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Diet and Stress

Practicing a Balanced Diet

“We are what we eat”. Having a balanced diet could help in preventing stress. Being overstressed could reduce energy, weakens our memory, immune system and concentration, disrupt mood, and affect all organs and body functions. With the intake of balanced meals, healthy wellbeing could be maintained while ensuring a stable mental and physical health. The balanced diet has to be based on the food pyramid.

Diet and Stress

  • Stress could result in the loss or reduction of nutrients such as vitamin C, B complex, magnesium and calcium.

  • When stressful, we have a tendency to;
    • Experience food emotional problem where we eat when we are not hungry or choose unhealthy food.

    • Skip main meals especially breakfast and feel extreme hunger pangs during lunch, of which there is a tendency to take unhealthy food / large meal.

    • Eat foods that are high in fat, salt and sugar.

    • Take unhealthy snacks such as junk food.

    • Opt for easily available fast food that requires no preparation.

The Need for a Balanced Diet

  • A balanced diet provides nutrients and energy needed for the body to handle stress.

  • A complete diet that offers variations would ensure that our body gets all the necessary nutrients.

Food That Helps To Reduce Stress

Among the food that helps in reducing stress:

  • Nuts such as almonds, pistachios, and walnuts, which are rich in Vitamin B2, Vitamin E, magnesium and zinc. Vitamin B2 aids in the secretion of serotonin, which is the hormone responsible for the feeling of happiness. Zinc is one of the components needed to combat stress while Vitamin E is effective in preventing diseases that are caused by stress such as heart diseases.

  • Fish, especially from the sea such as salmon, mackerel and sardine, and freshwater fish such as patin and haruan, are high in Omega 3, which assists in stabilising stress (cortisol hormone).

  • Milk is rich in antioxidants and contains high calcium to aid in eliminating free radicals that are associated with stress.

  • Red pumpkin and guava are foods rich in Vitamin C. Prolonged stress could cause the reduction of stored Vitamin C which may lead to bleeding gums.

  • Whole grains such as wholemeal bread, breakfast cereal, brown rice and oat contain complex carbohydrate that serve to stimulate the production of serotonin hormone (a chemical substance that releases the happy feeling in the brain). Whole grains that are rich in Vitamin B can increase energy and reduce lethargy.

  • The intake of fruits and vegetables that are high in antioxidants such as Vitamin C, Vitamin E and beta carotene assists in reducing the effects of free radicals. Good sources of Vitamin C are guava, broccoli and orange. Good sources of Vitamin E are papaya, spinach and olive while food that are rich in beta carotene includes sweet potato, carrot and pumpkin.

  • Dried apricot is especially rich in magnesium and is nutritionally good for internally relaxing the muscles. Magnesium also functions in regulating stress hormones.

Tips for Avoiding Stress through a Healthy Diet and Lifestyle

  • Consistent eating pattern
    Small but frequent meals is encouraged while the three main meals, which are breakfast, lunch and dinner are necessary. A healthy diet starts with a great breakfast.

  • Choose a balanced diet
    A balanced diet which consists of a variety of food must be based on the food pyramid.

  • Reduce the intake of caffeine
    It is recommended that the intake of caffeine such as tea and coffee does not exceed 2 cups a day. Drink plenty of   water. Excessive intake of caffeine will increase stress levels and reduce concentration and effectiveness in performing work in addition to affecting the quality of sleep.

  • Reduce the intake of salt
    Excessive intake of salt could cause high blood pressure. Reduce the intake of food that is high in salt such as fast food, seasoning powder, canned food, salted fish, salted egg and pickles.

  • Reduce sugar intake
    A high intake of sugar could reduce the immune system’s capacity to manage stress. Besides that, it could also increase the sugar level in the blood, which may cause obesity and increase insulin resistance.

  • Quitting from consuming alcohol/ alcohol abstinence
    Gradual reduction of alcohol consumption would maintain body balance and avoid stress.

  • Sufficient vitamins and minerals through a balanced diet
    Suficient intake of vitamins and minerals could increase body balance and avoid stress. Rich sources of vitamins and minerals are fruits and vegetables.

  • Consumption of food containing probiotics
    Consumption of food containing lactobacillus acidhophitis could stop the growth of pathogenic bacteria and   increase immunity against stress.

  • Maintain body weight
    Maintaining ideal body weight and perform physical activities for at least 3 times a week for 30 minutes could give inner peace while the body becomes more active.

  • Quit smoking
    Nicotine in cigarettes gives short term feeling of relaxation but the toxin in it would increase heartbeat and stress.


  • Stress and Diet by Carolyn Classic-Kohn, MS,RD
  • Pemakanan Pendekatan Islam dan Sains by Che Wan Jasimah Wan Mohamed Radzi
  • Food That Harm Food That Heal by Readers Digest
  • Mindful Eating Exercises – Strategies for Mindful Eating by Elizabeth Scott, M.S.,About.com Guide
  • Penjagaan Kesihatan Menurut Pandangan Perubatan dan Islam
  • Less Stres by Dr Julian Melgosa
Last Reviewed : 05 September 2012
Writer : Suriyanti bt. Muhi