Last week, we told you about how binge watching the news could be elevating your stress, according to a national survey conducted by NPR. Well, by law of the transitive property (or one of those properties, I failed math), the news could also be affecting your diet, as more than a third of that survey’s participants said they change the way they eat during stressful times. And often, that means eating foods higher in refined carbohydrates, which can lead to even more stress.
To see how high carb foods affect our behavior, David Ludwig, professor of pediatrics and nutrition at Harvard University, conducted a study several years ago. In it, he and his colleagues gave teenage boys different breakfast foods, such as eggs, steel-cut oats, and instant oatmeal. The oatmeal had the highest glycemic index, meaning its sugar is absorbed fastest in the body and is more likely to make you hungry afterward. Ludwig said about the eaters of the oatmeal, ”…blood sugar soared but then crashed a few hours later. And when that happened the [stress] hormone adrenaline, or epinephrine, surged to very high levels.”
Basically, the stress cycle might go a little like this: “Oh no, [insert sinister event] just happened! Oh no, it’s happening on this channel too! And this one! I’m stressed, I’ll eat some highly refined Famous Amos Cookies to feel more comfortable with the state of the world. Now I feel good. Oh no now I’m crashing! I better lie down and just watch some TV. Oh no, [sinister event] is still happening! I better eat some highly refined–” I think you get the picture.
But there’s hope yet, as there may be another side to the food-mood coin. Joe Hibbeln, researcher of the National Institutes of Health, thinks there are foods that can also make us respond better to stress. Specifically, he has studied the link between omega-3 fatty acids and our emotions, and he says, ”One of the most basic ways that omega-3s help to regulate mood is by quieting down the [body's] response to inflammation.” Research also shows that these fatty acids are highly concentrated in the brain, and seem to be important for cognitive and behavioral function.
Aside from omega-3′s, Columbia University psychiatrist Drew Ramsay believes that the best stress-reducing foods are the most nutrient-rich, such as eggs and kale. On the tastier side, he recommends dark chocolate, which can produce ”an acute affect on mood.” I for one don’t need an excuse to eat dark chocolate, but it’s nice to know I have one.
(Image: Miriam Doerr/Shutterstock)