Everyone probably feels stressed at some point in their life. It does not need any unusual event. Sometimes, simple difficulty balancing the demands of personal life and work commitments is a cause for concern.
Brazil is the most worried country in the world. Data from the World Health Organization (WHO) indicate that about 9.3% of Brazilians suffer from pathological anxiety. Although anxiety is an emotion that is essential to our functioning and survival as a species, when it is in excess it becomes a disorder, and high levels of stress are directly associated with it.
It’s nothing new that good lifestyle habits, such as regular physical activity, can contribute to reducing stress and anxiety. However, little has been said about the role of diet in improving or worsening this condition.
—Stress is the body’s natural response to a risky situation. In many cases, it is welcome and necessary. The problem is when it happens in excess. Many situations in daily life lead our body to a state of stress and food is one of them, says nutritionist Marcela Garces, Director of the Brazilian Association of Dietetics (ABRAN).
Endocrinologist Deborah Berenger emphasizes that in addition to the food itself, the link between the way we eat and stress also includes habits:
— Eating meals sitting at the table, in a quiet environment, eating with a knife and fork, chewing slowly and looking at the environment and not at the screen, are actions that also help slow down and reduce stress.
When it comes to types of foods, there are those that can contribute to increased stress and those that help reduce it. For example, processed and ultra-processed foods, high in sugar, refined carbohydrates and saturated fats, as well as fried foods, increase inflammation in the body overall and contribute to increased stress.
– Nutrient-poor and pro-inflammatory diets can cause neuroinflammation, which impairs the production of health hormones – points out nutritionist Priscilla Breme, Globo columnist.
On the other hand, a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and good fats has a positive effect on reducing stress and overall health.
– There are some foods that contain vitamins, minerals and amino acids that can help in the production of health-related hormones. To understand what these nutrients are, we look for foods in nature that provide them to help the body produce them more efficiently – explains Premi.
Serotonin is one of these neurotransmitters. This neurotransmitter, known as the feel-good hormone, is linked to reduced stress, anxiety, and depression and improved overall mental health. What few people know is that more than 90% of the serotonin in the body is produced in the digestive system. Hence the importance of nutrition.
“Foods that help reduce stress are those that increase serotonin production,” Berenger highlights.
Learn about foods that help improve mental health and well-being:
Bananas, milk, beans, peas and proteins of animal origin:
They are rich in tryptophan, an amino acid directly linked to the production of serotonin. Bananas, for example, are also rich in potassium and vitamin B6, other nutrients proven to be linked to the production of the so-called “happiness hormone.”
Avocados, flaxseeds, and cold-water fish:
These foods are rich in Omega-3, a good fat that is an important neuroprotector and helps in efficient production of neurotransmitters.
It is the best source of selenium ever. Just two units per day already corresponds to the ideal amount of these nutrients. Selenium is an essential mineral for good behavior and mood. Low levels are associated with fatigue and sadness. Therefore, maintaining adequate levels contributes to well-being and reduced stress.
In addition to being a source of tryptophan, pumpkin seeds are rich in zinc, a mineral linked to improving sleep quality, as it helps with relaxation. Sleep is involved in many nervous system processes that contribute to increasing feelings of happiness.
Dark chocolate (70%), red fruits and dark green leaves:
They are foods rich in antioxidant flavonoids, which fight free radicals, improve cognitive performance, enhance neuroprotection and adjust mood through interaction with dopamine, serotonin and endorphins.
Fruits such as acerolas, oranges, strawberries, cashews and kiwi are rich in vitamin C, a powerful antioxidant with the ability to reduce levels of cortisol, known as the stress hormone.
Chamomile and lemon balm tea are high in flavonoids and antioxidants that control anxiety symptoms. Moreover, these types of tea help you relax and get a good night’s sleep.
Green tea and matcha:
They are sources of theanine, an amino acid that can increase the production of serotonin and dopamine. These compounds also help treat anxiety and have an antioxidant effect.
Eggs and peanuts:
In addition to being rich in tryptophan, these foods contain vitamin B. B complex vitamins, such as B6, B12 and folic acid, are important for regulating the central nervous system, including serotonin production.
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