It might cool off your mouth, but delving into a pint of ice cream won’t cool off your mind. In fact, foods that are high in refined sugar only increase stress hormones, including cortisol. That’s because your body can’t use up all that refined sugar (unless you’re in the middle of or recovering from an intense sweat sesh), so your blood glucose levels plummet rapidly. Via the “glucose counter-regulatory response”, your brain perceives low blood-glucose levels as a life-threatening situation and secretes more cortisol to trigger hunger yet again, which in turn, causes you to continue to feel stressed.
You might think that a focus-inducing coffee could help distract you from the stress of a looming project deadline, but not all cups are equal. While caffeine is known to be a mood-booster (and may lower your risk of depression) by stimulating dopamine activity, this chemical compound can also blunt the absorption of key mood-balancing nutrients like vitamin D and the B vitamins. What’s worse is when you add a few spoonfuls of sugar to your java, which can cause a post-sugar crash soon after you finish your mug, leaving you hungry, searching for sugar, and with more cortisol.
These baked twists are a double-edged sword. Not only will their high sodium levels bolster your blood pressure, but their fast-digesting, refined carbs can actually increase anxiety. That’s because, without the digestion-slowing fiber typically found in whole-grain, complex carbs, pretzels made from simple carbs will spike glucose levels—which then raises the stress hormone cortisol. Beyond their satisfying crunch, pretzels are quick-digesting carbs that only briefly lift mood before sending it (along with your satiety) back to low levels.
Overturning your anxious mood with a healthy option is a good idea, but don’t grab a freshly pressed juice. Shocker, right? But hear us out. Unlike whole fruits, juices are devoid of slow-digesting fiber and loaded with both glucose and fructose. The result is a blood sugar spike from the glucose that triggers a rush of the stress hormone adrenaline, and the fructose can alter how the brain responds to stress on a genetic level, according to a recent study.
That pop! of the soda can might be enough to quell your stress levels, but stop there. Aspartame, an artificial sweetener that’s found in many diet sodas, has been found to block the production of the neurotransmitter serotonin. This can cause all manner of neuro maladies including headaches, insomnia, changes in mood—and yes, even stress. It’s not just aspartame, either; look out for NutraSweet and Equal as well to protect your mental well-being.
Counteract that stress-induced rise in blood pressure with an olive-oil drizzled salad. A report by UC Davis found that just two tablespoons a day could significantly decrease systolic blood pressure in as little as three weeks. A separate study found that people who ate olive oil daily enjoyed a bigger boost of the happy hormone serotonin than those eating other types of fat. Researchers speculate the benefits are from EVOO’s minimal processing, which leaves higher levels of health-promoting phenols. In case you didn’t know, phenolic content diminishes with time, and particularly when exposed to heat and light, so EVOO should be stored in a cool dark place and used within a couple months of opening a container—not left out on your counter.