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How Food Affects Your Stress Level

Sugars and white pastas don't help, but fish does
By Neal Colgrass,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 14, 2014 5:36 PM CDT
How Food Affects Your Stress Level
A woman eats a sushi of a bluefin tuna at Sushi Zanmai restaurant near Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo Saturday, Jan. 5, 2013.    (AP Photo/Koji Sasahara)

(Newser) – What did you eat last time you got stressed? Odds are it was packed with sugar or refined carbs, and apparently that's not good. "There can be a bit of a vicious cycle," Harvard professor David Ludwig tells NPR. People often remedy stress with comfort foods, he says, "but often times those foods lead to surges and crashes in hormones and blood sugar that increase our susceptibility to new stresses." As evidence, he mentioned a Pediatrics study in which teenage boys who ate instant oatmeal for breakfast crashed after a few hours, and saw the stress hormone adrenaline surge "to very high levels."

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On the bright side, Ludwig believes you can bite down on fish and feel emotionally stronger because of its omega-3 fatty acids. (Studies confirm that these acids guard neurons from the harm of chronic stress.) Other foods help too, of course—like eggs scrambled with greens and covered in pumpkin sees, according to Columbia University psychiatrist Drew Ramsey. He says pumpkin seeds have magnesium that reduces anxiety and zinc that bolsters the immune system. Dessert-wise, he advises dark chocolate for its cocoa flavanols, which are known to aid clear thought and improve mood. Mother Nature Network runs down 10 mood-boosting foods, and we have an article on dark chocolate's health benefits. (Read more food stories.)

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