Nutrition Effects on Stress
by Dr. Vicki Griffin, Dr. Edwin Neblett and Evelyn
"The heaviest rains fall on the
Lifestyle choices affect both mind 'and body. As early as 300 B.C.
the Greek surgeon and anatomist Herophilus wrote:"When health
is absent, wisdom cannot reveal itself, art cannot become manifest,
strength cannot be exerted, wealth is useless, and reason is powerless." Isn't
it odd that many people ruin their health the first half of their
life trying to make more money, and then spend the second half of
their life spending money trying to get their health back!
For many people, mealtime is fast, frenzied, and often "thawed-out" instead
For many Americans today, the basic four food groups are "nuked," canned,
boxed, and "fast." In short, it is unbalanced, unhealthful,
unsatisfying, and unnatural! Can good mental or physical health be
the result of such poor, haphazard choices?
"Increased daily ingestion of caffeine is associated with higher levels
of anxiety symptoms
in both healthy and psychiatric patients."
Arc Gen Psychiatry 1985; 42:233-243
Are you chewing down on fat- and sugar-laden foods such as pizzas
and fries, pastries and pies, chips, chops, and lollipops, and turning
away from hundreds of power-packed, tasty, easy-to-fix fresh fruits,
nuts, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes? America is gulping down
fiberless fare with a national daily ration of 33 million gallons
coffee per day. That is the equivalent of 30 seconds full flow of
water over Niagara Falls! But all that coffee isn't quenching our
Americans drink an average of 547 cans of soda pop per person per
year (643 in the South), at a total cost of 47.3 billion dollars!
And it's not just the cans that are getting bigger—so are our
problems! Is it possible that our "revved-up" diet is contributing
to a "stressed-out" America?
By conservative estimates, up to 30 percent of adult Americans have
a daily caffeine intake of more than 500 mg.38 Caffeine is a drug
that temporarily increases the sensation of alertness, but research
has shown that over time caffeine may increase stress-sensitivity,
anxiety, and depression. It can also encourage the loss of nutrients
such as calcium, magnesium, and B vitamins.39,40 But the most subtle
and devastating long-term effect of caffeine may be its slow erosion
of vital nerve centers in the brain that balance stress hormone levels.
This can eventually affect memory and risk of depression. How? Caffeine
causes an elevation of a stress hormone called cortisol. Cortisol
can accumulate in a brain memory center called the hippocampus.41
The hippocampus is essential for short-term memory and is also a
key player in regulation of your body's stress system.
When cortisol levels remain too high for too long from exposure to
chronic stress or chemical stimulation such as caffeine, cell death
can occur in the hippocampus, as well as other vital areas of the
brain.42 The result can include memory impairment, chronic depression,
and chronic "dysregulation" of the stress system.
Coffee, tea, and soft drink consumption tend to cause vitamin and
mineral loss and dehydration. According to the American Dietetic
Association, dehydration of as little as two percent loss of body
weight can reduce your mental and physical abilities. Plentiful water
intake (about eight glasses a day for a typical adult) reduces sluggishness
by enhancing circulation and enabling your blood to carry life and
energy-giving nutrients to the body's cells!
Carbohydrates are needed to increase the brains uptake of Tryptophan.
Tryptophan is essential for the production of serotonin, a hormone
that helps regulate mood, appetite, pain tolerance, food cravings,
and sleep. It has been suggested that many "sugar-holies" are
actually self-medicating due to the mood-elevating effects of increased
serotonin. If so, there's a lot of medicating going on, from babyhood
up! Some experts estimate that the average adult intake of refined
sweeteners (sucrose and fructose) is about 120 Ibs. per person per
year. In analyzing the diets of 15,000 Americans aged two and older,
it was found that table sugar and sweeteners in processed foods account
for nearly one-fifth, or 20 percent, of American's carbohydrate intake.43
In two- to five-year-olds, sugars, candy, and sweetened
fruit drinks weremajor sources of carbohydrates, followed by soft drinks.
the six to 11 age group, soft drinks, sweetened cereals, cakes, cookies,
and sweetened fruit drinks were the favorites. In teens, almost four-tenths,
or 40 percent, of sugar calories came from soft drinks!44 Among 15-year-olds,
the United States ranked among the top three countries
eat sweets, chocolate, and soft drinks every day!45
The problem is, there is a down-side to the quick lift associated
with low-fiber, refined sweets. While it is true that simple carbohydrates
elevate serotonin levels, they elevate them only for a short time.46
Repeated ingestion of quick "pick-me-up" snacks that are
low in real nutrition not only play havoc with hormones but also
with blood sugar, insulin, and blood nutrient levels. They are a
real "downer" when it comes to stress protection.
