Natural Health Journals

Food/stress connection: what you shove down your gullet will either fuel or cool the edginess inside

Jittery nerves are a way of life for many of us. After close to a year of slump, the economy’s only now starting to get off the mat, and navigating airport security would make a Buddhist monk pop a few preemptive Zanax. The best way to deal with today’s tense climate is to minimize all the factors contributing to the anxiety, and that includes your food intake. Believe it or not, the pizza you had with a beer chaser has as much to do with your stress level as the downturn in your 401 (k). So learn how to eat to lessen stress, and stay away from the foods that elevate it. You’ll be at peace in no time.



[down arrow] When you’re stressed, it can feel like a pair of golf shoes is stomping out a fire in your stomach. But you can quell the sensation with ginger root, an aromatic stimulant that improves appetite and increases production of digestive fluids, boosting the absorption of nutrients. The gingerol in ginger acts directly on the stomach and liver to reduce nausea.

Try adding ginger to stir-fries or chicken dishes, or brew a pot of ginger tea. Just add a half-cup of coarsely chopped fresh ginger root to three cups of water, bring to a boil, and let simmer for 10 minutes. Strain and sweeten with honey to taste.

1 tsp raw ginger root: 1 calorie, zero carbs, zero protein, zero fat


[down arrow] Getting eight cups of water a day is especially important when you’re under stress. “When you’re dehydrated, you feel more run-down and react more negatively to stress,” says Joy Bauer, M.S., R.D., C.D.N., author of The 90/10 Weight Loss Plan. Symptoms of dehydration include dizziness, lethargy, nausea and headache. There are plenty more advantages to getting your daily 64 ounces, namely: no calories, no fat, no cooking, and the bonus calorie burn from all the extra bathroom runs. Remember, thirst is a signal that you’ve entered a low-level state of dehydration, so drink up before you feel the need.


[down arrow] Here’s how it goes: You get stressed, you catch a cold, you miss work, you get more stressed, your cold gets worse, you want to die. “Chronic stress can weaken your ability to fight disease,” says Brie Turner-McGrievy, M.S., R.D., a staff dietitian at the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine in Washington, D.C. But mucusy misery need not be the end result of your stress.

“By upping your intake of antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables, you can boost your immune system,” says Turner-McGrievy. Of all the fresh fruits and vegetables that have been studied, blueberries just may be the richest source of antioxidants. Check out for more ways to serve up blueberries than you can shake a Kleenex at, from protein smoothies to turkey blueberry salad.

1 cup blueberries: 81 calories, 20g carbs, 1g protein, 1g fat


[down arrow] Think oatmeal occupies the same plane as rabbit food? Well, those lettuce-and-oats eaters are a lot calmer than you are, brother, with your twitching, nerve-wracked frame. Oatmeal is packed with soluble fiber, and, according to Bauer, “soluble fiber prevents volatile blood sugar, so hopefully you’ll have less insanity. It also gives you better concentration and staying power and helps control headaches.” Its warm creaminess qualifies oatmeal as a comfort food, and adding sliced strawberries or apple gives it an antioxidant punch.

One packet instant oatmeal: 103 calories, 18g carbs, 4g protein, 2g fat


[down arrow] Chocolate contains a double whammy of stress-busting antioxidants and methylxanthines, stimulators that create a feeling of satisfaction. Is stress sterilizing your sex life? Chocolate can help there, too. The forms, shapes, textures and smells of certain foods can put you–and her–in the mood for a mojo marathon. Foods that appeal to the senses are called “organoleptic” and include chocolate, cocoa and chocolate sauce. Just go easy on this high-fat, high-sugar treat–a few kisses is plenty.

One miniature chocolate bar (7 grams): 36 calories, 4g carbs, zero protein, 2g fat


[down arrow] You require more energy when you’re stressed, and carbohydrates increase insulin output, which shuttles energy around your body. Also, serotonin levels drop when you’re stressed–carbs help regenerate this feel-good hormone. However, refined sugars can cause your energy to rise and fall like a tech stock, so turn to high-fiber complex carbs such as beans instead. Beans are also a good source of vitamin [B.sub.6]. “When you don’t get enough [B.sub.6], it impairs your ability to produce serotonin,” says Turner-McGrievy. “Aiming toward foods that are rich in complex carbs and vitamin [B.sub.6] ensures that you’ll be able to manufacture and even boost serotonin, which boosts mood as well.”


