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Smart Food Choices to Reduce Stress

By Irene Christaki, Clinical Dietitian and Nutritionist, MSc., Doctoral candidate of the Athens School of Medicine

According to scientific data, it appears that 70% of people react to severely stressful events by increasing food intake, while 30% seem to reduce food intake in similar circumstances. Statistics seem to not be in favor of people trying to regulate their weight.

It is not just the reaction that one gets used to under psychological pressure. Chronic stress, among other things, often means elevated levels of cortisol, which contribute to poor glucose regulation and an increased tendency to eat carbohydrate-rich foods such as sweets, pastries, potatoes and bread. At the same time, scientific data suggests that elevated cortisol levels are associated with fat deposition in the abdomen. There are, therefore, a number of mechanisms that make our food critical when it comes to being our ally against stress rather than our enemy.

There are foods that seem to work supportively in difficult situations, either because of their composition or because of a specific nutrient they contain. These are typically plant foods, which are also good sources of antioxidants.

Smart food? Cashews
Nuts generally make up a good fat and protein snack that helps you feel full whilst also reducing cravings. Of course, their amount deserves attention as they are energy-dense foods, but they are recommended in specific amounts, especially for people trying to regulate their body weight. Cashews in particular are our allies against stress, as they are rich in zinc. Low levels of zinc have been associated with high levels of anxiety and an increased incidence of depression. Zinc is not stored in some way in our body, so it's a good idea to find ways for its intake every day. The advantage of cashews is that they can be eaten both as snacks as well as being used when cooking or in salads. Good sources of zinc are also mushrooms, parsley, oysters, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds and eggs.

Calm and Concentrated? Green Tea
Green tea may be a mild stimulant, but can also contribute to mental clarity and better functioning of the nervous system. If you belong to the group of lovers of large quantities of coffee, think again. Opt for green tea when looking for better concentration at work, as coffee in large quantities can make you hyperactive and irritated.

Delicious snack: Dark chocolate
It is no coincidence that you turn to chocolate after a hard day at work and when you’re in a bad mood. And of course, the more stressed you are, the more likely you are to consume greater quantities of chocolate. Despite chocolate being rich in antioxidants and with cardio-protective benefits, the results are contrary when consumed in larger amounts. Studies show that moderate amounts of chocolate can help improve your mood and dark chocolate can improve blood pressure and contribute to a sense of calm, so you can enjoy it even if you are monitoring your weight.

Essential for Stress: Walnuts
Walnuts contribute to the health of the nervous system and are necessary for people with intense stress. They are rich in α-linoleic acid, which is a necessary fatty acid that boosts memory and cognitive functions. Walnuts in particular contain enough magnesium, which appears to be excreted in large quantities by the body under chronic stress conditions. The advantage of walnuts are that you can always have a handful of them in your bag at work, which you can add to salads, yoghurt, cakes or even combine them with some fruit for a nutritious snack.

Ultimately, diet can be one of the best methods to combat stress.

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