When you encounter a perceived threat, your body reacts by activating the fight-or-flight response—your adrenals pump out stress hormones that put the body and mind into a hyperaware, ready-for-anything mode. Digestion shuts down and the cardiovascular system pumps up in anticipation of, well, a fight or flight.
This bodily process is elegantly designed to help save our lives when we are in danger. It works quite well when utilized on occasion. The problem is that in today’s world, we are presented with constant mini-threats in the form of work stress, family issues, financial problems, and relationship troubles. Many people are in a state of chronic stress, putting out small fires all day long, all week long, month after month. Under chronic stress, our fight-or-flight response is constantly activated, which takes a big toll on our health. Inflammation increases, hormone levels alter, and energy runs low.
Chronic stress is a major contributor to disease. Not only are we more likely to experience mental disorders such as anxiety and depression, but our digestive health suffers (remember that the fight-or-flight response shuts down digestion), our heart health diminishes, and we experience weight gain, sleep problems, and trouble with memory and concentration.
In a recent study published in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology, researchers found that women who were chronically stressed and eating foods high in fat and sugar gained inches around the waist, increased fat, had higher oxidative damage, and more insulin resistance when compared to women who were not under stress and eating the same foods. In short, the chronically stressed women were on the road to metabolic syndrome, the precursor to diabetes and heart disease.
“Diet appears to be a critical variable that can either amplify or protect against the metabolic effects of stress, but we still don’t know the details of how much it takes,” noted Elissa Epel, PhD, senior author.
Stress is a regular part of most people’s lives in the world we currently live in. We must remember that adding unhealthy foods to our already stressed-out existence will have consequences. Instead, why not choose foods that help to quell the inflammation that comes with stress? By eating more of the following three foods—while avoiding grains, sugar, and grain-fed meats—you can help deter the effects of chronic stress.
Non-starchy vegetables. Vegetables are some of the healthiest foods you can eat. As long as you avoid the starchy vegetables (corn and potatoes in particular) and fill your plate with plenty of colors, you will help to nourish your body and lower inflammation.
Low-sugar fruit. Many fruits are very high in sugar. It’s best to stick with nutrient-rich berries (strawberries, blackberries, blueberries, raspberries, etc.) because they are naturally low in sugar, which fuels inflammation.
Healthy fats. Not all fats are bad. Healthy fats are an important part of the diet. By eating plenty of omega-3 fats found in oily fish, walnuts, and flax and chia seeds, you will help to balance the inflammation response triggered by stress and a poor diet.