For many of us, constant stress has become a normal way of life. There are many factors that stress our bodies, including continuous pressure and demands placed upon us, work, relationships, illness, poor nutrition, pollutants that we breathe or ingest, even joyous occasions and celebrations.
Another type of stress that many don’t think about is nutritional stress, which is the body’s stress response to eating foods that lack nutrition and/or foods that require a large amount of energy to digest and assimilate. In other words, processed and refined foods, or foods that are not natural. Nutritional stress is the same damaging physiological stress as other kinds of stress
Not all stress is bad. In fact, some stress is beneficial. For example, the stress placed on our bodies by exercise helps us grow stronger. However, the majority of stress that most of us experience is in no way beneficial.
Stress is now believed to be root cause of many modern-day health problems, and common symptoms of stress include obesity, fatigue, mental fog, poor digestion, difficulty sleeping, depression, and prematurely wrinkled skin.
Stress triggers our adrenal glands to release cortisol, the “stress hormone”, into our blood, which causes us to become more alert, stronger, and react slightly faster. This response was needed in prehistoric times when our ancestors faced immediate threats such as wild animals. Today’s threats are less dire, more frequent, and cumulative (they add up). Our body’s stress response is an overreaction to today’s threats, and the resulting constant release of cortisol slowly eats away at us.
Rapid increases in cortisol levels due to stress can cause hormonal imbalances. For example, when electrolytes, which maintain optimal fluid and delivery of nutrients to cells, are affected, delivery of nutrients to cells is affected.
Continuous elevated stress causes us to burn sugar, a carbohydrate, instead of fat as fuel, which causes the body to store fat rather than use it for energy. Burning carbohydrates rather than fat causes stressed people to crave more carbohydrates.
Regular stimulation brings about fatigue because our adrenal glands are overworked. The body needs more sleep during times of heightened stress. Yet high cortisol levels due to mounting stress leads to the inability to sleep soundly. Lack of sleep further raises cortisol levels, and it becomes a vicious cycle.
Blood cells distribute nutrients throughout the body and aid in digestion. Blood is drawn to parts of the body where needed the most. When we eat poorly digestible refined foods, blood goes to the stomach, away from other parts that also require blood, to help with digestion. This slows bodily functions in those other parts of the body such as the brain, which cannot get the blood, and therefore nutrients, it needs to function optimally. On the other hand, when we eat whole, plant-based foods, they have a low impact on the digestive system and other biological functions meaning that blood does not go to the stomach to help with digestion. The result is a greater ability to think clearly after consuming a meal.
Sugary or refined starchy foods release serotonin, a natural mood elevator, and the lack of nutrients in these foods causes more stress. The body’s production of serotonin declines as stress rises, causing your brain to crave more sugary serotonin-releasing foods. Another vicious cycle.
A whole, plant-based diet helps reduce nutritional stress, which in turn lowers overall stress. By controlling what we eat, we can prevent and reverse many health problems simply by eating a diet that alleviates nutritional stress. In other words, high-quality, nutrient-dense, alkaline-forming, easily digestible food.