Stress is one of the most common causes of illness in today’s fast-paced lifestyle. It upsets the metabolism, digestive system, immune system and sleep patterns. Elevated stress levels cause excessive production of the “fight or flight” hormone, called cortisol. This can lead to weight gain over the belly area, not to mention causing you to feel tired, jittery, overly emotional and achy. Headaches are a familiar companion in those suffering from high stress levels. Excessive stress can cause a rise in Blood Pressure and cholesterol, both of which put pressure on the heart.
Unfortunately, to compound this problem, human nature dictates that one of the most common ways of dealing with stress is comfort eating. This usually means scoffing junk food, high in processed and refined sugars and loaded with saturated fats. These will only add to your body’s already-overburdened state.

Here are some healthy foods to replace the junk food, that will also help your body to cope with the stress:

1. Spinach: Popeye knew a thing or two!

In those old cartoons, we always saw Popeye down a tin of spinach, whenever the going got tough and his “fight or flight” instinct fired up. Well, it seems he had some insider information! Spinach is loaded with Magnesium, which works directly on the cortisol production, and also helps to lower blood pressure. It’s high in fiber too, which is a brilliant way of lowering cholesterol. Magnesium is also a well-known way of dealing with muscle cramps, which are very common when stress levels are on the rise.

2. Something Fishy…

Increase your intake of oily fish. And no, not oily as in fried in oil! Oily as in Salmon, Mackerel, Herring or Sardines, which are naturally oily types of fish. This oil is loaded with Omega 3, one of the essential fatty acids. Omega 3 has the benefits of improving focus and concentration, breaking down cholesterol; is great for joint and bone health and it’s even good for your vision! You’ll need at least two servings of this DHA-rich food source per week, to enjoy the full benefits; and it can even help to reduce waist circumference. Another excellent – non-fishy – source of Omega 3, is raw flaxseed oil. So, if you’re not keen on fish, you could try taking a supplement, or adding the oil as a dressing to your salad.

3. Go Nutty!

That’s right. Nuts are a great source of vitamin B, which is depleted during stressful times; pushing everything even further out of whack. Eating nuts will replenish the B vitamins, realigning our neurotransmitters and helping our bodies to recover their equilibrium a little. The fact that nuts are delicious, is an added bonus. Not to mention that enormously satisfying crunching sound they produce when you chew them! They’re also an excellent source of Omega 6 and 9, which help the body to break down cholesterol. Pistachios, in particular, are also loaded with Potassium which helps to lower blood pressure, taking strain off the heart.

4. Stay cool with Chamomile:

Herbal teas, particularly Chamomile, are another smart way to ease the effects of stress on the body and mind. Studies have proven that chamomile has a soothing effect on both. It is especially beneficial if sipped before bedtime, inducing peaceful sleep and allowing much needed rest. Other great ideas for herbal teas are Ginger and Peppermint, which help soothe the digestive system. Stress can play havoc with the digestive tract, causing Spastic Colon, Oesophageal Spasms, indigestion and the like. The soothing effects of ginger and peppermint tea on the digestive system will make you feel that much less ‘twisted up’ inside.

5. Go dark; chocolate, that is:

So many of us crave the soothing effects of our favourite comfort food: chocolate. Go right ahead – but switch to dark chocolate. And watch your portions, because it is still a high calorie food… No more than 1.4 ounces a day. Why dark chocolate? The cocoa is actually an excellent way to combat the increased cortisol levels. The best option would be chocolate with at least 70% cocoa.

Parting shot:

These healthy foods offer a natural defence against the harrowing effects that stress can have on our bodies. If you’re feeling overwhelmed and your impulse to “comfort eat” kicks in; try snacking on these healthy stress-combatting foods. Choose them over oily, sugary snacks that will put your poor, tightly wound body under even more strain.