Yes. Stress. Not food, is the biggest determinant of your health.
Everybody feels it. But very few of us take our stress seriously and understand the threat it has on our health, our joy and our life expectancy.
But in most cases our doctors treat it like it’s an afterthought. While they are good at treating physical symptoms, they can miss the mark when it comes to the life style choices that cause those symptoms. Over 75% of doctor visits are stress related. Yet only 3% of doctor visits include a discussion about how to reduce stress.
I think we’ve got it all backwards. Stress is actually the first thing we need to address if we want to feel our best. It’s at the heart of our food cravings, addictions to stimulants, slow metabolism, hormonal issues, emotional highs and lows and fatigue. And while this may sound like common sense, it is certainly not common practice, which is why we’ve got to address it.
So, what is stress?
To our bodies, stress is just another way of saying flight or fight. It’s our ability to get up and go when there is a lion chasing us. It comes in handy from time to time, that’s for sure! But in today’s busy world, we are in a constant state of panic and it’s harming us.
Let me explain how it works on a biological level. The hormone cortisol is responsible for making sure that glucose (sugar) is on demand and is delivered to our muscles as quickly as possible when we encounter a potentially difficult situation (this could be anything from juggling family demands to meeting professional deadlines). You probably remember that rush of energy that courses through your body when you are startled? Well that’s a surge of cortisol saying OMG, pop the glucose pronto because we need to get the heck out of here.
Living with stress day in, day out, puts us on a cortisol rollercoaster. And as you can imagine, this wreaks havoc on your energy levels and on your body.
But just as we have a stress response, we also have a relaxation response. Practices such as meditation, yoga and the use of essential oils are amazing for tapping into your relaxation response which can be a powerful tool in training our bodies to handle stress better.
But did you know that the food you eat also affects your stress levels?
40% of our stress is actually related to food.
A single meal high in animal protein can nearly double the level of cortisol in the blood within only a half hour of consumption (and that’s without even being put into a stressful situation).
Now imagine if you eat animal protein meal-after-meal, day-after-day. You could chronically stimulate your stress response. All of this extra cortisol release has been linked to increased risk for elevated blood levels of insulin, triglycerides, and cholesterol.
And it’s a vicious cycle, we don’t just walk around all day with higher stress hormone levels, it actually causes us to react more negatively to whatever life throws at us. This means that when put into a stressful situation those who eat higher amounts of animal protein experience a much higher cortisol release than those eating lesser amounts of animal foods.
To make things even worse cortisol has been implicated as a factor in motivating food intake, even when you’re not really hungry. Those who experience these high chronic stress levels are more likely to opt for fatty, sugary, comfort foods like chocolate cake versus fruits and veggies when given the choice.
So how can you halt and reverse this vicious cortisol rollercoaster? The answer is simple. Choose to eat more plant based whole foods.
Studies have shown that stress hormone levels actually reduce after eating plant based meals, as opposed to rising which is what happens after eating animal protein.
Triggering this cortisol reduction means eating meals that consist of plant based foods in their whole, unprocessed form. A varied plant based diet includes vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds, beans and legumes, and whole grains. It does not include animal foods such as meat, poultry, fish, dairy and eggs. It also does not include heavily processed foods and aims to minimise added salt, oils and sugar.
Not only do people following plant based diets tend to experience less stress, but they have more energy, better skin, better sleep and faster resting metabolisms (burning 300 more calories on average each day).
People eating plant-based diets also have lower rates of type 2 diabetes, heart disease and various cancers and actually have greater life expectancies.