Stress and Your Immune System - What's the Deal?
Stress! It affects us all! The dictionary defines stress as “a physical, chemical, or emotional factor that causes bodily or mental tension and may be a factor in disease causation”. Stress can be a problem, especially chronic stress, which can lead to a whole host of other problems.
As ironic as it sounds, a stressed body burns through protein, carbohydrates and EFA’s (essential fatty acids) as well as Vitamins A, C and E and the important B Vitamins. If these and other nutrients are not consistently provided to the body, the body is left tired and drained, which in turn affects how well our immune systems will function. Stress also ages us and depletes the important nutrients our bodies require for optimal health.
When we are stressed, our bodies produce the stress hormone cortisol, which slows down our metabolism, affects blood sugar levels, increases fat storage, and promotes cravings for fatty, salty and sugary foods.
Are you a stress eater? Do you find comfort in food? We all lead busy lives and the days throw a lot at you: work stress, family stress, life stress. How well you respond to the adversity—both physically and mentally—depends a lot on what you are eating and not eating.
Food can help reduce or exacerbate our stress levels.
Here is a list of foods to avoid if life is just driving you a little CRAYY right now:
Not only is caffeine a stimulant, it is an irritant to the digestive system. Drinking a cup of coffee in the morning (before anything else) sets in motion an affect on blood glucose levels and can lead to stomach upset since nothing else is in the system. Caffeine also depletes our bodies of essential micro-nutrients.
Alcohol is a stimulant and a depressant and the feel-good effects are short-lived. Alcohol, among other things, “affects our ability to covert and use essential fatty acids” (Optimum Nutrition for the Mind, Patrick Holford). If, as noted above, a stressed body burns through EFA’s, adding alcohol only compounds the matter.
Fast foods, deep fried foods, processed/packaged foods
These foods should be limited in a nutrition plan. They are high in fat, sugar, calories, and preservatives. Consuming these foods leads to cravings for more of such foods, blood sugar imbalances and weight gain, which increases the stress placed on an already stressed body.
According to Statistics Canada “on average, in 2004, Canadians consumed 110.0 grams of sugar a day, the equivalent of 26 teaspoons”. Sugar, in all its forms, is a “non-nutrient” that only depletes the body of much need nutrients.
When the increase of stress and cortisol last a long time, cravings for fattening, sugary foods increase, which, in turn, throws your blood sugars off balance. Over time, using sugary foods to balance blood sugar can lead to insulin resistance and weight gain.
Of course, EATING certain foods, such as the following, can help reduce some of the stress going on inside your body:
Water (which I know everyone is getting in their daily requirement)
Fish (get your Omega-3 fats in!)
See where this is going? A healthier diet can help your body better deal with the stresses of life and will support your immune system.
BUT if we're wired to seek out unhealthy foods when we are under stress, how do we avoid gaining weight when times get tough?
• Don't allow yourself to become too hungry or "hangry".
• Keep portion size in mind.
• Eat healthy snacks (veggies and hummus, fruit, nut butters come to mind!)
• Think about what you're eating, that is be mindful and eat with intention, not out of habit.
• Deal with your stress (easier said than done, believe me, I know). Yoga, meditation, exercise are just a few suggestions.
• If you fail to plan, you plan to fail. Map out your food intake for the week, head to the grocery and stick to the plan. Otherwise, you will surely leave yourself open to reaching for the sugary, salty, crunchy snacks so well displayed in the vending machine, yes?
Of course, it is all about balance and a balanced eating plan can surely contribute to alleviating some of the negative effects of too much stress.
If you would like to talk about your health and wellness goals, I'm here to help!
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Yours in health and wellness,
Francine Alleyne (RHNP™)
Registered Holistic Nutritionist
LOVING DISCLAIMER: Please consult your healthcare practitioner if you are experiencing any symptoms. I am not a doctor. This post and anything else you find on this website is intended for informational, educational, and self-empowerment purposes ONLY and is not intended to treat or diagnose any condition or disease.