[down arrow] If tension makes you Hoover entire pints of Ben & Jerry’s, satisfy your craving–but spare yourself the fat and simple carbs–with a baked apple. In addition to its creamy comfort, a baked apple pumps you up with plenty of the antioxidant vitamin C. “This is a hot, sweet dish that can reduce stress,” says Turner-McGrievy.

You can save time and hassle by plopping the apple into the microwave. Just core the apple, place it on a microwave-safe deep dish, sprinkle cinnamon in the hole, cover loosely with plastic wrap, and nuke on high for 15 to 20 minutes. Baste after 10 minutes with the sauce from the bottom of the dish.

One medium apple with 1 tsp cinnamon: 48 calories, 13g carbs, zero protein, zero fat



Fat does more than make you, well, fat. It also increases the viscosity of the blood, meaning that the blood becomes thicker and more sluggish. “This makes it difficult for the blood to deliver oxygen as quickly, and when you’re not getting oxygen to your brain quickly enough, you’re not able to deal with stressful situations as well,” says Turner-McGrievy. Stress, in turn, also increases the viscosity of the blood, creating a vicious circle that can lead to a meltdown. In addition, ice cream’s high sugar content also sets you up for a crash. “You’ll get a yuck high and then a yuck low,” adds Bauer.

Half-cup chocolate ice cream: 143 calories, 19g carbs, 3g protein, 7g fat


[up arrow] It may be considered comfort food, but mac and cheese provides anything but. First of all, it’s high in fat, which causes your oxygen-carrying blood to become as lethargic as your dial-up modem. Also, the dairy can do a number on a stomach that’s already feeling the effects of stress.

One serving prepared: 400 calories, 48g carbs, 11g protein, 19g fat


[up arrow] Knocking back a few rounds seems like the best antidote for stress; it’s hard to feel tense when you’re nodding off in a drunken stupor. However, alcohol is converted in the liver to a stimulant called acetylaldehyde, which will wake you up from said stupor in the middle of the night. Anxiety plus nasty hangover plus interrupted sleep equals one unhappy you.

One bottle (12 oz.): 146 calories, 13g carbs, 1g protein, zero fat


[up arrow] Just to make sure we’ve included all your favorite turn-to-in-times-of-stress noshes, we have to diss pizza, too. “Pizza’s another one of those things that we grab when we’re feeling stressed out, especially because it’s easy to order,” says Turner-McGrievy. “But, again, pizza is one of those high-fat foods that increase blood viscosity.” If you must munch on a pie, she suggests ordering a cheeseless veggie pizza.

Two slices Domino’s Classic hand-tossed pepperoni pizza: 449 calories, 55g carbs, 19g protein, 18g fat


[up arrow] The caffeine in the espresso gives you jitters, while the whole milk contributes tension-producing fat. Although carbs from the sugar makes you feel calmer initially, your tranquility quickly dissipates once your blood sugar crashes through the floor. Dairy also produces stomach-churning effects in many people, leading to one grande nervous breakdown. Try a decaf soy-milk cappuccino instead.

Starbucks cappuccino, tall, with whole milk: 140 calories, 11g carbs, 8g protein, 7g fat


The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine created this simple, easy-to-make, stress-bashing recipe. They call it chili mac.


8 oz. pasta spirals or macaroni 1 onion, chopped 2-3 garlic cloves, minced 1 small bell pepper, diced 3/4 cup textured vegetable protein 115-oz. can crushed tomatoes 115-oz. can kidney beans, including liquid 115-oz. can corn, including liquid 1 tbsp chili powder 1/2 tsp cumin.


  1. Cook the pasta in boiling water until tender. Drain and rinse under hot water, then set aside. 
  2. Heat half-cup of water in a large pot, then add the chopped onion and garlic. Cook until the onion is soft, about three minutes. 
  3. Add the bell pepper, textured vegetable protein, crushed tomatoes, kidney beans, corn, spices, and an additional half-cup of water. Stir to mix, then simmer over medium heat, stirring occasionally for 20 minutes. 
  4. Add the cooked pasta and check the seasonings. Add more chili powder if a spicier dish is desired. Makes eight servings. Per serving: 275 calories, 52g carbs, 14g protein, 1g fat, 7g fiber

COPYRIGHT 2002 Weider Publications
COPYRIGHT 2002 Gale Group