Mismanaged stress can affect the immune system, heart function, hormone levels, the nervous system, memory and thinking, physical coordination and metabolic rate. It can cause blood cholesterol, blood pressure and uric acid levels to rise. These, in turn, may increase the risk of certain diseases or conditions, including ulcers, hypertension, heart disease, cancer, immunodeficiency diseases and even the common cold.
A positive outlook on life and a healthy, active body are key factors in how we respond to stress. Good nutrition always is important, but especially when we are under stress, when the body uses nutrients somewhat differently.
Good habits to have
The following dietary habits especially can be helpful in times of stress:
* Eat at least two servings of protein, such as meat, eggs, poultry, fish or dairy products every day. Under stress, our bodies tend to divert protein to energy instead of muscle repair and replacement. Larger amounts of protein or protein supplements are not recommended, however, because too much protein puts an additional burden on the kidneys.
* Drink plenty of fluids and limit salt. Stress tends to cause the body to retain sodium and water and lose potassium through the kidneys. Drink at least eight glasses of water a day.
* Limit high-sodium foods, such as cured meats, canned soups and salted snack items. This helps the body keep its sodium-potassium ratio in balance.
* Eat five or more servings of fruits and vegetables daily. They are rich in B vitamins and their high potassium, fiber and water content also help keep your sodium-potassium balance in order.
* Limit intake of fat. The lipid content of the blood often rises in reaction to stress. This, along with other risk factors, contributes to the development of heart disease. Less high-fat food plus a lifestyle that includes regular exercise, laughter and no smoking helps lower blood-fat levels.
* A positive outlook on life, enhanced immunity, effective coping skills, optimal nutrition and increased resistance to disease all are related. Stress-related disease often is preventable when effective coping skills and guidelines for a low-fat, nutrient-dense diet are followed.
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