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Stress and Eating

By Charlyn Fargo

It’s amazing that a little extra stress in your life can result in a few extra pounds. As the cortisol increases, so does our tendency to gain weight. The more stressed we are, the more likely we are to grab something – anything – and it may not always be the healthiest option. Maybe that’s why our Apple watches tell us to “breathe” and why yoga classes are now so trendy. It’s so important to find a way to reduce the stress in our lives.

Stress has other consequences as well – even for your kids. The right nutrition can help ward off anxiety and lessen the strain. (And by the way, it works for adults as well.)

Providing your kids a balanced diet will help them cope with new schedules, new teachers and new learning experiences. Studies have linked improper nutrition with inability to focus, anxiety and even depression in children and teens. Healthy eating has a positive effect on grades and test performances, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Start with a healthy breakfast and follow up with a lunch that’s packed with at least two of these food groups: fruits and vegetables, lean protein, whole grains, low-fat dairy and healthy fats. Make a peanut butter sandwich on whole wheat-bread – try adding fresh berries or bananas instead of jelly – pack some grapes, carrot sticks and hummus and low-fat milk. Or how about a trail mix (with healthy nuts and seeds) with a kiwi and some low-fat Greek yogurt?

It helps to change things up – different fruits and vegetables, different lean protein, different whole grains. Serve fruits and veggies that contain vitamin C, which can help keep kids’ immune systems healthy. Whole grains offer fiber, which helps keep blood sugar steady. Tuna can be a great source of protein and healthy fat, which allow bodies to absorb vitamins. Combine tuna with yogurt (instead of mayo) and add some lettuce or tomatoes. Or send a fruit, veggie and cheese plate.

Think about whether the snacks you’re packing for lunch offer protein and fiber. (That’s the key to choosing a healthier snack.) Potato chips don’t, but Harvest Snaps or Beanitos – made from peas and beans, respectively – do. If you want to add dessert, try frozen grapes and an oatmeal or peanut butter cookie.

The end result may be a happier, less stressed student making better grades.

Q: Does fluid from foods count toward water intake?

A: Absolutely. Some 20% of our fluid intake may come from fluid-rich foods, such as fruits, vegetables and dairy products. However, the majority (80%) of water intake should come from drinks. Water is best, but you can also choose other beverages (just limit the ones with sugar, additives, caffeine and artificial ingredients). Warmer temperatures, exercise and age increase the need for more hydration. Some symptoms of being dehydrated include increased thirst, headache, constipation, dry mouth, dry skin, sudden weight loss, muscle fatigue and feeling sleepy. A good way to stay hydrated is to keep a glass of water handy.

Charlyn Fargo is a registered dietitian at Hy-Vee in Springfield, Illinois, and the media representative for the Illinois Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. For comments or questions, contact her at or follow her on Twitter @NutritionRD.



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