Stress is all around us, and food provides a welcome, if momentary break.
Unfortunately, the foods we often turn to in times of stress, like coffee and sweets,
have a way of making us feel even more frazzled later on.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Research has shown that eating more of some foods
and less of others can cause stress hormones in the body to decline.
Making slight changes in your diet will produce physical changes in the brain that
can make the world’s problems just a little bit easier to handle.
Researchers have found that food high in carbohydrates produce changes in the brain
that can take the edge of stress.
During emotionally trying times, our brain uses up its supply of serotonin, a chemical
that imparts feelings of well-being. When serotonin levels fall, negative feelings
tend to rise.
Eating foods that are high in carbohydrates, like pasta, bagels or baked potatoes,
can quickly rise low serotonin levels, making you feel less stresses and more relaxed.
As serotonin levels rise, appetite usually decreases, which means that you are
less likely to eat your way through hard times.
Research found that foods high in vitamin B6, such as bananas, potatoes and prunes,
can relieve irritability and stress, making you feel just a little bit better.
In one study, Dr. Tecce and his colleagues at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition
Research Center on Aging at Tufts University in Boston lowered vitamin B6 levels
in a group of volunteers. The people became increasingly irritable and tense.
Vitamin B6 improves mood by raising levels of dopamine, a chemical in the brain
that is related to feeling good. When you don’t get enough vitamin B6 in your diet, dopamine levels fall, and you can experience negative feelings.
In addition, people who don’t get enough vitamin B6, may produce to little serotonin,which make them feel even worse.
It’s not yet clear how much vitamin B6 you might need to help stress levels down,
says Dr. Tecce. It seems likely, however, that the daily value (DV) of 2 milligrams is
probably enough. It’s very easy to get this much vitamin B6 in your diet.
One banana, for example, has 0.7 milligram, or 35% of the DV, a half-cup of chickpeas
has 0.6 milligram, or 30% of the DV and a baked potato has 0.4 milligram, or 20%
of thee DV. The USANA Essentials contains 8 milligram of vitamin 6.
The Caffeine Crash
In a study of almost 30 people, researchers at the University of Minnesota in Morris
found that more of them drank more coffee or caffeine-containing soft drinks during
Caffeine produces a quick zing that can momentarily make you feel more relaxed
and confident. Fairly quickly, however, it stimulates the production of cortisol,
a stress hormone that raises blood pressure and heart rate. This can make you feel
more stressed than yo did before, says William Lovallo, PhD, professor of psychiatry
and behavioral sciences at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center.
It doesn’t take potfuls of coffee to rev up your stress levels, Dr. Lovallo adds.
In a study of 48 men, Dr. Lovallo and his colleagues found that those drinking just
2 to 3 cups had a significant increase in blood pressure.
This doesn’t mean that you have to give up your favorite drinks, Dr. Lovallo adds.
But when the pressure’s on, switching to drinks without caffeine will help keep you
calmer and more in control .
And while you’re filling your cup, put the lid back on the sugar. Within minutes
after eating sweets, blood sugar levels start to fall. “When your blood sugar is going
up and down, you are more susceptible to moodiness and irritability,” says
Peter Miller, PhD, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at theMedical University of South Carolina in Charleston.