The best comfort foods for stress management

You know how bad you feel when a stressful situation hits — it not only affects your emotions but can also keep you tossing and turning all night.

Now, researchers have discovered an unusual reason this occurs and an equally unusual way to cope…

Most of us fall victim to coping mechanisms like “emotional eating” when we’re stressed.  Comfort foods seems to make us feel better, but if we choose the wrong ones — like sweets — we end up sinking lower than when we started.

But that desire to be comforted by food may not be too far off. We just need to focus on another kind of food…

And that would be prebiotics.

You may have heard of probiotics — the friendly bacteria that live in your gut and keep it healthy — but prebiotics may be something you’re less familiar with.

Prebiotics are certain types of non-digestible fibers that probiotic bacteria feed on. You can think of the probiotics in your gut as soldiers that work day in and day out to fight off bad bacteria. Prebiotics are fuel for those soldiers so they can keep going about their work full-strength.

And new research shows they’re a valuable tool in helping your body handle stress…

Prebiotics help your body deal with stress

A new animal study investigated the effects that prebiotic foods have on the stress response — and the findings were quite interesting…

One group was fed prebiotics for several weeks before encountering a stressful situation. Surprisingly, they experienced much less stress-induced disruption in their biological systems than the group who missed out on the prebiotic nourishment.

In the animals lacking prebiotic nourishment, loss of sleep and a disrupted gut microbiome were two common stress responses. The animals provided prebiotics experienced no such effects.

In response to stress, sleep disturbance is common. But poor sleep for any length of time has been shown to increase your risk of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, stroke and dementia. The researchers found that prebiotics can help you recover normal sleep patterns after a stressful situation.

And it’s all linked to the health of your gut…

The far-reaching importance of your gut

Research has shown both acute and chronic stress can disrupt your gut microbiome. Whether it’s a sudden acute stress like a car accident or chronic stress from slaving away in your demanding job, the ratio of good to bad bacteria in your gut can get thrown out of proportion.

When your gut houses too many bad bacteria you are more prone to develop health problems like allergies, gut inflammation and poor sleep.

Boosting the health of your gut microbiome may help “absorb the shock” from a stressful situation and keep your sleep-wake cycle on track.

To make your gut — and your body — stress resistant, just add plenty of prebiotic foods to your daily diet.

There is no recommended amount to eat every day, but if you mix and match the following foods you can ensure you get your daily dose:

  • Jerusalem artichokes
  • Chicory
  • Green peas
  • Leeks
  • Onions
  • Shallots
  • Spring onions
  • Dandelion greens
  • Fennel bulb
  • Beets
  • Cashews
  • Garlic
  • Pistachio nuts

If you’re wondering how to incorporate these foods into your everyday life, here are some inspirational ideas:

  • Shallots, spring onions and garlic can be added to savory sauces, soups and dips.
  • Jerusalem artichokes are a great salad topper.
  • Dandelion greens can be a fun addition to your salad.
  • Leeks can be the star of main dishes like soups, pastas and savory pies.
  • Chicory can be made into a tasty coffee substitute.

Or, give Kelley’s great recipes a try:

Sources:

  1. Thompson RS, et al. Dietary Prebiotics and Bioactive Milk Fractions Improve NREM Sleep, Enhance REM Sleep Rebound and Attenuate the Stress-Induced Decrease in Diurnal Temperature and Gut Microbial Alpha Diversity. — Front. Behav. Neurosci. 2017;10:240.
  2. Epstein MD, et al. (2015). Improving sleep: a guide to a good night’s rest. — Harvard Health Publication. 16-22.

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Jedha Dening

By Jedha Dening

Jedha Dening is a qualified nutritionist (MNutr), researcher, author, freelance writer, and founder of type 2 diabetic nutrition site Diabetes Meal Plans. Her masters thesis on nutrition and inflammation was published and then presented at a national scientific conference. She has millions of words published in the health industry across various print and online publications. Having been in the field for over 15 years, she’s incredibly passionate about delving into the latest research to share the myths and truths surrounding nutrition and health. She believes when armed with the right knowledge, we’re empowered to make informed choices that can truly make a difference.