I was recently interviewed for an upcoming book by Bill Gottlieb on drug free healing. We focused on four food groups that studies have shown reduce stress by lowering cortisol levels. The first is dark chocolate (at least 70% cocoa). I’m sure many people will be thrilled to learn the benefits of chocolate. Studies have shown that dark chocolate is one of the strongest antioxidant foods. In addition, in a study comparing subjects listed as high anxiety compared to low anxiety individuals, dark chocolate reduced the levels of stress hormones cortisol and epinephrine while improving the overall metabolism.
In addition to chocolate, other foods that are stress hormone tamers include fatty fish containing omega 3 fatty acids. When college volunteers were put through stressful tasks, those that had taken supplements of EPA-DHA, the key fats in fish like salmon and sardines, they performed much better than those who did not supplement. Other foods we discussed include green tea which contains theanine an amino acid that improves brain chemistry and flaxseed powder which improve the feedback mechanism in the brain which controls cortisol production.
Other foods that are critical for controlling biochemical stress and cortisol First among these are legumes which include soybean, split peas, lentils, navy and other beans. These foods are rich in soluble fiber, protein and complex carbohydrates leading to improved markers of biochemical adaptation. Use one-half cup a day and your cells will be happy.
In addition, consumption of one-quarter cup per day of almonds, hazelnuts, pecan, walnuts and other tree nuts was found to improve levels of fiber, Vitamin E, calcium, magnesium, and potassium and lower intake of sodium. Nuts should be consumed raw and organically grown. They can reduce total cholesterol, and LDL cholesterol and are a great source of protein. The high potassium and low sodium found in nuts can help with hypertension as well.
My clinical experience has shown me how much food and diet impact the level of stress a person can have. I remember Bob, a patient that I first saw last year, who had terrible insomnia and anxiety. Even sleeping medications had failed to do him much good. When I looked at what he was eating, it appeared to me that he was setting himself up for his mood issues through his eating habits.
I put him on a detoxification diet with no simple sugars, caffeine, dairy, red meat or wheat products and asked him to come back in three weeks. He was a different person, less fidgety, more focused and much more at ease. In his words his mind had stopped running at 100 mph and he was feeling back to himself.
His story is not unusual. The function of the brain is dependent on good eating habits as much as the heart or any other organ and yet most of the time the first approach to treating emotional issues is a prescription, not a food diary investigation. The bottom line is that you can eat your way to being less stressed, even using dark chocolate if you want. Increasing foods that reduce inflammation like organic dark-colored vegetables and fruits and eating a diet lower in animal protein will reduce cortisol and improve well-being. In The Adaptation Diet I have detailed not only how to change eating habits but specific nutrients such as EPA-DHA and flaxseed powder that help the brain reset the stress mechanism and recover adaptation.