"In two- to five-year olds, sugars,
candy, and sweetened fruit drinks
were major sources of carbohydrates, followed by soft drinks."
Your body needs carbohydrates for energy. But the best
form of energy is the slow-releasing carbs found in whole grains such
bread, oats, whole grain pasta, beans, unrefined potatoes, unrefined
cereals, and brown rice. These provide sustained energy and hundreds
of phytochemicals, vitamins, and minerals vital to physical and
mental health. In fact, complex carbohydrates or starch foods with
fiber and nutrient constituents result in longer, more sustained
levels of brain serotonin.4 It is no surprise, then, that those
who consume breakfast cereal regularly report better mental and
health than those who consume it infrequently.48
Out or Filled Up?
• 1 8-oz. chocolate bar
• 25 carrots
• 1 5-oz. chocolate bar
• 3 pounds of apples
• 1 cheeseburger
• 21 cups of popcorn
• 1 danish
• apple, banana, orange and 1/2
• 1 slice of chocolate cake
• 7 slices of whole wheat bread
• 1 milkshake
• 5 bananas
• 1 peanut butter parfait
• 7 bananas
• 5-oz. steak
• 5 baked potatoes
• 12 marshmallows
• 60 stalks of celery
• 1/2 cup peanuts
• 600 cucumber slices
• 6 small chocolate chip cookies
• 20 green peppers, 3 ears of corn
Fills You OUT:
Fills You UP!
Is There a Tiger in Your Tank?
As the proportion of meals
eaten away from home has nearly doubled in the last twenty years,49 meat
and animal protein foods are taking a lion's share of daily energy intake.
Is the lion's alternately groggy then irritable disposition the price
tag for such "copycat" eating?
Very high protein diets are popular today, but while the benefits are
doubtful at best, they may increase stress sensitivity. According to
one study, individuals with high-stress prone-ness had more energy and
lower stress proneness after a meal high in carbohydrates and low in
protein than after a meal high in protein and low in carbohydrates.50
High-protein, low-carbohydrate diets are associated with worse performance
on mental flexibility tasks and higher levels of irritability, anxiety,
One reason may be that very high protein diets tend to be high in the
amino acidtyrosine. Tyrosine is necessary for the important brain hormones
dopamine and norepinephrine, which help elevate mood and energy. But
if tyrosine levels are very high at every meal, then serotonin levels
drop, and low serotonin is associated with depression, eating disorders,
and insomnia, among other problems. We need protein in the diet, but
excessive amounts just may set your nerves on edge. The key word here
It is a popular notion that if you want to be alert, load up on protein,
and if you want to be calm, eat plenty of "carbs." While it
is true that these foods can have a short-term effect on mental alertness
and perhaps even mood, meals that are consistently balanced in their
protein, carbohydrates, and fat are the best overall plan for long-term
stress protection and consistent mental strength.
The long-term effects associated with diets high in meat and dairy products
are lifestyle diseases such as heart disease, elevated cholesterol, high
blood pressure, and Type II diabetes. It is interesting that these
diseases are also associated with cognitive impairment and an increased
risk for dementia.33 There are serious health consequences to dietary
habits that "stress" the metabolism over long periods of time.
The typical American diet, loaded with meats, cheeses, eggs, and other
animal protein, is no stress-reliever and can quickly rack up a daily
protein load of 120 grams or more! Less than half that much is all that
is needed for most adults (45 grams for women, and 55 grams for men).
A day's menu that includes just one chicken breast, an eight-ounce burger,
two ounces of cheese, and one cup of yogurt adds up to 120 grams of protein!
These inordinately high protein diets tend to deprive the brain of carbohydrates
and antioxidants, which are needed for proper function and maintenance.
"Nuts, beans, legumes, soy, seeds,
and whole grains are excellent sources of plant-based protein
and are also rich sources of minerals, vitamins, and phyto chemicals."
This heavy protein load also tends to overwork the kidneys,
leach calcium from the bones, and create metabolic stress that promotes
diseases and cardiovascular disease.
Nuts, beans, legumes, soy, seeds, and whole grains are excellent sources
of plant-based protein, which are metabolically more "user friendly" and
are also rich sources of minerals, vitamins, and phytochemicals.
A plant-based vegetarian diet, containing adequate calories and a good
variety of protein foods such as grains, beans, nuts, tofu, and legumes
in the menu for the week, will provide all the protein necessary for
a healthful, balanced diet, without tipping the protein scale on the
wrong side. Add to this delicious variety your choice of hearty, fiber-filled
complex carbohydrates such as potatoes, yams, squash, and plenty of
fresh fruits and leafy green vegetables. Include a little olive oil,
some avocado, olives, or nuts for healthful fats, and you have a balanced
and beautiful mix of foods that will calm your nerves while strengthening
your mental faculties!