Fighting Stress & Inflammation With Food

An interview with Master Nutritional Therapist Christine Battista, CNTP, MNT

From relaxing with teas and supplements to fighting inflammation, nutrition plays a vital role in either combatting or accelerating the negative effects of stress on our bodies. We caught up with our master nutritional therapist, Christine Battista, CNTP, MNT, to discuss this and get some practical recommendations of what we should and shouldn’t be eating.

Hi Christine! Thank you so much for joining us today. Let’s start with something simple. What are some things that people can do nutritionally to help relax?

Oh, that’s a great question. Magnesium is one of my favorites for this. We need that for 300 different enzymatic functions in the body, and it’s found in green, leafy vegetables which of course are great things to be eating a lot of anyway. Then doing magnesium at night in supplement form is also a good idea. It’s very helpful to get that mineral in at bedtime because it helps relax blood vessels and is just really wonderful for calming and de-stressing, which also helps for sleep. So magnesium is always my go to, but there’s also a lot of wonderful teas I’d recommend for relaxation. Chamomile of course, we all know that one. But there’s also many different tea blends out there featuring ashwagandha, lemon balm, passion flower… Those are all very helpful ingredients that work nicely to help you relax.

Great. Of course the other side of relaxation is stress, which most people associate with mental health but plays such a big role in our physical health as well. Is dealing with stress normally part of your nutritional practice?

(This guy has the right idea.)

Christine: Absolutely. Stress of course is part of everyday life for all of us, so I tend to focus on any kind of chronic stress issues that people are having because that’s when it can play a major part on the health of the body. The problem with chronic stress is that it’s accompanied by inflammation—and inflammation is pretty much the root of most disease. The good news is there’s a lot we can do nutritionally to reduce inflammation and also avoid it in the first place.

Wonderful. So where do we start?

Christine: Well, let’s start with turmeric. That’s one of my favorite, favorite, favorite things in the whole wide world for inflammation, and that’s a root in the ginger family. If you’re not familiar with it, it’s quite common in Indian food. And then second would be omega-3s (omega-3 fatty acids). Before reaching for supplements I’d recommend getting your omega-3’s directly from wonderful fish sources like salmon, sardines, and anchovies. Those are three of the top fish sources. And if you’re vegan or vegetarian you might want to look at flax seed—that’s also a wonderful way to get some of those omegas in on a daily basis.

So turmeric and omega-3 fatty acids?

Christine: Yep. Those two things top my list for helping with inflammation in the body systemically which includes dealing with the brain as well as with the gut and with the nervous system. All three of these areas are very affected by inflammation and stress.

So, we talked about reducing inflammation. Is there anything in our diet that actually causes inflammation? I’m thinking of sugar, for example.

Christine: Oh, yes, we will definitely talk about sugar and white carbs. But there’s also a group of vegetables called nightshades that some people need to watch out for. Have you heard of those?

Eggplant is a nightshade, I believe?

Christine: Exactly. Eggplant, peppers, tomatoes, potatoes—those are all in that category and for some people, not everyone, but for some people they can definitely trigger inflammation. I know when I’m working with individuals and we’re trying to reduce their inflammation we look at these very carefully.

That’s fascinating.

Christine: Yeah, nightshades can be a big factor for some people. It doesn’t help that things like potatoes (and pretty much everything that’s grown in the ground, really) are very, very heavily sprayed by conventional farmers. You definitely want to try and choose organic with any kind of potato, including sweet varieties.

Okay, now for the big one. That’s sugar, right?

Christine: Absolutely, sugar is huge. And I mean the white refined sugar, but white carbohydrates, in general, are also bad. White flour, white rice… They all trigger inflammatory responses because they all turn into sugar in the body.

Cutting out sugar is so tough for a lot of people. What’s some advice you’d give to people trying to eat less sugar?

Christine: Well, to stay away from processed foods for sure. Staying away from anything that’s processed or refined because most of that is loaded with sugar, even thinks we wouldn’t usually associate with sugar. Really the best thing you can do here is eat real, organic, clean, whole food. Stuff that you can grow, animals that are grass-fed, wild cod… It’s all about getting back to eating real food and not the stuff that’s in packages. This is a really critical piece for most people.

Great, and what about eating fruit? And using sweeteners?

Christine: I’m personally not against moderate amounts of fruits but I encourage people to try and stay with low-glycemic fruits like berries, for example. Berries are usually low on the glycemic index. And the body utilizes that sugar differently than it does with the processed refined sugar.

For sweeteners, we definitely want to stay away from all the nasty artificial sweeteners for sure. Whole leaf stevia is wonderful and it doesn’t upset the body’s balance in regards to blood sugar levels. That’s one of the best things that diabetic people can put into their diet. Good, raw, organic local honey is also wonderful in small amounts. And xylitol is good as well. The studies are coming around with xylitol so if you want to include that you can.

I noticed agave isn’t on your list so far.

Christine: No, I’m not a big fan of agave. Most agave is highly processed so unless you’re right there living where the agave plant is growing it’s really not the best option. But molasses is another one you could use. Blackstrap molasses.

Do you find that it’s hard for your clients to reduce their sugar and their carbs?

Christine: Gosh, that’s very individualized because it really depends on where they’re at. If I have someone that I’m working with that’s really addicted to that whole sugar thing, then we have to look carefully at that because that blood sugar balancing is such a critical piece to good health. But yes, for some people it’s very difficult, absolutely.

What do you do when it’s really hard for them?

Christine: Oh, there’s things that you can do to help with that, too. There’s minerals… there’s chromium… And there’s a few wonderful herbs as well that are very helpful for glucose balancing and sugar balancing, like gymnema. Gymnema’s a good one. I always think of those when I have someone that’s really in a bad spot, having sugar cravings…

This has been great, Christine. We look forward to talking with you more about your practice, especially as nutrition is such a vital part of integrative health and wellness.

Christine: Absolutely!

If you’d like to talk with Christine Battista, CNTP, MNT, about your nutritional needs, call us at (720)738-8531 to schedule a complimentary 15-minute phone consultation with her.