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Eating to Combat Stress – WELL Summit

Eating to Combat Stress – WELL Summit

dsc_0416-1-e1460646266903-5725699 Photo by Tori Kendrew from Kitchen+Kraft

Thirst Juice Co., a 100% vegan and gluten-free juice and smoothie bar and eatery based in Boston, is dedicated not only to fueling Bostonians with delicious and healthful food and drink, but also to serving as an educator about all issues at the intersection of food and wellness. Our slogan, “Thirst. For Life.” reflects our love of adventure, exploring new places and flavors, and staying active and healthy. Thirst was one of the sponsors of the inaugural W.E.L.L. Summit in Boston.

What we eat matters. The following discussion addresses just one of the areas in which making informed choices regarding food can help improve your wellness.

Eating To Combat Stress

2-300x200-3558805For most of us, stress is an unavoidable part of the exciting and fulfilling lives that we love – and from exercise to meditation to sleep, there are countless tools that we can use to manage stress. But one important tool that is often overlooked is food (and I’m not talking about binge eating a pint of Ben and Jerry’s). What you eat and drink when you’re experiencing stress can meaningfully impact how you feel. Here are four simple ways that you can use food and drink to combat stress.

Stay Hydrated.

Stress increases dehydration, and dehydration increases stress. Break this cycle by making an extra effort to drink enough hydrating liquid during periods of stress in your life.

High stress levels lead to increased heart rate and breathing rate, both of which require our bodies to use extra water, and can lead to dehydration. Over time, high levels of stress can also lead to adrenal fatigue, another cause of dehydration. To make matters worse, just as stress increases dehydration, dehydration can increase the levels of stress hormones (including cortisol, adrenaline, and norepinephrine) in your body, and can lead to an increased heart rate, placing further physical stress on the body.  The last thing you need when you’re already experiencing stress is to feel even more stress because you’re dehydrated.

In order to make sure you’re getting enough fluid when you’re experiencing stress, consider adding drinking a glass of water into a routine that you do regularly (for example, drink a glass each time you brush your teeth or shower) and always keep a water bottle close at hand. You can also eat hydrating foods like cucumbers, apples, and watermelon or drink a smoothie or juice as a meal or snack. Don’t forget that alcohol and caffeine, which are diuretics, actually dehydrate you – so keep your consumption of both in check when you’re stressed.

Feed the good bacteria in your gut.

Tens of trillions of microorganisms live in your gut and directly impact, and are impacted by, your overall wellness – including your experience of stress. We rely on these bacteria to support us, so we need to support them too. Make sure to feed the good bacteria, and introduce more good bacteria, by eating gut-health-supporting foods.

Among the functions of your gut bacteria are supporting your immune system, assisting in digestion, helping to maintain healthy hormonal balances, and helping the body to rid itself of toxins. Stress causes numerous chemical changes in your bloodstream, which wreak havoc on the good bacteria living in your gut. This is bad news because when these good bacteria suffer, so can your immune system, digestion, and some studies suggest, your feelings of anxiety.

To support the good bacteria in your gut, eat both probiotics (foods containing live bacteria like kombucha, kimchi, and certain yogurts), and prebiotics (foods containing fiber that humans can’t digest, but that support the existing bacteria in your gut, like asparagus, apples, beets, and lentils). It’s important that you eat both types of gut-health-supporting food in order to maintain a healthy population of helpful gut bacteria, particularly when your stress is placing stress on that population.

Support your adrenal glands.

Your adrenal glands, small endocrine glands which sit just above the kidneys, play a key role in your body’s response to stress by producing and regulating stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. However, if stress lasts for a prolonged period, the adrenal glands can become fatigued; when this happens, they don’t function as efficiently, and you may experience other symptoms like a weakened immune system and chronic fatigue.

During times of stress, consider incorporating foods that support adrenal health including maca (an adaptogen which has been shown to support adrenal function), seaweed like nori or kelp (which are packed with beneficial nutrients, including magnesium, which is essential to hundreds of enzymatic functions), and fats from nuts, coconut oil, and avocado (because fats are an essential compound in hormones).

Eat alkalizing foods

Lifestyle factors including what you eat, how hard you exercise, and how much stress you’re under can impact the level of alkalinity or acidity in your body (its pH), but in general, your pH levels will remain in the same range all the time. This is important because if your body is outside the range of safe pH levels, you may experience various health consequences including a weakened immune system, difficulty recovering from illness or after a workout, and difficulty absorbing certain nutrients.

Stress causes your body to tend towards an acidic state, forcing the protective systems that keep your pH levels in check to work harder than when you are not experiencing stress. You can make the jobs of these systems easier by eating alkalizing foods, including leafy greens (like kale, spinach, and swiss chard), algae (like spirulina and chlorella), and fruits (like lemons, berries, and apples) during times of stress. You can also avoid acid-forming foods like processed sugars and alcohol.


Neal Halfon

Neal Halfon, MD, MPH is founding director of the UCLA Center for Healthier Children, Families and Communities, and also directs the Child and Family Health Leadership and Training Program in the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health. Dr. Halfon is professor of pediatrics in the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA; health policy and management in the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health; and public policy in the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs. Is well known for his health related publications.