There are two broad categories in to which we can place foodstuffs likely to assist in reducing stress. Firstly, there are those foods whose chemical properties are designed to alleviate stress, and secondly, there are those foods which the act of consuming alone helps us to feel less anxious. Naturally, the former variety comprise the scientific part of this debate or concept, while the latter are what may be referred to as the psychological or behavioural aspects.
Foods high in protein are likely to help us combat the effects of stress upon our bodies. Such foods include meat, fresh fish and dairy products. This is because proteins give us energy and strengthen our body’s defences against all forms of external influences. Carbohydrates found in fresh fruit and vegetables or wholegrain bread and pasta have a similar effect.
Natural potassium assists in regulating the blood pressure within our bodies which naturally increases when we are feeling stressed. Potassium can be obtained for this purpose from particularly bananas but also the likes of potatoes, avocadoes and fresh fish.
Iron’s principal function within our bodies is to stimulate the flow of oxygen around our bodies in our bloodstream. In this way, it can increase the flow of oxygen to the brain and battle the debilitating effects of stress upon that organ. Foods that are rich in iron are such as lean red meats (especially liver,) eggs and wholegrain cereals.
When we look at the second group of foods which help reduce our stress levels we are stepping in to a much greyer and less scientific area. These foods – often referred to as “comfort foods” – help alleviate stress simply by the pleasures their consumption provides us and the endorphins consequently transmitted to the brain. The danger here is that what a great many of us would class as comfort foods are extremely unhealthy in many other respects.
Foods such as chocolate, sweet desserts and pastries can of course fall in to both categories, due to their richness in sugar type carbohydrates. Often, however, the simple, almost forbidden pleasures obtained from the eating act alone will serve the desired purpose long before our livers convert these sugars to glucose. The dangers in tackling stress in this fashion, however, are fairly numerous when we consider the saturated fats and calories in the products, to name but two negatives.
It does not necessarily follow, however, that all comfort foods should fall in to the unhealthy category. It may be the associations which we have with the food product which help us to battle the effects of stress. It may be a foodstuff or even an entire meal, fairly healthy in most respects, which our minds associate with good times in our lives, giving us a psychological boost. Some examples of this may be a recipe that our mother or grandmother used to make for us as a child, something which we ate on our first date with the love of our lives, or even a food which has simply long since been one of our favourites for no better reason than we enjoy it so much.
We have essentially covered therefore not just two but three types of stress combating foods. Healthy foods which tackle stress chemically, otherwise unhealthy foods which tackle stress both chemically and emotionally and generally healthy foods which infuse us with a warmth of emotion and banish the blues altogether, at least for a little while.
Give me the third type, every single time…