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Foods That Can Help Relieve Stress

By DR. CAROLINE CEDERQUIST

Stress has become a constant burden in our busy lives, and many of us do not realize the role that certain foods may play in regards to our stress levels. Stress comes from hormones called cortisol and adrenaline that our bodies naturally release. These hormones were a benefit to early humans, who needed the "fight or flight" response that is associated with stress just to survive. However, now that same response often triggers cravings for foods high in carbohydrates and fats.

While the proper diet and exercise is essential for a healthy life, did you know that certain foods and nutrients can also be the key to coping with and diminishing the effects of stress?

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Medical professionals have championed vitamin C as a great immune-system booster and cancer fighter. A 2003 Psychology Today article mentions a 2002 German study of 120 people where half were given 1,000 mg of vitamin C before a public speaking task (talk about stressful). The people who received the vitamin C reported being less stressed than those who did not receive it. In animal studies vitamin C fed to rats put into stressful situations prevented an increase in cortisol (the stress hormone).

To keep stress at bay, amp up your diet with healthy portions of uncooked fruits and veggies (because vitamin C is destroyed from cooking and exposure to light).  Choose oranges, grapefruits and peppers. Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, tomatoes and cantaloupes also contain vitamin C.  Another option - particularly when you are dealing with extra tough stressors — is a vitamin C supplement (preferably extended-release).

More "stress superfoods" are spinach and apricots, which contain high levels of magnesium. While magnesium does not prevent stress signals in your body, it does help ward off headaches and migraines, common signs of increased cortisol levels. Fatigue is another result of stress, which magnesium-rich foods or a supplement can help prevent.

According to stress.org, there are more than 50 by-products of stress, and some of the hardest to cope with are depression and mood swings. This emotional imbalance can keep the vicious stress circle alive. A great vitamin to help banish that bummed-out feeling and make sure it does not return is vitamin B6. Found in almonds and pistachios, vitamin B6 is a natural immune-system and mood booster.

The most important thing to remember in stressful times is to not let your healthy lifestyle take a backseat. Your body needs a diet balanced in lean protein, complex carbohydrates and healthy fats to maintain and repair your body in all situations -- including stressful ones. While the particular foods mentioned in this article may help give you the added boost you need to cope with a long workday or aggravating family matters, they will not replace an overall healthy, balanced diet.

--Dr. Caroline Cederquist

Readers -- Have you been experiencing stress lately? Will you try eating any of these foods and nutrients to diminish the stress symptoms in your life? Leave a comment below and let us know.

As The M.D., Caroline read her first statistics about obesity at a very young age. Growing up, the majority of Caroline’s family was overweight. Through her knowledge of weight management, she is proof that you can manage your genetic predispositions through healthy lifestyle changes. She wanted a career where she could help people understand this too. Caroline noticed that many illnesses she managed were aggravated by problems with nutrition or weight. This inspired her interest in bariatrics, the specialty of medical weight management. It’s through her extensive work with patients that Caroline developed the nutritional foundation for bistroMD, focusing on the right balance of macronutrients in the diet: the protein, the right carbohydrates, healthy fats and fiber. She further carries her message through publications in professional journals, and has appeared as a weight-management expert on several popular television shows, including Dr. Phil.

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