Managing Stress With A Healthy Diet

The ratio of calorific contributions from food...
The ratio of calorific contributions from food components of four diets (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the last couple of years in my clinical practice,it`s becoming relatively common to find seemingly healthy young professionals waiting for routine clinical examination who feel elated of not falling ill in the prior years,never seen their doctors for yearly check-up but sadly have been adding weight,don`t exercise,bother less about healthy diets and are now chronically stressed than ever in their lives.

Weight gain of 20-40 pounds in 2-4 years is hardly noticed  and hence of less concern in this group of ever-on-the-professionals.On examination,a significant proportion of them are usually noticed with high blood pressure,prediabetic sugar levels,dyslipidaemia and overweight(especially abdominal obesity).These cluster of symptoms in addition to insulin resistance constitute Metabolic syndrome or Syndrome X.Individuals with syndrome X are susceptible to developing Heart disease and Diabetes which unfortunately wasn`t even known by my patients before presentation in the clinic.

A diet high in sugar and refined carbohydrates,lack of exercise and chronic stress are major culprits in the pathogenesis of obesity and metabolic syndrome-related ailments.Sustained cortisol levels resulting from chronic stress triggers a craving for sugar and high carbohydrate-based foods which leads to hyperglycaemia ,hyperinsulinaemia and eventually hypoglycaemia.Persistently elevated insulin levels from eating high sugar based foods or high carbohydrare diets puts the body in fat storage mode and ultimately obesity since this fat is not utilized for energy.

Let`s picture a typical domestic scenario : You have just returned home from work with a bunch of files and office reports.You order for some snacks because you are either too exhausted to cook or you`re not in the mood for your spouse`s dinner with whom you had a brawl in the morning  over unfilled vacation promises.Ofcoure,you spent the night attending to the Finance recommendation report and ordering double espressos the next day to remain alert for the boardroom presentaion..This is a familiar stress factory moreso with diet.

No doubt,adequate stress-relieving social life can be  an occasionally unattainable but stress-relieving healthy diet should be our formidable ally when anxiety is spiralling out of control.The following recommendations have been time-tested :

  • FISH-Most fish like the tuna,mackerel,salmon and sardine varieties are laden with adequate Vit B complex especially vit B6 and B12 known for their ability to combat stress. Vit B12 is involved in the synthesis of serotonin; a mood stabilizing chemical in the brain.Depression has been associated with a prolonged lack of Vit B12.For lunch or dinner,salmon salad with leaffy greens or grilled tuna with whole grain rice.
  • OATMEAL : A bowl of oat meal splashed with blueberries boosts serotonin levels which calms the brain,shores up the immune system and lowers blood pressure.
  • COMPLEX CARBS : Blood sugar stabilization can be achieved with complex carbs because of their slow release into the blood stream unlike refined sugars with their sudden surge.An ideal breakfast will consists of cereals,wheat bread,pasta ot oatmeal.
  • BLACK TEA : Real tea drinkers who drank more than one cup per day reported feeling calmer and were found with low cortisol levels after stressful events.Coffee on the hand,exacerbates adrenaline and cortisol levels.
  • ALMONDS : Almonds are loaded with a range of B vits,magnesium,vit E and zinc.They are involved in serotonin production which regulates mood and relieves stress,Vit E is an antioxidant against free radicals related to stress and heart disease.
  • MILK : The legendary time-honored milk comes in handy too.A glass of warm milk especially the skimmed or low-fat type well recommended by dieticians is rich in calcium which Researchers have found to ease moods,anxiety muscle spasms and tension which are clusters of symptoms in Generalized Anxiety Disorder,Bipolar Affective Disorders and Premenstrual syndrome.
While more healthy diets and stress-reducing foods are being discovered,suffice it to say that your choice of stress-reducing diets should be those that essentially enhance serotonin production,are rich in vitamins especially the B complex family and high in antioxidants while reducing the intake of  sources of cortisol,adrenaline,saturated fats and dopamine.
Andrew Okpetu

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