Eating for Less Stress


                Stress is a reaction to any change, good or bad. Under conditions of stress, our bodies produce epinephrine, a hormone that stimulates the release of stored energy and provides extra energy to deal with current life challenges. This was adaptive in the days of being chased by the saber-toothed tigers, when we needed a lot of energy in the short term. However, more and more the ‘saber-toothed tigers’ of our era are high stress careers, managing families, school, and life in general. This on-going dilemma strains nutrient reserves and leads to adrenal gland dysfunction.  To make matters worse, people under stress usually take little time to eat healthy foods. End result? Feeling weak, perpetually tired, depressed, and even more stressed!  

                Since stress will always be present one way or another, there are some things that can be done with diets to help one cope better. Many enjoy that first cup of java in the morning to get going, but to continually drink it throughout the day can actually be considered an additional stress. Caffeine is a stimulant and acts like adrenaline.  Those popular flavored specialty drinks add yet another jolt (sugar) to the adrenal system. Sugar provides a quick temporary high, but then unfortunately one slips into the "sugar blues."  According to recent medical journals the artificial sweetener aspartame is considered a stimulant as well.

                Stress is difficult enough to handle when one is already feeling down and fatigued, so cutting down on stress inducing foods/substances is very beneficial. Common sources of caffeine and sugar are found in tea, chocolate, and sodas (6-9 teaspoons of the white stuff per twelve ounces!).  Pleasant alternatives are herbal teas, such as mint, chamomile, green teas (there are numerous flavors to choose from) and raspberry. These teas can actually help provide nutrient benefits, rather than wiping them out.

                Many people enjoy that evening glass of wine. Some researchers even claim it's good for the hearts (true, but you can get the same benefits by eating red grapes). But too much wine, too frequently, acts as a depressant and actually aggravates stress. Many use caffeine to keep going throughout the day and alcohol to unwind at the end of the day. Alcohol depletes vitamin B, which is a notorious stress fighter; it also destroys precious enzymes needed for proper digestion. Ultimately these seemingly innocent beverages only keep one on a seesaw with nerves and fatigue level; caffeine and sugar to keep going, alcohol to come down.

                What about food choices? Stress and addictive beverages/substances, even some foods, can deplete vitamins and minerals the body requires.  It's important to eat nutrient dense food such as fruits, vegetables (the word vegetable in Latin actually means to enliven or animate), beans/legumes, and whole grain foods. When one eats too much starchy/sugary and refined foods, it can result in a food coma, sleepy and dazed. Eating too much of foods high in saturated fats such as cheese, butter, margarine, creamy sauces and heavy dressings also slows you down, making you feel sluggish and lethargic. Small amounts of unprocessed nuts, seeds and lower fat options are a better choice. Lean protein such as chicken, fish, beans, and low-fat dairy are good sources of protein. They keep you both mentally and physically alert and energetic.

                Even the timing of your food has an impact on how you handle stress.  Many people eat very little during the day and too much in the evenings, when their bodies don't utilize it as well. To perform at peak efficiency, try to eat at least 50% of your food intake by lunch. A car doesn't run very well on empty, or low-grade gas, and neither does your body. Running on the adrenaline "foods" does not make you feel calm and energized. Eating less refined foods and more low-fat protein will provide more energy and help optimize serotonin levels 

                A few lifestyle remedies for stress are in order as well. We all know that exercise is a great diffuser. In clinical studies, it's been found similarly effective as antidepressants for mild depression. Meditation is a centuries-old proven form of relaxation that takes as little as ten minutes. And what's better than a warm bath? Add 15 drops of pure lavender essential oil (proven to induce relaxation) and Epsom salts, after you've run your water, turn on some soothing music, light a few candles and  r  e  l  a x….....



Please contact CLASP through our web site at hppt:// or our

email at if you would like information, referrals or help in

coping with personal stress and impairment.




Mar/Apr 2003

Elaine Murphy, BA, is State Certified Nutritionist from the Institute of Educational Therapy and a member of the Society of Certified Nutritionists.  She has been active in nutritional counseling for over 20 years and current is co-owner of Weigh to Health in Los Gatos.   She can be reached at 408-399-4777 or at 

The column editor, Kasey Saltzman, can be reached at 401 Quarry Road, MC 5719, Stanford, CA, 94305 or by email at