It’s Wellness Wednesday again, collegians! This week, we continue our stress management series with a discussion of the role that diet plays in keeping stress levels in check.
Healthy eating plays a crucial role in your ability to deal with stress. Carbohydrates, protein, fat, vitamins and minerals are all important for energy, mental concentration, and emotional stability.
Stress may weaken your immune system and increase your body’s need for certain nutrients. A balanced diet will help you stay focused, alert, energetic, and healthy during times of stress. However, if you live off of fast food or frequently skip meals, you are more likely to perform poorly or get sick during stressful times.
Eating for Stress Management
- Eat small, frequent meals and snacks to keep your blood sugar and energy levels steady. Going more than 4 to 5 hours without eating can lead to fatigue, low concentration, and headaches.
- Keep some easy, convenient meals on hand. Avoid living entirely on snack foods, as they usually won’t energize you as much as a real meal. Try healthy frozen entrees, bean soups, peanut butter or cold cut sandwiches, ready-to-eat tuna and chicken salads and other convenient foods. If you are a commuter, bring part of your meal to campus if you can’t get home for lunch or dinner.
- Avoid sweets and sugary foods. Stock your room/apartment with healthier snacks. Too much sugar can lead to energy crashes. Limit sugary drinks (soda, sweet tea, energy drinks, etc.) to one 12-oz drink per day. Instead of candy or sodas, grab these healthier, energy-sustaining snacks:
- Small sandwich
- Carton of low fat yogurt
- Fruit with 2 Tbsp peanut butter
- 1/4 cup trail mix or nuts
- Small pack of popcorn
- Frozen fruit juice bars
- Fat-free pudding
- Protein-rich nutrition bars
- Baby carrots with hummus
- String cheese
- Tuna salad on whole wheat crackers
- Vegetable soup
- Oatmeal made with milk
- Choose meals and snacks that include protein as well as carbohydrates. Protein helps keep your energy levels steady. For example, snack on peanut butter and fruit instead of just juice and crackers. Top your pasta with grilled chicken strips or tofu rather than have pasta and sauce alone. Check out this blog post on eating healthy in the dining hall: http://blog.pbteen.com/dorm-diaries-3-tricks-eating-healthy-cafeteria/
- Avoid overdoing caffeine. Caffeine gives you immediate energy, but a drop in energy later on. Caffeine in the late afternoon and evening can interfere with a good night’s sleep.
- Water, water, water! Include a glass of water with all your meals and take a few water breaks during the day.
- Resist the temptation to eat in front of the TV, while reading etc. You’ll get more satisfaction and pleasure out of your food if you can pay attention to what you’re eating!
- Don’t leave home without breakfast! If you can’t eat breakfast before leaving the house, here are some healthier fast food options:
- Egg burritos and wraps, especially those with veggies
- Egg and bagel/English muffin sandwiches (avoid the biscuit, bacon and sausage)
- Whole grain bagel with light cream cheese and skim milk
- Low fat bran muffin and skim milk
- Fruit and yogurt parfait with granola
- Trail mix and skim milk
- Don’t forget fats. Fat helps food to stay in the stomach longer, giving a greater sense of satisfaction and preventing hunger soon after meals. Diets too low in fat may trigger cravings. Make sure you include healthy fats into your meals and snacks. Good sources of healthy fats include: canola, olive, peanut and safflower oils; nuts, nut butters, seeds; avocado, flax seed oil, salmon, mackerel, and sardines.
Stay well this week, collegians! Check back next week when we’ll discuss the stress-busting powers of exercise!