Q. The fall comes with so much to get done and I’m always stressed. Can food be used to reduce stress?

A. Stress and nutrition are very much linked.

Stress is now considered a major health disorder because it affects such a large number of people. With very physical effects, stress causes many things to occur in the body, such as raising blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

In the short-term, stress can shut down appetite as your body gets revved up trying to fight off the stress. But when stress is long-lasting, the body releases cortisol and appetite levels increase. High levels of cortisol combined with high levels of insulin can cause cravings for foods high in fat and sugar, which is the comfort food people grab for during times of stress.

Ironically the food people want the most while stressed is actually the worst for them. Foods high in fat and sugar will cause rapid spikes and crashes in blood sugar levels, leaving you lethargic and less able to deal with stress. A better way to tackle stress is eating foods that soothe and calm, give the brain energy to handle the stress and ones that boost the immune system.

Carbohydrates are the primary source of energy for our brain. Help your body fight off stress by giving it the energy it needs to figure a way out of the stress.

Complex carbohydrates, like whole wheat bread, beans and lentils also cause the brain to produce more serotonin, a hormone that can boost mood and have a calming effect. While calm, it is often easier to think through situations — and isn’t that exactly what we are looking for when we are stressed?

Complex carbohydrates will also provide you with fiber, which fills you up and keeps you fuller longer to help prevent the overeating that often comes with feelings of stress.

Treat your brain right with other great stress-reducing foods like cashews and walnuts. Studies have shown that low levels of zinc are linked to anxiety and depression, which are often associated with stress. Try eating cashews to get a good dose of zinc, either by themselves as a snack or on top of a stir-fry.

A frustrating side effect that often comes with stress is forgetting something important. Boost your brain with walnuts to get omega-3 fatty acids to sharpen your cognition and reduce memory loss.

Persistent stress also weakens the immune system, but this can be countered by eating plenty of fruit and vegetables.

Full of antioxidants, fruits and vegetables will give your immune system the boost it needs during times of stress. Aim to eat a variety of color when stressed by snacking on berries or topping a salad with carrots to increase the amount of vitamin A and C you eat.

The simple act of pausing before grabbing for those comfort foods can help you fill your stomach with quality foods and support a healthy brain better able to fight off stress.

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