HELP FOR STRESS DISORDERS

By Eleanor Eggers, Ph.D., LP, BCB, (Senior Fellow)

Diet and Nutrition


We all know that it is important to provide the body with the necessary raw materials with which to build and maintain good health.  The brain and the nervous system, just like all the other systems of the body, also need correct food in order to function at their best and in order to recover from the stresses they are subjected to.  


Mediterranean Diet


There are many healthful ways of eating, but the diet which seems to be recommended by most health professionals is the Mediterranean Diet.  This involves the following:  vegetables, fruits, whole grains and whole-grain products, nuts, seeds, legumes, olives, olive oil, and herbs and spices to be the basis of the diet;  fish and shellfish to be eaten often, at least twice a week; poultry, eggs, cheese, and yogurt to be eaten daily to weekly;  red meat and sweets to be eaten infrequently; and drinking wine “in moderation” with water as the major beverage. 


It is presented as mainly a plant-food diet.  It would qualify for the advice given by Michael Pullen:  “Eat (real) food.  Not too much.  Mostly plants.”  There is a great deal of information on the Mediterranean Diet  available on the internet and in various books and articles.


Coffee, Tea, and Sugar


We all know that the excessive consumption of caffeine, as in coffee and tea, can increase nervous tension and jitteriness. The level at which caffeine becomes a problem varies from person to person.  It also changes as the person grows older so that at some point most people find that they must reduce or even eliminate their intake of caffeine.  People who have anxiety problems would probably be wise to skip the caffeine altogether even though researchers now are reporting that small amounts of caffeine are actually good for our health.


Another substance which may be a problem is sugar.  Some health professionals are telling us that sugar increases irritability and anxiety in some people and are advising people to avoid foods which are high in added sugar.  While the research is not yet conclusive, it might be wise to experiment with eliminating sugar and foods containing added sugar to see if there is any benefit.  To make the experiment meaningful, it would be necessary to also eliminate natural sugars, such as honey and maple syrup.


Glycemic Index


Evidence today indicates that it may be important for everyone, not only diabetics, to pay attention to the glycemic index.  The glycemic index is a measure of how quickly a (carbohydrate) food is changed into sugar in the blood.  It indicates the speed with which the food is metabolized by the body.  Foods with low numbers on the index are metabolized, or burned,  very slowly and, therefore, raise the blood sugar slowly and only a small amount.  Foods with high numbers are burned very rapidly and, as a consequence, raise the blood sugar rapidly and to a much higher level.   


Professionals tell us that the brain and the nervous system function better when they are not exposed to high blood sugar levels and to large swings in the blood sugar level.  Eating foods which are low on the glycemic index and avoiding foods which are high on the glycemic index is helpful.  This has the effect of preventing large spikes in the blood sugar level, thereby keeping the fluctuations within a low range.


Maintaining stable blood sugar levels is beneficial to the health of one's nervous system in other ways too.  For example,  recent research has found that eating a meal composed largely of high glycemic index foods leads to an increased production of stress hormones.  High levels of stress hormones contribute to people's stress disorders. Many health professionals now tell us that it is advisable for a number of reasons to limit the intake of high glycemic index foods and to emphasize low glycemic index foods instead.


Some of the foods which have a low glycemic index are the following:               

  • Most vegetables (except white potatoes)               
  • Most fruits (except tropical)               
  • Sweet potatoes               
  • Bread and other products made from sprouted grains
  • Sourdough bread               
  • Rye bread               
  • Long-grain rice  (Both white and brown)                 
  • Rolled oats and rolled barley               
  • Legumes               
  • Nuts               
  • Stevia


Some of the foods which are high on the glycemic index are the following:               

  • Fruit juice               
  • White potatoes               
  • Tropical fruits
  • Watermelon                
  • Ripe bananas (Green bananas are lower.)               
  • Bread (both white and whole wheat) and other                products made from ordinary wheat flour                 
  • Honey               
  • Sugar


A great deal of information about the glycemic index and the related glycemic load can be found on the internet.  You can easily look up the glycemic index of any particular food which you are interested in.