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The #1 Eating Habit to Reduce the Effects of Stress as You Age, New Research Finds

What you eat can play a role in your stress levels.
FACT CHECKED BY Kristen Warfield

As you age, stress can take a real toll on your health. Thankfully, there are lifestyle choices that you can make to reduce your allostatic load (the scientific term for the negative effects of stress on your body). There are classic techniques for fighting stress, like taking deep breaths and practicing mindfulness, but the foods you eat can also play a role.

In fact, a new study finds that keeping to a healthier diet is linked with lower allostatic load.

In the study, published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, researchers examined data from more than 5,000 United States adults, analyzing information about their diet quality from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey as it compared to their allostatic load, measured by a range of biochemical markers. They found that, for adults ages 31 and up, those with the highest scores for diet quality had lower odds of high allostatic load.

womaneating healthy meal
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Los Angeles, California-based registered dietitian nutritionist Carrie Gabriel notes that the foods you eat can affect your stress levels not just over long periods of time but also in the short term.

"Having a balanced diet can not only support a healthy immune system, but it also can provide the extra energy you might need to cope with stressful life events," she says. "Omega-3 fats and vegetables, for example, when incorporated into a balanced diet, can help regulate cortisol levels. Take time to eat your food, pay attention to your meal and be sure to chew slowly for proper digestion of your food."

She notes that some foods and beverages, like caffeinated drinks and sugary snacks, can contribute to stress, while complex carbohydrates can help stabilize your blood sugar levels, which in turn can help you stay calmer.

However, Grand Rapids, Michigan-based registered dietitian nutritionist Colleen Christensen warns against getting overly concerned about which particular foods you're eating.

"I think one thing about this study is that it doesn't encompass how obsessing over eating a healthy diet can harm us, as well," she tells Eat This, Not That!. "When we follow restrictive diets, even in the name of 'health,' this can raise one's cortisol and perceived stress levels."

She cautions against placing restrictions on your diet and instead taking a more overall view of your health, considering lifestyle factors like sleep quality and finding ways to manage your stress.

For more on the subject, be sure to check out these Sneaky Signs You're Overstressed And What To Do About It, Expert Says.

Clara Olshansky
Clara Olshansky (they/she) is a Brooklyn-based writer and comic whose web content has appeared in Food & Wine, Harper’s Magazine, Men's Health, and Reductress. Read more