Coffee, Alcohol And The 5 Foods You Should Avoid If You Are Stressed

During times of high stress, it is easy to neglect our diet and opt for quick and unhealthy solutions. However, maintaining a balanced diet during these periods is not only possible, but essential to sustain our energy, concentration and overall well-being.

In the whirlwind of modern life, stress has become a constant for many of us. Between work and academic demands, personal responsibilities, social demands, and a wide variety of challenges that arise daily, it is as if we are constantly racing against the clock. While this is a natural response of the body, which can be useful in small doses to help us cope with several situations, it is important to keep in mind that this overload has a significant impact on our overall health, including our eating habits .

When we are under a lot of stress, our body releases hormones like cortisol, which can alter our food preferences, which is why, it is very common that, during these periods, whether due to an important project at work, exams, or personal difficulties, we tend to resort to fast foods and unhealthy snacks. Ultimately, these changes in diet can result in a series of health problems, from weight gain to nutritional deficiencies, which, in turn, can exacerbate the stress cycle.

“Stress can affect our eating habits in different ways. Some people forget to eat or lose their appetite when they are stressed. Others, on the other hand, have more cravings and end up overeating because they are not consciously eating. Stress also creates a disruption in meal times, which can lead to nutritional imbalances and digestive problems. For this reason, maintaining a healthy and balanced diet during periods of stress is essential, since the body requires more energy and nutrients to handle the additional load. Specifically, a good diet helps us keep the immune system strong, improves mood, and increases the ability to concentrate and remember, which is crucial in times of high physical or mental demand,” nutritionist Daniela Ballesteros explained to Bienestar.

What are the signs that stress is affecting your diet?

According to Giulianna Saldarriaga, a nutritionist at the International Clinic, among the most common signs that stress is harming our diet are:

  • Overeating or loss of appetite.
  • Cravings for unhealthy foods.
  • Skipping meals or eating at unusual times.
  • Indigestion and gastrointestinal problems.
  • Significant weight fluctuations in a short period.
  • Fatigue or lack of energy.
  • Difficulty getting to sleep.
Stress causes cortisol levels to rise and can have different effects on our eating habits. Some people tend to overeat to compensate for emotional distress, while others may lose their appetite and not consume enough nutritious foods.
Stress causes cortisol levels to rise and can have different effects on our eating habits. Some people tend to overeat to compensate for emotional distress, while others may lose their appetite and not consume enough nutritious foods.

“Certainly, when people are under a lot of stress, they often make the mistake of skipping main meals, especially breakfast, first of all. They also increase their consumption of processed foods and tend to eat them more emotionally and impulsively, without paying attention to hunger and satiety signals. They also increase their consumption of caffeine and/or energy drinks, which are highly caloric products that lead to overweight and can even cause tachycardia or difficulty falling asleep, as well as dehydration, since excessive intake causes a decrease in water consumption,” said Shirley Cuya, specialist coordinator of the nutrition and dietetics program at Universidad Privada del Norte.

What foods can help reduce stress levels?

Maintaining a balanced and healthy diet is an essential pillar for achieving proper body function. Therefore, it is important to prioritize the consumption of complex carbohydrates high in fiber (oats, quinoa, brown rice, and legumes ), lean proteins (fish, chicken, turkey, and eggs), healthy fats (avocado and olive oil), and fruits and vegetables. However, as Ballesteros pointed out, the following foods can help us improve our stress levels:

  • Fatty fish: Like salmon, which is rich in omega 3, reduces inflammation and improves mental health.
  • Nuts and seeds: They contain magnesium, which can help regulate stress hormones.
  • Green tea: It contains L-theanine, an amino acid that can induce a calming effect without causing drowsiness.
  • Dark chocolate (70%+): In small quantities, it can reduce stress thanks to its antioxidants and its ability to increase serotonin levels.
  • Yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, and other probiotics: Improve intestinal health, which has been linked to a better response to stress.

What role do vitamins and minerals play in stress management?

Vitamins and minerals play a crucial role in stress management, supporting various bodily functions essential to maintaining mental health and balance. However, as the nutritionist stressed, these supplements do not eliminate stress on their own, but they can help improve the body’s ability to handle it more effectively. For example:

  • B complex: Especially B6, B12, and folate, are essential for the production of neurotransmitters, such as serotonin and dopamine, which regulate mood. It is recommended to take it in the morning.
  • Magnesium: Helps regulate nervous system function, relax muscles, and improve sleep. Magnesium deficiency is associated with increased anxiety and stress. Magnesium glycinate is a favorable supplement, given that it has a calming effect. It is recommended to take it before bedtime.
  • Zinc: Essential for brain function and the immune system. Zinc deficiency can lead to increased susceptibility to stress. Recommended to be taken on an empty stomach.
  • Omega-3: Omega-3 fatty acids have anti-inflammatory properties and have been shown to reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression. It is recommended to take with lunch.
It is recommended to consume foods rich in tryptophan, such as turkey, which helps stimulate the production of serotonin, known as the "happiness hormone."
It is recommended to consume foods rich in tryptophan, such as turkey, which helps stimulate the production of serotonin, known as the “happiness hormone.”

