Foods can pave the path to stress relief

By Jennifer Ball

Dietitians recommend eating foods that are high in nutrients and low in calories to boost nutrition but also relieve stress. Vegetables can be a great source of nutrients without the adding extra calories to burn at the end of the day.

This means opting for the salad bar instead of the ice cream bar, said Northwestern University registered dietitian Karen Sechowski.

Comfort foods such as cookie dough may seem like the best option for stress relief, but they’re definitely not going to be worth it in the long run. It tastes really good at first, but then you crash, she said.

That crash won’t happen with fruits and vegetables and they offer the bonus of antioxidants. Antioxidants can be a great way to boost your immune system and to help relax stress. Blueberries and pomegranates are rich in antioxidants  that reduce toxic elements in the body. Antioxidants can be found in green or white tea or a sweet white or red wines. 

Oxidation reactions create free radicals in the body, Sechowski said.  Antioxidants stop those reactions from happening, she added. 

Eating provides social interaction and relaxation, she said. But while food is a versatile stress reliever, it should not be used to solve people’s problems for them. Food is meant to be enjoyed, she said. 

“There’s a fine line between using it as something that will make you feel better versus something you will enjoy,” Sechowski said. When experiencing a strong emotion, it may be smart to take some deep breaths instead of eating or drinking. 

Food is meant to be enjoyed, she said. If you want a food, eat it. Rather than sticking to a strict diet, it’s better to have a more well- rounded diet. After suppressing those cravings, you might binge  later. 

Like most things in life, the key is moderation.

Comfort foods can relieve stress, too, said Sarah Krieger, a registered dietitian and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. These are the foods that are associated with positive childhood memories, she said. That could range from a bowl of cereal to a snack of chocolate pudding or a cup of ice cream, she said. 

Yes, these are typically foods that are high in calories, high in fats, and high in sugar, she said. As long as your weight is normal and you don’t have chronic disease such as diabetes, then any food can be enjoyed as part of an overall healthy diet, Krieger said.

Photo at top. By Jennifer Ball/Medill