In times of a trouble, economic or otherwise, stress becomes a major factor in many people’s lives. News reports tell of the vast increase of people being treated for panic attacks because of stress. Almost everyone is familiar with the term “stress eating,” which simply means to eat everything in sight without having any control. It may sound like fun, but it can be very damaging to your health in the long run. How can people cope with the overload of worry? One important solution is to pay particular attention to a healthy diet. Good nutrition seems to be the key to combating most major health concerns, and stress is no different from other chronic conditions.

Symptoms of Stress

Symptoms of stress include nervousness and a racing heartbeat. Most health providers suggest following a diet for heart health. The standard recommendations are to limit intake of salt, sugar and fat and increase fiber in your diet. In addition, avoid caffeine and alcohol because one acts as a stimulant and the other as a depressant.

Eat a balanced diet

It is easy to find information that claims eating a certain food is a cure-all for stress, but that isn’t so. A good, balanced diet from all of the food groups makes more sense. Eating two servings of protein per day will help the body maintain and repair itself. Lean meats, eggs, beans and soy products provide ample protein. Some people eat turkey or fish for protein, citing the release of endorphins (feel-good brain chemicals) as their reason.

Dried fruits and fruits high in antioxidants, such as blueberries, are good dietary choices because they yield vitamins and minerals that help to keep blood pressure in check. Vegetables, especially dark green leafy vegetables, also deliver a good blend of vitamins and minerals. Potassium, calcium, iron, zinc, cooper, magnesium, vitamin C, the B vitamins and folic acid play a role in heart health.

Rather than focusing on one nutrient, focus on eating foods from all of the groups in the food guide pyramid and the necessary vitamins and minerals will automatically be included in the diet.

Carbohydrates are the primary nutrient that powers our brains. Whole grain breads and cereals, along with brown rice or wild rice and starchy vegetables such as sweet potatoes, can supply carbohydrates and boost fiber. High fiber helps slow the digestive process and ease digestive problems related to stress. All unrefined foods from a plant source furnish fiber. Low-fat milk and low-fat yogurt are important to a stress diet because of the calcium and vitamins they contain. Calcium is not only needed for strong bones and teeth, but also for maintaining muscle tone. Remember, the heart is the strongest muscle in the body because it never stops its workout routine.

Soup is a good stress reliever

Surprisingly, soup consumption is promoted as a good stress reliever. Soup is warm and comforting to eat, and it is loaded with vitamins and minerals. Soups usually are inexpensive and can be made from a variety of leftovers, which is a plus during harsh economic times.

Last, but not least, is the need for water in the stress diet. Water aids with the metabolism of foods and the processing of food waste. During an economic or any other crisis, the last thing a person needs to deal with is the expense of illness. That is why it is so important to prevent health problems by eating a good diet.

For more information on this topic and many others, contact the Etowah County Extension Office, 256-547-7936 or 3200 A W. Meighan Blvd., Gadsden. Amy Burgess is extension coordinator for the Etowah County Extension Office.