What foods should be avoided during periods of stress?

According to the specialist from the International Clinic, during periods of stress, it is advisable to avoid certain foods that can worsen the symptoms of stress and, therefore, negatively affect health. These include:

  • Refined sugars: Foods high in sugar, such as candy, soft drinks, and baked goods, can cause rapid spikes and drops in blood sugar levels, which in turn can lead to fluctuations in energy levels and increased feelings of anxiety and fatigue.
  • Caffeine: Coffee, tea, energy drinks, and some soft drinks containing caffeine can increase cortisol levels (the stress hormone) and cause insomnia, nervousness, and palpitations, thus exacerbating the symptoms of stress.
  • Alcohol: While alcohol consumption may initially “relax” us, it is a central nervous system depressant, which can negatively interfere with sleep quality, increase anxiety and depression, and significantly affect judgment and decision-making.
  • Processed and ultra-processed foods: These foods are often high in trans and saturated fats and low in essential nutrients. They can certainly cause inflammation and negatively affect mental and heart health, as well as trigger feelings of lethargy and general malaise.
  • Sodium-rich foods: Salty foods, such as fast foods and canned goods, contain high levels of sodium. A high consumption of this nutrient can increase blood pressure and contribute to cardiovascular problems, thus increasing the feeling of stress.

“It is often thought that consuming these “comfort foods” rich in sugar and fat will always help us feel better. Although these foods may provide us with a temporary feeling of relief due to the release of dopamine, they can worsen stress levels in the long term. In addition, they often lack the nutrients necessary to promote good mental and physical health,” said Daniela Ballesteros.

What are some practical strategies for maintaining a balanced diet during times of stress?

Meal planning

One of the most effective strategies is “meal prep,” which consists of setting aside time each week to plan and prepare meals. This can not only save time but also reduce daily stress since knowing in advance what we are going to eat each day and having everything ready to cook eliminates uncertainty and helps maintain a balanced diet.

During periods of stress, it is advisable to avoid foods high in saturated fats, refined sugars and excessive caffeine, as they can increase the feeling of anxiety and negatively affect our mood.
During periods of stress, it is advisable to avoid foods high in saturated fats, refined sugars, and excessive caffeine, as they can increase the feeling of anxiety and negatively affect our mood.

Healthy alternatives

To avoid excessive consumption of caffeine, sugar, or comfort food during periods of high stress, it is best to look for healthy alternatives. For example, coffee can be replaced by green tea or herbal teas, which contain less caffeine and therefore have greater calming effects. Similarly, healthy snacks can be chosen instead of sweets or ultra-processed foods, since they are a sustainable and healthy source of energy.

Therefore, the expert recommended having these snacks on hand, which in addition to being very nutritious, improve our energy levels:

  • Fruits: We can opt for an apple, banana, peach, pear, or tangerine, which are more practical to consume.
  • Nuts: A handful of almonds, cashews, peanuts, or pistachios help us stay energized.
  • Greek Yogurt: High in protein and probiotics, can be combined with fruit or nut butter for added flavor and nutrients.
  • Chopped vegetables: Whether it’s carrots, celery, or peppers, we can eat these chopped vegetables with hummus.
  • Hard-boiled eggs: They are easy to prepare and carry.
  • Canchita (popcorn): This is a low-calorie, high-fiber option, as long as it is not buttered. The suggested serving size is 3 cups of cooked popcorn.

Meal times

Likewise, maintaining a consistent meal schedule can stabilize blood sugar levels and reduce cravings. Balanced meals that include a combination of protein, complex carbohydrates, and healthy fats provide sustained energy and prevent the urge to turn to unhealthy snacks.

Maintain good hydration

Dehydration can negatively affect our mood and stress levels, as it reduces blood flow and oxygen to the brain, which can cause a decrease in concentration, as well as lead to fatigue and tiredness. Of course, as Saldarriaga pointed out, the ailments caused by dehydration, such as headaches, can increase stress levels.

Keep a food diary

Of course, keeping a food diary, especially during times of stress, can be very helpful, as it provides greater awareness of our eating habits. Technically, writing down what we eat allows us to become more aware of our food choices and consumption patterns. It also reveals whether certain foods or situations trigger unhealthy habits, as well as helps us control portions and avoid over-consumption of calories, which is quite common when we are under a lot of stress, said Shirley Cuya.

Healthy lifestyle

In addition to diet, as Ballesteros indicated, several other aspects of lifestyle significantly influence our ability to manage stress. On the one hand, regular exercise is one of the most effective methods to reduce stress, since it releases endorphins, improves mood, and increases energy. Likewise, achieving quality sleep is crucial, since a lack of it can increase stress levels and significantly impact cognitive function and emotions.

“Stress management techniques such as meditation, yoga, and deep breathing can be very beneficial in calming the mind and body. Maintaining healthy social relationships is also essential, as having the support of friends and family can provide an emotional safety net. Likewise, organization and time management can help reduce feelings of being overwhelmed, allowing us to better plan and execute daily tasks. Without a doubt, taking a comprehensive approach that includes all of these elements can positively improve the ability to manage stress and enjoy overall well-being.”