A recent study seems to confirm what most health-conscious, emotionally healthy people not only already know, but also tend to practice just about every day. Researchers at Harvard University concluded that the foods we eat have a definite impact not only on our stress levels, but also on our overall emotional health. Upon examining the effects of various types of meals on otherwise fit and healthy adults, they found the effect is indeed undeniable.
The glycemic index connection
The foods that were found to support better stress responses as well as a more even temper and generally higher level of adaptability were foods low on the glycemic index. This simply means these foods have a more even-keel effect on blood sugar instead of spiking it high then crashing it low when the effect wears off. Not only is our appetite intensely increased when this happens, but our hormones tend to follow suit and rise and crash in great ebbs and flows that can make us feel manic.
The best meals were ones that combined a lower fat protein (eggs were cited as an excellent source), a high fiber green or vegetable (kale, spinach or other densely green leafy vegetables), and some source of healthy omega 3 fats (almonds, avocado, etc.). These three pillars of glucose regulation not only helped to stave off the appetite for a longer time, but they also kept the other important mood factors like blood sugar and hormones steady.
The study subjects who had meals higher on the glycemic response spectrum experienced higher stress hormone levels and demonstrated less of an ability to handle stressors in a calm and efficent manner.
The hormone connection
We tend to think of foods in terms of how they will affect our glucose levels, however what many people don’t realize is that these drops and spikes in blood sugar also go hand in hand with hormone changes. Stress hormones are triggered when these changes are too sudden, and it’s hard to get them back on track once they’ve been thrown out of balance.
Often times these hormone spikes can cause breakouts (acne), and this is why stress and diet are so often linked to acne. It’s also a huge reason for mood swings. Hormone balance is of vital importance when it comes to keeping an even, pleasant mood. When that balance is upset we can experience multiple moods in just one day.
The vicious cycle of “stress eating” refined starches and sugars
Unfortunately, the types of foods our bodies are automatically programmed to crave in response to stress are the very foods that only make it worse. Although these foods can seem like they’re inducing a temporary feeling of elevated mood, they end in a crash that often makes the person feel depressed, unable to cope with stress and generally unfocused and lethargic.
Foods such as French fries, pastries, pizza and other “junk” foods offer us temporary solace in that they do initiate a sense of pleasure and satiety. However, they don’t sustain these feelings and they simply aren’t worth the temporary thrill in the end for the disadvantage they put us at for the rest of the day. They also lend to binge eating due to the sudden crash in blood sugar, so it is indeed a vicious cycle once set in motion.
You’ll probably notice that it’s no coincidence some of the most popular and long term successful diet models are built on this type of fat, protein and carbohydrate “ratio”.
When you eat properly portioned, nutrient dense meals it sets you up for better food choices for the remainder of the day.
It also sets in motion a much more effective stress response. While you’ll still experience stress, at least food can help you to react calmly and more rationally to these inevitable situations that crop up in life.
Danna Norek owns AuraSensory.com where you can find a variety of popular natural haircare and skincare products including the top sellers Sulfate Free Shine Enhancing Shampoo and Deep Hydration Conditioner.
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