According to the Aetna “what’s your healthy?” survey, which looked at how Americans are defining healthiness, 23% of Americans report lashing out at others due to stress. Prolonged stress can also lead to depression, isolation, and anxiety, among other detrimental health conditions.
Keri Gans, MS, RDN, CDN, a registered dietitian/nutritionist, media personality, author of The Small Change Diet, developed the below tips on five foods that may be contributing to your stress at work.
1. Foods High in Caffeine – Caffeine intake sometimes carries a negative connotation, but as with many things, moderation is key. Small daily doses of caffeine – try and stick to 16oz. or less – is OK. Black coffee and tea, for example, are not only a lot lower in sugar than most soft and sports drinks; they’re also rich in antioxidants which may help reduce the risk of certain diseases and ultimately be beneficial to overall health. The harm in caffeine comes with its over-consumption. In large amounts, because it’s a powerful stimulant, caffeine can cause anxiety and loss of concentration, in turn leading to loss of productivity and heightened stress on the job. Some people are more sensitive to caffeine than others. If you feel yourself becoming jittery or irritable after multiple caffeinated beverages, it would do best to limit your intake.
2. Sodium-Rich Foods – Though 24% of the respondents in the “What’s Your Healthy?” study report wanting to avoid unhealthy foods with more regularity, sodium rich fries, chips, and deli meats are still lunchtime favorites. An excess of sodium causes the body to retain fluids, which may cause hypertension. Though research is unclear on whether or not stress alone can result in prolonged high blood pressure, sticking to a diet low in fat and sodium can be best. Small changes, such as ordering a simple grilled chicken sandwich with avocado and lots of veggies on whole wheat bread instead of a huge sub weighed down by cheese, meat and high sodium condiments, may help keep blood pressure down. Of course, other lifestyle changes including regular exercise, adequate sleep, and meditation can also help keep hypertension and stress at bay. If you’re an office-dweller, break up your 9-to-5 with a quick walk around the block if possible, if not, even simple stretches at your desk can be beneficial.
3. Junk Foods – While it’s fine to indulge your cravings every now and then, if you find yourself making frequent trips to the office vending machine, you may want to re-consider that afternoon bag of candy. While packaged sweets and other quick-fix snacks seem to satisfy cravings, their effect is temporary and typically result in feelings of sluggishness and hunger. Not only do they leave you feeling famished, most junk foods are simple carbohydrates void of protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals, the same dietary essentials which assist the body in regulating stress levels. We also know that frequent consumption of high-calorie, high-fat foods can lead to weight gain that can bring a whole slew of health issues – such as, obesity, diabetes and heart disease. So instead of a visit to the vending machine bring a healthy snack to work with you that could keep your body energized, such as a low-fat plain yogurt with berries, raw veggies and hummus, or an apple with natural peanut butter.
4. Fatty Foods – Research will support that eating a fatty meal may heighten the unhealthy effects of stress on the heart, like raising blood pressure. When we think of fatty foods, pizza, fried chicken and mashed potatoes most likely come to mind first; but we may also be consuming lots of fat in other types of foods we don’t think of. For example, if you are consuming a large amount of 100% whole fat dairy (such as cheese, yogurt, milk) daily you may also need to be concerned. Instead of pouring full-fat cream in your daily cup of joe or drowning your cereal in full-fat milk, try 1% low-fat or nonfat milk for starters or try alternatives like almond or soy milk. It may take awhile to adapt to the new taste, but starting your day with a heart-healthy beverage is worth the switch.
5. Alcohol – Even if your alcohol intake doesn’t match Don Draper’s on the job, studies show that it’s the light or light-to-moderate drinkers who cause more problems than their heavy drinking counterparts, and the reason is their hangovers. . Hangovers may kill your chance at productivity and subsequently increase your stress. Partaking in a glass of wine or beer at a business lunch also may not benefit you. Though 37% of the respondents in the “What’s Your Healthy?” study report drinking less alcohol than they did five years ago, many of us still imbibe regularly, and sometimes, while in the presence of colleagues. While your intention may be to take the edge off, you may be surprised to learn that your choice of beverage is actually having the opposite effect. While it may lower our inhibitions, reaction time and sense of judgment, research shows that alcohol also stimulates the release of cortisol, also known as the body’s ‘stress hormone.’ When you’re on the clock, stick to sparkling water or another non-alcoholic alternative.