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Stress Awareness from a Nutrition Standpoint

Written by Felicia Hacket, RD, H3’s Program Manager

Stress arises when people encounter a barrier or a problem in their life, whether it is perceived or not. Chronic stress can lead to chronic diseases like diabetes, depression, cardiovascular and digestive problems. Our on-the-go culture coupled with the lack of time to slow down and eat well-balanced meals may lead to unhealthy eating behaviors like:


– Eating often at fast food restaurants
– Skipping meals
– Increasing caffeine intake
– Using fad diets to lose weight
– Constantly grazing on “snacky” foods that are highly processed, and packaged


Eating behaviors like the ones above promote feelings of negativity and make it more difficult to fight the “blues”. Chronic stress has shown to increase cortisol levels in our body, a hormone that stimulates appetite. According to Harvard Health, physical and emotional distress increases intake of high fat, high sugar foods. How can we combat stress with nutrition and are there foods that will act as a “chill pill”? 


The answer is a resounding yes!


There are foods that help increase dopamine, a brain chemical that provides us with feelings of bliss, pleasure, drive, and motivation. Two ways to increase dopamine production in our brains is to eat foods that are high in tyrosine, a building block of protein, and magnesium, a mineral that has been dubbed the “relaxation mineral”.


Tyrosine is used as a precursor to that blissful chemical we call dopamine. Foods that are high in tyrosine include bananas, almonds, apples, watermelon, cherries, and beans. 
Low levels of magnesium cause decreased levels of dopamine. Including foods that are high in magnesium is beneficial to create Zen-like feelings. Magnesium rich foods include spinach, swiss chard, edamame, quinoa, black-eyed peas, beans, pumpkin seeds, and brazil nuts.


The main take-away for combating stress is to enjoy wholesome foods instead of the highly packaged, refined foods we tend to grab. Have a nutrition plan in place for stress because we all experience it at some point or another. If stress becomes your lifestyle start to fight it off with the foods you eat. A diet rich in a variety of fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts and seeds will promote those fuzzy, good feelings we all strive to have.