The science behind the food that is stressing you out

April 3, 2017

It seems that everyone you talk to is stressed these days. If not because of work, it’s financial trouble, or relationship issues or a myriad of other things. But what many people forget is that sometimes stress can be diet-related. Eating crappy food can cause our body to work harder, leaving us with no energy to deal with anything else.


So, we sweat the small stuff.



Most of the food that we reach for when feeling stressed is actually making our anxiety worse. Go figure. We're not here to tell you what to eat. Your body, your rules. But just in case you were curious here are the top ten foods that are low-key stressing you out, steer clear kids, or at least munch responsibly.


Diet Soft Drink


Let me introduce you to a little thing called aspartame (also known as artificial sweetener). It’s 200 times sweeter than regular sugar, so less is used to create the same sweetness. This stuff is hidden in everything from diet soda to sugar-free cookies. Even though research published this year indicates Australians are consuming and drinking less added sugars, aspartame is a huge road block when it comes to serotonin production. Avoid it like the plague unless you want insomnia, migraines and mood swings of PMS proportions.






Like many things, the Western world heard about soy and its health benefits based on its use in Asia. Soy farming in the United States boomed in the 1940s, and soy was soon commercialised. However, once treated with chemicals, mass produced and eaten in much larger quantities, we now have a product that the body is not designed to process. Around 2-3 per cent of children test positive to soy allergies. It’s fine to have soy in your diet, so long as it’s the right kind and in small quantities. Avoid soy milk and processed tofu. Try to buy organic where possible and look for soy in its fermented form (that is, miso, tempeh and edamame).




Roasted, salted nuts


Not only do salty foods make you retain fluid, but processing all that extra salt ups your blood pressure, leaving you with nothing but the dreaded bloat. You may not even know where your excess salt is coming from (hint: pretzels and pre-packaged salad dressings are big offenders), but the fatigue and heightened anxiety they leave behind is clear.






Wheat Bran


It’s filling, it’s tasty and it gets a million health ticks for its fibre content, right? All of this is true. But the reason that wheat bran should be avoided by all the Nervous Nancy’s out there is due to its high concentration of phytic acid. In essence, phytates bind to mood minerals like zinc and prevent their absorption into the body. Zinc deficiencies have been linked to increased anxiety and depression. To combat this, try soaking and cooking wheat bran before eating it. 






Who doesn’t love refined sugar? It’s bad but oh-so good. Despite the fact that Australians are eating less sugar, statistics still show an increase in confectionery intake (47 per cent in men and 43 percent in women since 1980). Different source, same sugar. Put simply, sugar causes inflammation and fluctuating insulin levels. And once the high wears off - sometime around mid-afternoon, just when you’re feeling like you could eat ten Krispy Kremes and a small child - so does our positive can-do attitude. Bottom line: the sweet stuff makes us feel anything but. If you’re seriously addicted, best opt for coconut sugar or a touch of raw honey.




Factory-farmed eggs/milk


The problem here is not the eggs, or the milk or any other dairy product in general, it's the way they are produced. Most of these products are sourced from commercial farms and factories where the chickens or cattle are fed growth hormones and antibiotics while living in extremely confined spaces. Statistics show that nearly 70 per cent of Australian laying hens are still housed in battery cages (banned in the European Union from 2012). Animals that are highly stressed and living in poor conditions cannot possibly produce healthy milk or eggs, which help regulate cortisol and stress levels in the body. Buy raw dairy if you can and lean toward words like “grass-fed” and “pasture-raised” if you want to buy quality.






It’s easy to reach for a glass of wine or a stiff drink after a long day’s work but alcohol depresses the central nervous system. Studies show that alcoholics are more likely to develop clinical depression, and 30-50 per cent actually do. So, after the initial buzz wears off, depressive symptoms including extreme fatigue, psychomotor agitation, diminished self-esteem and the inability to think or concentrate are exacerbated. If any of this sounds familiar, try reaching for some herbal tea to soothe your system instead.






Usually, coffee is life. Especially on those mornings when you’ve slept through your alarm and you’re totally unprepared for that meeting with your boss that you’re now late for. But caffeine may not be the best remedy when you’re super stressed. Research shows that caffeine actually reduces serotonin levels, leaving you more agitated and miserable than before. If stress also messes with your sleeping pattern, caffeine will solve none of that. So, to avoid being more edgy, irritable, dehydrated and sleep deprived, maybe skip that extra latte.






This one’s all about unsaturated trans fats that usually don’t occur in whole foods. Long story short, trans fats are bad. And they cause oxidative stress (at least, in mice), which is also bad.






Though preparing a nutritious meal after a bad day at work may be the last thing you want to think about, it’s a way better option than filling your body with emulsifiers, artificial colours and additives, stabilisers and preservatives. That’s exactly what you’re doing when you hit the drive thru for that supersized feed. 








Adrianna is a 22-year-old journalism graduate who is never seen wandering the streets of Sydney sans coffee in hand. A self-confessed sugar addict, she is a lover of sweet treats, sweet words and even sweeter fashion finds. When she isn't hitting the gym or buried in a horror film of some sort, you'll definitely find her Instagramming at @adri_zapp.



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