Who hasn't reached for a bag of Barbecue Lay's after a never-ending office meeting or a packet of Twizzlers following a particularly bristling encounter with a super needy friend? We get it. A vat of movie theatre-style popcorn never tasted so good as when the in-laws are in town. And a Venti Pumpkin Spice Latte can truly seem like the best medicine for a coping with a whiny toddler.
While no one faults you for giving into a salt or sugar craving during times of extreme stress, it turns out these snacks only serve to ramp up your anxiety. No offense, peanut M&Ms.
Chelsey Jackson, RD, LD, a Registered Dietitian at Akron General, offers her advice for what not to eat when the pressure's on.
Reese's Peanut Butter Cups may seem like your best friend when you're feeling stressed, but they can actually be your enemy. "When we eat sugary foods such as candy, pastries, ice cream, and even sugary cereals, our blood sugar spikes and then drops. When our blood sugar drops, we are more likely to feel anxious, tired and susceptible to emotional stress," explains Jackson. Excess sugar can also lead to elevated levels of cortisol, a stress hormone.
And don't forget sugary drinks, like your beloved Starbucks Carmel Mocha Frappe. "One grande caramel macchiato contains 32 grams of sugar! That's 8 teaspoons. This will likely set you up for a crash," says Jackson. Incidentally, caffeine isn't exactly stress's ally either.
Processed junk food
Munching on salty chips (Pringles! Cool Ranch Doritos! Or both!) and indulgent cookies can help you feel better in the short term, but these processed snacks are also full of additives, fat and sodium. "These foods can actually increase stress levels as they can raise cortisol levels," Jackson says.
The Good Stuff
Instead, when you're dealing with a stressful situation, try to load up on fruits and veggies rich in Vitamin C like crunchy bell peppers or sweetly satisfying kiwi. You'll be helping to strengthen your immune system, which can be compromised by excess stress.
Replace that bag of vending machine cookies with foods that contain complex carbohydrates, such as oatmeal and quinoa. "These foods offer healthful carbohydrates which can boost serotonin level. The fiber also helps to keep your blood sugar steady, preventing those lows," explains Jackson.
Salmon and walnuts are two more foods to bulk up on when worry is weighing on you. Both are rich in depression-fighting Omega-3 fatty acids. For dessert, delicious berries can be your go-to with their anthocyanins--antioxidants that can boost brain power. Vitamin E (found in spices, sunflower seeds, and almonds) can also help protect the body against stress damage.
Worried Womanistas, do yourself a favor by picking up that quinoa bowl and putting the chips away--at least until you can say see ya later to stress.