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Margaret Reffell

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Stressed?! Maybe You're Eating Too Much of These

Posted: 07/18/2012 8:24 am

You've all heard "you are what you eat" before, right? Well we now know that that is true on a more fundamental level than you ever could have imagined.

When we eat food, not only does it affect our hormones, our blood sugar and our energy levels, but food actually gets broken down into its smallest molecules and turned into the actual tissue and chemical messengers we are made of.

This includes the tissue and chemical composition of our brains. So, is it possible that the foods we eat can be changing this chemical and physical make-up to actually create feelings of stress and anxiety? Absolutely!

Check out the top five foods that can affect your brain chemistry and cause stress and anxiety.


1. MSG
MSG is short for monosodium glutamate. MSG over-excites certain cells in the brain so much that they actually commit suicide. This creates a cascade of events that can cause anxiety, migraines, heart palpitations, stomach aches, fatigue, confusion and irritability. Asian restaurants use this quite a bit, which is why MSG toxicity is known as "chinese food syndrome" due to the high usage in chinese food restaurants.

2. Food Colouring
Food colourings have been tested to be safe in small doses by the government, but there are rarely tested in combination with each other for safety. And when they are tested in combination with each other, at higher doses, the results are cytotoxic. That means they literally POISON brain cells leading to confusion, hyperactivity, stress, anxiety and even allergic responses. The two big ones to avoid are "allure red" and "tartrazine" (yellow 5, blue 1 and green s).

3. Alcohol
This may seem counter intuitive because alcohol is a sedative right? True, but it can have an anxiety-inducing effect in some people, especially the next day. This happens because there is a drastic depletion in many of the nutrients that are used to increase chemical messengers in the brain like serotonin, adenosine and B vitamins as a result of alcohol consumption. You don't have to know what the mechanisms are to know that without them, you are seriously messing with your brain chemistry putting unnecessary pressure on your adrenal glands by triggering a flood of stress hormones into your blood stream. Combine this depletion of nutrients with the heavy load of detoxification that your body has to go through after a wild night, and it's a surefire recipe for stress and anxiety.

4. Sugar
Sugar induces anxiety by crashing dopamine levels in the brain. Dopamine is the chemical messenger that makes you feel so good right after you eat a chocolate bar. But, what goes up must come down... and when it does, that's when cravings kick in again. During times of cravings, people can experience high levels of stress combined with irritability and even anger. It's a very similar process to the highs that a drug addict experiences once they get their fix, and the subsequent withdrawal.

5. Caffeine
Caffeine is a stimulant to your central nervous system. This means that caffeine can actually mimic the symptoms of stress from a chemical standpoint including increased heart rate, increased BP, irritability and confusion. So try to stay below 200 mg per day (about a cup and a half of coffee) and consume it before 1 p.m. If you need an afternoon kick, reach for some green tea instead and reap the benefits of antioxidants and metabolism boosting phytonutrients!

Treating stress and anxiety is very individual and often most effective when multiple therapies are combined. Use these guidelines in everyday life and be sure to talk to a health care professional to find out further steps you can take to find the perfect formula to manage this crazy thing we call life.


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  • Caffeine

    This upper will get your motor running. In fact, caffeine mimics stress in the body to keep you going even when you're on empty. So try to stay below 200 mg per day (about a cup and a half of coffee).

  • Food Colouring

    While these colours make all our processed food so pretty -- and look like it actually comes from nature -- don't forget that they're chemicals. While tested separately, they are rarely tested when combined and can cause major stress on the body and mind!

  • Sugar

    If you want to know how sugar causes stress, just give a bunch of it to a kid and see what happens. Buzz buzz buzz...crash. This up and down on your system is never good and causes a dopamine meltdown! Not to mention, it's highly addictive.

  • Alcohol

    Alcohol, a natural depressant, depletes your nutrients and your serotonin. It also puts a lot of stress on your body -- think about how bad a hangover feels. When you're not performing at peak, and you've used up all your useful energy on drinking, that's a surefire way to cause stress and anxiety.

  • MSG

    MSG, most commonly found in Asian food, is an additive created to make food taste fresh -- even when it's not. It's never great to add MORE chemicals to your food, so ask for no MSG next time you get Chinese take-out.


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