Serving the Fullerton Community Since 1922

The Hornet

The Hornet

Serving the Fullerton Community Since 1922

The Hornet

Foods to fight stressful and difficult times

School, work and bills. It all adds up and causes stress. It’s easy to get caught up in all of it and to forget to take care of your mind and body. 

Eating right and taking care of yourself does not only benefit a person physically, but also benefits mental health. Photo by Alexcia E. Negrete

Being under constant stress can lead to health problems such as high blood pressure, diabetes and even heart disease. To combat stress and our bad moods many people face from everyday life, certain greens and other vegetables are key. While not everything can be treated with just food alone, it certainly does provide another method to try to stay healthy and less stressed.


The relationship between food and emotions is a phenomenon that has aroused great interest. That is why Michelle Loy, a registered dietician nutritionist explains how and why certain foods can help reduce stress. 


Loy reminds us of the meaning of “diet.” This word has had a negative connotation for some time now. Many times it has been related to depriving or restricting yourself from certain foods. Regardless of whether you have a certain goal or not, Loy says, “The foods and drinks that you usually consume on a regular basis is a diet… we are all on a diet.”


Taking the time and effort to work on strategies through nutrition can help us combat overwhelming emotions. One nutritional mineral that helps combat feelings of stress is magnesium.


“Analysis shows that people who experience chronic stress have low levels of magnesium in their bodies and in their diets. Perhaps the subclinical deficiency is due to the body using more magnesium whenever we are stressed,” Loy says.


She explains that magnesium increases serotonin, which is a neurotransmitter that helps regulate our mood and happiness. It also helps increase another neurotransmitter called gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). Both magnesium and GABA decrease the neuronal activity in our brain. In short, they help to control fear and anxiety when the neurons are overexcited. Magnesium also reduces cortisol, which is the stress hormone. This stabilizes our brain and mood, so we can think more clearly when these levels are reduced.


An example of magnesium-rich foods are green leafy vegetables such as spinach, Swiss chard, broccoli, arugula, collard greens and kale. Other excellent options for magnesium are legumes like black beans, edamame, chickpeas and tree nuts. 


Loy says these foods can provide other benefits as well. Simple foods that are rich in fiber regulate the body, which slows down the absorption of carbohydrates. Fiber also regulates blood sugar levels, and prevents heart disease because it feeds healthy bacteria that signals the body to decrease cholesterol production. “If someone suffers or is at risk of having high blood pressure, these can be beneficial to their health,” Loy says, adding that many of these foods also regulate blood sugar levels.


People tend to reach for carbohydrate-rich foods and add sugars, or “comfort food,” because it makes them feel good temporarily. This process increases serotonin levels for a few hours, but at the same time, it rapidly increases blood sugar levels and cardiovascular disease. “These increase the risk of chronic diseases. You have to give fruits or vegetables the opportunity to be a pleasant snack,” Loy says. 


A healthy alternative to release serotonin levels in our brain is physical activity. If we try going for a walk, jog or even doing yoga, it can help reduce stress levels and guide us to a more positive outlook. 


It is all about balance and taking the time to be kinder to our bodies: getting rest, consuming beneficial foods, doing exercise and drinking enough water are all ways of helping reduce the stress we carry. Of course, we can still treat ourselves to our favorite comfort foods–as long as it’s in moderation.