5 Common Foods that Trigger Stress and What to Choose Instead


Do you really realize what stress is and what causes it? Stress is a common occurrence in our high-paced, full of distraction culture. Many, if not most, women do not know that there are four key stressors that cause stress, and that we can actually learn how to reduce stress when we understand these factors. The first step is to recognize what stress is and how your body gets triggered.

Stress is a sense of overwhelm, a feeling of lack of ease or an alarm that your body is under an imbalance in some form.

It could be a threat – so your sense peace and safety are disrupted. Being a woman in an alpha male dominated world understandably takes extra self-awareness at times to hold our center. It is a skill to be able to keep an open heart while at the same time holding clear boundaries without having to put ‘heavy duty armor’ on metaphorically. It can be done, and it is healthier to be able to do so.

It could be that your physiology is out of balance due to your eating habits – so your hormones, like cortisol kick into gear to remedy the imbalance. Even chemical and food sensitivities can throw your body off balance. Increased stress could come from being out of balance with nature – not sleeping with your circadian rhythms, eating late at night, staying on your mobile devices too late – all of these factors throw off your health and well-being. 

Even those harsh ‘bootcamp’ exercise classes can imbalance your physiology, increase inflammation, and contribute to disease conditions when your adrenals are overworked excessively. Did you know this?

In this article, you will learn about five common foods that trigger stress – many of which you may be eating because they are all quite common in many of our restaurants, grocery stores, and probably pantry shelves at home for many women. So, you may be wondering – how does the foods we eat create stress?

When we regularly eat high sugar, high carbohydrate (high glycemic) meals for example, we send our blood sugar on a rollercoaster ride. This can cause sugar spikes followed by sugar crashes.

These crashes create anxiety and causes not only our cortisol levels to drop and spike, but also our insulin levels. If this is a common enough occurrence, we develop insulin resistance, which means our cells are not as sensitive to insulin’s efforts to stabilize and lower our blood sugar. If this occurs, you are well on your way to developing prediabetes or Type2 Diabetes.

When this happens, we can get higher and higher insulin levels which cause us to store excess fat, increases inflammation throughout the body but especially in our deep belly tissues, and creates sugar and other food cravings. If we are over-eating sugar, chances are we are not eating more of the healthier foods and macro and micronutrients that stabilizes our blood sugar and energy – thus creating a vicious cycle of hunger and annoying health symptoms – such as anxiety, brain fog, irritability, sugar cravings, hot flashes and weight gain. 

When we learn what to eat, it is a first step to creating new lifestyle habits that slow down aging and prevents chronic disease, hormonal imbalances, and other signs normally attributed to aging. We can affect our rate of aging through the use of food, lifestyle and our mindset.

Aging is a process, and it is does not necessarily correlate with the number of years you have been on this planet.

Regularly eating the foods on this list of foods to avoid, will accelerate aging and your risks for having a difficult perimenopause/menopause experience, moodiness, social isolation, distractibility and lack of focus, and other common unpleasant symptoms that are ubiquitous it seems in our modern-day society in general. What are these foods?

1. Sugar Triggers Stress

Sugar can create a real addiction; it literally is habit forming. Refined sugars and processed foods easily stir up problems for your adrenal and cortisol system in your body by causing erratic production of cortisol. Insulin production also increases in response to surging blood sugar levels.  Also, by potentially activating pleasure systems in the brain that release dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with addictions, it is easily habit forming. 

Some people are more genetically prone than others, though the good news is, by using food as medicine and other lifestyle skills, we can literally change our very gene expression to change our body’s responses and break our sugar addictions. The ability to affect our gene expression is known as ‘epigenetics’. And a word of caution – starting your day off with a high carbohydrate sugared-filled breakfast will put you on the fast track to ‘dis-ease’ and aging. The type of breakfast foods you eat can set the pace for your energy all day long.

Nuts, seeds, green vegetables such as leafy greens, salads, asparagus, chicken, fish and the good old standby eggs with use of olives and olive oil – can all also be eaten for breakfast for a change. Or try almond or coconut-based yogurts and you can add collagen and other protein powders of your choice. Just make sure they are clean and organic. 

2. Processed Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids (PUFAs)

The type of fats you eat affect your levels of inflammation and hormones – which affect your stress levels. 

We need healthy cholesterol to make hormones and brain cells.

Processed, polyunsaturated vegetable oils (canola, sunflower, safflower, corn, soybean are common examples) cause a buildup of excessive amounts of Omega-6 fatty acids, and most people are not getting enough of the anti-inflammatory Omega 3 forms from fish (DHA, EPA in particular are higher) and plant-based, such as chia seeds for example that are most protective. 

I do want to emphasize though that the Omega 3 in the form of DHA and EPA from animals/fish is most protective from inflammation and supports chronic disease prevention, diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Multiple Sclerosis and mood disorders for example. You can learn more about essential fatty acids from this article on the Weston Price Foundation on ‘Good Fats, Bad Fats’, HERE .

Here’s one more important point: when these polyunsaturated fats are exposed to toxic sugar products, especially fructose – they can oxidize. Oxidized lipids can actually cause blood vessel disease and increase chronic inflammatory disease and cardiovascular problems. This is also why the quality of your fish oil even matters because if it is a poor quality, it could be causing more harm than good.

PUFAs are easily turned inflammatory because they are unstable and sensitive to sunlight. Inflammation is one of the four key stressors. While we need some of these types of fats, it is the source and quality that matters most. Also, beware of the clear plastic bottles which contain toxic chemicals and the oils themselves often contain GMOs and pesticides when not organic. This is one category of oils, however, that even if organic – if processed and chemicalized by plastic bottles are not the best choices.

