells to produce new neurons, thereby improving your brain health.
Interestingly enough, research also suggests that low BDNF levels may play a significant role
in depression, and that increasing neurogenesis has an antidepressant effect!

5. Turmeric (Curcumin)
Curcumin, the pigment that gives the spice turmeric its yellow-orange color, is thought to be
responsible for many of its medicinal effects. Among them, curcumin has neuroprotective
properties and may enhance mood and possibly help with depression.

6. Purple Berries
Anthocyanins are the pigments that give berries like blueberries and blackberries their deep
color. These antioxidants aid your brain in the production of dopamine, a chemical that is
critical to coordination, memory function, and your mood.
7. Omega-3 Fats
Found in salmon or supplement form, such as krill oil, the omega-3 fats EPA and DHA play a
role in your emotional well-being. One study in Brain Behavior and Immunity showed a
dramatic 20 percent reduction in anxiety among medical students taking omega-3, while past
research has shown omega-3 fats work just as well as antidepressants in preventing the signs
of depression, but without any of the side effects.

8. Oolong Tea
Sipping oolong tea might help you feel calm, as it contains high levels of gammaaminobutyric acid (GABA), an amino acid that helps inhibit the firing of neurons in your
brain for an overall calming, anti-anxiety effect.
9. Fermented Foods
Fermented foods like fermented vegetables and kefir are rich in beneficial bacteria that have a
marked impact on your gut health, which in turn impacts your mood. Your gut is literally
your second brain created from the identical tissue as your brain during gestation and
contains larger amounts of the neurotransmitter serotonin, which is associated with mood
Beneficial bacteria have a direct effect on brain chemistry, transmitting mood- and behaviorregulating signals to your brain via your vagus nerve. For instance, the probiotic
Lactobacillus rhamnosus was found to have a marked effect on GABA levels in certain brain
regions and lowered the stress-induced hormone corticosterone, resulting in reduced anxietyand depression-related behavior.

10. Kiwi

One kiwi contains more than 85 percent of the daily recommended amount of vitamin C, and
that's good news for your stress levels. Vitamin C actually helps reduce your body's
production of stress hormones while boosting your immune function (so much the better for
warding off stress-induced illness).

Three Worst Foods for Your Mood

If you're feeling stressed or anxious, the foods that follow will only make it worse.
1. Sugar
Sugar can lead to fluctuations in blood sugar, which can bring on mood swings, but its role in
poor mood actually goes much deeper than that. Entire books have been written on this topic,
such as William Duffy's book, Sugar Blues. There are at least three potential mechanisms
through which refined sugar intake could exert a toxic effect on your mood and mental

Sugar (particularly fructose) and grains contribute to insulin and leptin

resistance and impaired signaling, which play a significant role in your
mental health

Sugar suppresses activity of BDNF, which promotes healthy brain neurons.

BDNF levels are critically low in both depression and schizophrenia, which
animal models suggest might actually be causative

Sugar consumption also triggers a cascade of chemical reactions in your

body that promote chronic inflammation. In the long term, inflammation
disrupts the normal functioning of your immune system, which is linked to
a greater risk of depression

2. Gluten
Gluten, a protein found in grains such as wheat, rye, and barley, may negatively impact mood
and brain health. In fact, a number of studies indicate that wheat can have a detrimental effect
on mood, promoting depression and even more serious mental health problems such as
schizophrenia. One mechanism that can help explain the mysterious connection between
wheat and mental health problems is the fact that wheat inhibits production of serotonin.

Neurotransmitters like serotonin can be found not just in your brain, but also in your gut. In
fact, the greatest concentration of serotonin, which is involved in mood control, depression,
and aggression, is found in your intestines, not your brain! Wheat in particular has also been
implicated in psychiatric problems, from depression to schizophrenia, due to it containing a
range of harmful substances such as the lectin known as wheat germ agglutinin (WGA) and
gluten exorphins, opiate-like peptides, which may have neurotoxic activity.
3. Processed Foods

The list of potentially mood-busting ingredients in processed foods is a long one. Aside from
sugar and gluten, they may also contain synthetic trans fats, artificial colors, monosodium
glutamate (MSG), artificial sweeteners, and other synthetic ingredients linked to irritability
and poor mood.

If your methods of coping with stress arent contributing to your greater emotional and
physical health, its time to find healthier ones. No single method works for everyone or in
every situation, so experiment with different techniques and strategies. Focus on what makes
you feel calm and in control. Think about the ways you currently manage and cope with
stress in your life. Your stress journal can help you identify them. Are your coping strategies
healthy or unhealthy, helpful or unproductive? Unfortunately, many people cope with stress
in ways that compound the problem.
Use this checklist to track your progress using these strategies to manage stress. Compare
how you feel on days when you make lots of ticks on the checklist to those when you make
few or none.