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Fruits and veggies lower stress risk

When you begin to feel overwhelmed with stress and your heart starts beating faster, you might be tempted to reach for a donut, some pasta or a piece of chocolate. These familiar comfort foods might make you feel better for a little bit, but over time, fresh vegetables and fruits may do more to help you feel cool as a cucumber.

New research shows that incorporating servings of fresh fruits and vegetables into your diet may lower your risk of stress.

"Eating fruits and vegetables every day can help you maintain a healthy weight and prevent health problems like diabetes and heart disease," said Gina McArdle, a registered dietitian nutritionist at Geisinger. "This new research supports the idea that nutrient-rich foods may also protect the body from stress."

The study found that people who ate three to four servings of fruits and vegetables each day were 12 percent less likely to feel stressed than those who had zero to one serving.

People who had five to seven servings of fruit and vegetables were 14 percent less likely to feel the effects of stress, compared to people who had zero to four servings.

In the study, women saw a bigger benefit than men. Women who ate five to seven servings of fruits and vegetables each day saw a 23 percent decrease in a stress risk.

Feelings of stress were measured using a 10-question survey that is used to assess anxiety and depression called the Kessler Psychological Distress Scale.

"Stress isn’t just a negative feeling in your head, it’s a biological response to a threat in your environment," said McArdle. "Stress contributes to many mild and serious diseases, from headaches and difficulty sleeping to heart disease and diabetes."

Stress can cause a litany of negative short-term effects on the body, including high blood pressure, chest pain and upset stomach.

Over time, stress can elevate problems with asthma, diabetes, anxiety, depression, some skin conditions and gastrointestinal problems like irritable bowel syndrome.

Of course, eating a healthy diet may not only reduce stress levels, it also helps safeguard against many serious health issues.

Adult women should eat one-and-a-half to two cups of fruit and two to two-and-a-half cups of vegetables each day. Men should eat two cups of fruit and two-and-a-half to three cups of vegetables each day.

Eating the daily recommended amount of fruits and vegetables can help you maintain a healthy weight and lower your risk of heart disease, diabetes and some forms of cancer.

"What you eat is closely connected to your health—if you eat a healthier diet you’re likely going to have a healthier life," said McArdle.

Gina McArdle is a registered dietitian nutritionist at Geisinger Community Medical Center. For more information, please call 800-275-6401 or visit Geisinger.org. 

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