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Balanced Diet Can Reduce Stress

By CASEY JUNKINS

Staff Writer

Eating relatively small meals throughout the day, rather than an enormous meal all at once, is one step consumers can take to mitigate stress, Wheeling Hospital dietitian Jill Spangler said.

“Think of it like a paper shredder. If you put all the paper in at once, the machine gets clogged up,” she said using an analogy to describe how a human’s digestive system works when eating too much. “A much better step is to put a small amount of paper in, let it shred, and then put more paper in.”

When one’s digestive system works properly, this goes a long way toward reducing stress, Spangler said. Also, she said it is vital to maintain a healthy level of blood sugar.

“When your blood sugar drops, it leads to irritability,” she said. “When you eat a huge meal, you’ll have plenty of energy for a little while, but then you’ll crash.”

Spangler said a general rule is to eat “something” within an hour of waking up. A solid breakfast would consist of both carbohydrates and protein, such as eating an egg with whole wheat toast.

She said eating something every four hours is optimal.

“It is probably not best to eat just before going to bed,” Spangler said.

Another step one can take is to try to eat as much fresh food as possible, rather than food from cans, boxes and bags, which can be loaded with salt and other preservatives.

“It is hard because people are busy. You just have to try to establish a routine,” she said.

Spangler said a couple of cups of coffee per day or a can of soda can be fine, within reasonable limits. However, she said consumers should avoid high-caffeine diet supplements or energy drinks.

“Caffeine, especially in significant amount, can make you very irritable,” she said. “It can also make it difficult to sleep. And if you can’t sleep, you’re even more likely to be irritable.”

In particular regard to stress, Spangler said omega-3 fatty acids can be helpful. These nutrients can be purchased as supplements, or they can be consumed naturally in foods such as fish, flax seeds and walnuts.

Spangler said getting at least some exercise each day, even if it is as little as 10 minutes, can help relieve stress.

“Exercise helps our bodies release positive endorphins,” she said.

“Those are the little feel-good hormones.”

Drinking plenty of water also helps, Spangler said. Optimally, if a man weighs 200 pounds, he should drink 100 ounces of water each day, she said.

“Not getting enough water causes all kinds of problems. Sometimes, your body is just thirsty, but if you don’t drink enough water, you can confuse this with being hungry,” she added.

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