Managing Stress Through Healthy Eating
By: Rebecca Israel, Peer Educator
Disclaimer: Don't use nutrition information as a replacement for medical treatment. See your health care provider if you need help with a medical problem. Changing your dietary habits cannot replace treatment for mood disorders, attention disorders, or other medical conditions. Texas Tech Student Health Services provides medical care for all Texas Tech students, with a significant discount available for uninsured or out-of-network patients. Additionally, Texas Tech has a licensed nutritionist on site if you have questions or concerns about your personal diet. If you need immediate medical attention, call 911 or visit your local emergency room.
Stress. Definitely a phenomenon known by every college student ever.
Stress levels are on the rise in part due to the job market becoming increasingly competitive. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), 85% of college students reported overwhelming stress due to something they had to accomplish in the past year (1).
How can we begin to combat this stress-induced epidemic?
Let's start with everyone's favorite topic to blog about... FOOD!
The relationship between stress and food can be a complicated one. When you become stressed, your body instinctively craves food high in fats and sugars (2). These foods inflict extra stress on your body as a result. Sugar impacts the HPA-Axis and causes your body to become less effective in responding to pressure. Studies have shown that high-fat intake can lead to changes in the brain's amygdala, which leads to increased anxiety and fear response.
Maintaining a positive relationship with your diet can be one of the most critical tools in your Stress Management Toolkit™ to remain happy and healthy during a semester amidst a pandemic.
Comfort Foods That Can Help Reduce Stress:
Comfort food is essential and central to college culture. Here are some comfort foods that are easy to access and can replace less healthy alternatives:
Not only does chocolate taste amazing, but research (3) has shown that cocoa can improve mood and cognitive function on a molecular level. Cocoa has also been proven to decrease anxiety in individuals suffering from anxiety regardless of severity. Professionals encourage DAILY consumption of this "candy" to achieve these health benefits. Who's to argue with the experts?
Cheese (or Milk)
SMILE! You can continue to enjoy dairy products (in moderation) without stress! These food items are high in calcium, which is an essential nutrient for stress management. In fact, calcium is one of the most recommended nutrients to improve long-term stress reduction.
The complex carbohydrates found in fruit encourage your brain to signal serotonin release, which is nicknamed the "happy chemical" because of its ability to increase well-being and happiness. Additionally, complex carbohydrates stabilize blood pressure, thus reducing stress. Turns out the age-old tale, "an apple a day keeps the doctor away," has some truth to it after all.
Citrus fruits that are high in Vitamin C can boost the immune system, lower blood pressure during high-stress periods, and lower cortisol (stress hormone) levels. Oranges might be the extra stress-reducing and immune boost we need to make it through the COVID-19 pandemic and flu season.
**Note: Oranges will not prevent the contraction of any illnesses or act as a cure if you fall ill. Please seek medical care if you are sick with any concerning symptoms.
Here's the tea: herbs found in this popular beverage can help with stress-related insomnia, anger, and anxiety regardless of the severity. Many different types of teas have been attributed to various health benefits. See the guide linked (4) to learn more about what tea you might want to try next!
Beginner's Guide to Healthy Eating:
Healthy eating seems like an insurmountable task when you first start. There are articles everywhere, claiming to know the "best diet." However, the basic aspect of healthy eating is having an understanding of your body and moderation. Nobody on the internet can tell you what is best for you and how you function! (Ironic coming from a blog, but you get the point!)
Everything in Moderation
For such a common phrase, very few people understand what this means in their own
lives. Eating in moderation simply means that you should have a variety in your diet.
Having a fried chicken breakfast sandwich, but you should try to have it once (maybe
twice) a week, rather than for every breakfast. Even "healthy" foods in large quantities
can be unhealthy. For example, "Green Smoothies" contain large amounts of oxalates
that can cause build-up and lead to kidney stones when consumed in large quantities.
Additionally, it is crucial to notice that common misconception states that eating in moderation means eating less. This IS NOT what this means. Eating "everything in moderation" means that you can have a little bit of anything, even "unhealthy" foods, but while making sure you are meeting all nutritional goals necessary for your body to stay healthy (5). Please remember not to eat less than you need, but to make sure you are not overeating any food.
Macronutrients (Marcos) are the three nutrients that make up much of the human diet. They are Carbohydrates, Fats, and Proteins. Despite what many people say, we need all these nutrients to support a healthy life! These macronutrients are made up of micronutrients (vitamins, minerals, etc.) that our bodies need to function at their highest level.
Many people track their eating habits by maintaining a balance between these macros (6). For example, some people might have a diet consisting of 50% carbohydrates, 30% fats, and 20% protein. Looking at your food intake this way might help you find a balance of nutrients that can help you feel like your best self. These ratios help many people maintain moderation and meet their necessary micronutrients in a day. Remember, everyone's body performs better with different proportions of macros, so reach out to the nutritionist at Texas Tech to learn more!
One last note on macros: it's essential to know that not all macros are created equal! An example of this would be salmon and fried chicken wings. While are both have a macro profile of 60% protein and 40% fat, salmon would provide your body with better nutritional value. This is because different micronutrients make up the macros that are protein in fat. For example, there are saturated fats and unsaturated fats, unsaturated being healthier because your body can break them down easier. However, in moderation, chicken wings might be just what your body wants on a given day.
To Wrap Up: Trust Your Body
You know yourself the best! We provided you with a basic understanding of what nutrients offer benefit to your body to help you begin your healthy eating journey. RISE wants all students to live the happiest, healthiest lives possible here at Texas Tech and beyond, so hopefully these tips can help you do just that!
Remember: Texas Tech has a nutritionist (7) as an available resource for students, and you can contact her with your dietary questions and concerns. If a one-on-one session with a nutritionist isn't your thing, the Texas Tech Rec Center Rec Days include cooking demonstrations and 1-1 consultations from Texas Tech nutrition students!