Many foods, particularly plant foods, contain anti-nutrients. I wrote at length about what they are and how to get around them in this newsletter. Very briefly, anti-nutrients and toxins occur naturally in grains, nuts, seeds and beans for a variety of reasons. Phytates, for example, block seeds from sprouting prematurely. Protease inhibitors, saponins, lectins and phytoestrogens harm insects, animals and other predators that would otherwise eat too many of them. Plants do not want to be eaten any more than animals do, but since they can’t run, growl, bite, or claw at creatures that want to eat them, they have developed some very sophistical chemical weapons to ward off hungry passers-by.
So even if you are eating the most nutritious foods, you may not be getting all the nutritional benefit you could. But that’s not what I want to talk about today. The anti-nutrient I want to mention is stress. I have written about it many times. Not only is what you eat important, but when, how often and how you eat! In Today is Still the Day I talk about the importance of eating meals calmly and slowly without scarfing them down standing at a counter or in the car. There’s a very good reason for that!
Stress is the ultimate anti-nutrient, making you unable to fully absorb all the vitamins, minerals and other nutrients you so carefully chose to put on your plate. Here’s why:
When you feel agitated, worried, or tense while eating, it actually changes your body’s physiology. And it doesn’t have to be crazy, in your face stress. Even if you are constantly worrying about food quality, whether you are making a good choice, this is low-level, under the radar stress, but it is still stress. Crazy as it may seem, anxious thoughts about food can cause enough stress to compromise your digestion.
Any guilt, judgment about health, or shame about your choices is perceived as a stressor by the brain and turns on your sympathetic nervous system, triggering your body’s stress response. To your body, any kind of stress screams, “Danger!” Once your fight or flight response kicks in, your body produces more of the stress hormone, cortisol. Your muscles tense; your heart beats faster; your blood pressure and blood sugar rises. Now, your appetite increases, particularly for sugary, high-carb foods. Your thyroid gets sluggish, so your metabolism slows down. Even your immune system becomes compromised. AND, your digestion shuts down.
With your digestive system being attacked from all these directions, it isn’t difficult to see that your body would have difficulty processing the food, no matter how healthy. It cannot fully, completely and effectively absorb and digest what you are eating.
When you are under any type of stress your body is created to go into protective mode – to preserve energy and store fat (so you can survive), not absorb and digest the nutrients in your meal. Over time this can seriously damage your digestive system by weakening the gut lining, causing leaky gut and compromising your microbiome.
Your body experiences exactly the same cascade of hormonal changes whether it’s an actual event (like a financial challenge) or a thought that sets off the stress response. It doesn’t even matter whether those thoughts are true or not. As long as you believe them, the stress response with all it’s negative fall out is created..
Do you make it a point to eat in a calm relaxed manner? Do you think it might be harming you not do do so?
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