Keep in mind that the TYPE of fat matters to health. Our body needs both monosaturated and some saturated fat in low amounts also. In fact, the monosaturated fats are healthier for our body than the excessive polyunsaturated fats that are massed produced that most people are eating. You can find monosaturated fats in unrefined olive oil, avocado oil, and coconut.

Lastly, when you reduce sugar and increase healthy fats, you are more likely to increase your energy levels, balance your hormones and even lose weight.

Why? The ‘low’ fat diet creates more room for ‘high carb’ foods, that ultimately get converted and stored as fat in your body due to the excessive amounts of sugar you eat instead. Low fat and high carbs increase sugar cravings. Healthy fats reduce hunger and provides more energy between meals. Also, protein is important for physiologic functioning in your body, and if you are not getting enough, you will become malnourished and age quickly.

3. High Glycemic Fruit Juice Triggers Stress

I used to think that apple juice was healthy until I realized how dangerous sugar is for our liver and adrenals. Now that my focus is on taking control of stress and doing it using functional medicine – I have even more of a sense of urgency in getting this message out to people. 

When we drink fruit juice – especially processed juice that is striped of the body of the fruit – we are essentially drinking sugar.

It throws our adrenal system into the rollercoaster ride of sugar spikes and crashes. This is a source of creating sugar cravings – of course along with cookies and doughnuts.

Fructose is a major cause of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). Yes, that is correct – and NAFLD is a leading cause of having to need a liver transplant – even in teens. Scary enough, NAFLD currently affects 10-20% of the U.S. population and you need not be obese either. The processed, high carbohydrate-filled (sugar) Standard American Diet (SAD) is the major source of this problem.

Fruit in moderation is a good idea, especially the highly nutrient dense, low glycemic berries. I feel better and healthier now that I no longer choose the high sugar category fruits, such as bananas, apples, mangos and grapes as examples. Having an occasional piece of whole, organic fresh fruit of course can be helpful – and it is a matter of balance with other food groups. It can be a source of healthy fiber also. Because my body functions best on a lower carb, higher plant-based fats with moderate protein diet, I focus on the berry category as a whole. This does not mean I can never eat other fruits – it is just a lot less often.

4. White Flour and Stress

While flour is very processed, high in carbs and stripped of fiber. When high carb sugar is dumped into our blood without fiber to slow down absorption, it is a sugar bolster into the bloodstream. It also contains gluten typically. Gluten, especially from our processed wheat flours can be highly inflammatory for many people and it does not require that you have celiac disease. It is sticky and affect the flow of your bowels, affecting stool and frequency of bathroom habits.

Does this all sound familiar now? Can you see the interconnections and repeating themes of how sugars are throwing off your adrenals and hormonal systems? Of course, bread and pasta are in this category. I used to LOVE bread. This included muffins, cookies and cakes. I truly had a sweet tooth and it did take its toll on some of my teeth, unfortunately as a child. Fortunately, my bones are strong and as a young adult, I started developing an interest in food and health early on, so I was able to stop the cavities.

Now that I have broken this addiction also, I have found health options in the form of almond and coconut flour-based breads. Even cauliflower can be used as a main ingredient to make tortilla like flat bread substitutes that work beautifully and tastes good. We humans are creatures of habit – it’s just a matter of which habits will you choose. Those that make you sick and prematurely age you, or those that give your more vitality and ability to thrive?

I just also have to make some comments on white rice because I see so many malnourished vegans. I actually like rice, white rice included, but when I realized it was not only a big source of sugar but also arsenic – I had to move on.

5. High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS)

Did you know that HFCS is so ubiquitous, it is in a popular brand ketchup, in bread and even in popular peanut butter brands? Jelly? Fruit juices? Breakfast Cereals? Sodas? Crackers? Candy? Cough Syrup?…on, and on, and on. Remember what I just said above about NAFLD? Fructose – highly processed, highly sweet fructose corn syrup – may be the number one cause. Read those labels and avoid it like the plague if you want to maintain healthy weight and cortisol levels. 

Some of us also have genetic tendencies that make it even worse. But here is the good news about genetics – your genes are not your destiny! I have some ‘obesity’ genes, but I am not overweight. The difference nowadays than when I was a child eating too much sugar is that now we have rampant pesticide and environmental toxins to deal with as well. 

We also have more processed dry foods and meats than ever. This includes dairy and other vegan food substitutes. We now have extreme stress levels due to our lack of sleep and 24/7 culture. Our intense emphasis on work without relaxation and recreation time. No time for even ‘cool down’ in some exercise classes – which are the ones I definitely avoid. 

The key is mindset and lifestyle. We can’t change the system overnight, but we can stop supporting it with our attention and money.

Ultimately – the bottom line of profit is going to decide what institutional changes are made in this country and in the world at large. It’s time for the ‘masses’ to wake up if we are as a society ever going to move the needle on chronic disease and obnoxiously expensive healthcare with poor outcomes.

In summary – avoid excessive sugar and processed foods and oils to avoid adding to your stress levels. Eat more healthy plant-based fats (please do NOT cook with olive oil, unless very low heat to sauté – maybe). Get between 20-25% of your calories from healthy, organic, farm-raised protein sources of meat, nuts, (peanuts are legumes by the way and can be a problem for a few different reasons) and wild caught fish. 

Continue be open to learning – we have a lot of misinformation to delete off of the hard drives of our minds. What I discussed in this article is focused on things that aggravate inflammation and blood sugar levels – there are other key stressors I will discuss in other articles.

Take The First Step Today on Your Journey Back to Health and Wholeness

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