protein for stress and anxiety infographic

3 Ways that Protein Helps Manage Stress and Anxiety

The pandemic has brought about many stressful changes to people’s way of life in the US and worldwide alike. As such, consumers have increasingly sought out natural ways and supplements to bring relief from the added stress and anxiety. Despite not being a commonly sought out remedy, daily consumption of adequate dietary protein within one’s diet is actually an easy and natural way to help manage stress and reduce anxiety. Here are three ways protein helps to manage stress and anxiety:

1. Protein helps stabilize blood sugar

Blood sugar levels are affected by the foods we eat, most prominently by sugar or carbohydrate-containing foods. Carb or sugar-rich foods raise and can even spike blood sugar without the presence of other mitigating nutrients such as fiber or protein.

Stress also affects blood sugar through the fight or flight response. With acute or short-term stress, our bodies pump out epinephrine (adrenaline) which triggers the release of sugar into the bloodstream so that we have that jolt of energy. Acute stress can be things like a public speaking event or a traffic accident whereas chronic stress is long-term stress such as worrying about the pandemic or dealing with a health issue such as cancer. With long term stress, the release of sugar is constant which can wreak havoc on one’s system and potentially lead to insulin resistance. Add to this stress eating, which is typically nutrient-poor, sugar laden foods that could also mess with blood sugar and lead to weight gain.

While the body naturally generates insulin to regulate blood sugar, certain nutrients like protein and fiber play an assistive role and help to prevent insulin resistance. Dietary protein sources (whether animal or plant-based) contain little to no refined sugar and therefore have little impact on blood sugar. Both fiber and protein help to slow the digestion process, thereby slowing the release of sugars into the bloodstream when consumed as part of a meal.

2. Protein keeps you full and curbs overeating

Satiety is the state of being full and dietary protein consumption is known for inducing satiety and to a greater degree than isocaloric amounts of carbohydrates or fats alone. In other words, eating 150 calories worth of protein would keep one full for longer than 150 calories worth of sugar/carbs or 150 calories worth of fat.

The feeling of fullness appears to result from the release of various “gut hormones“, the presence of amino acids in the bloodstream and thermogenic effect of protein digestion.

While stress and anxiety can lead to emotional eating and result in weight gain, including lean proteins as part of meals and snacks can help to induce satiety and reduce overeating. This is also why high protein diets are recommended for weight loss or weight control.

3. Protein provides tryptophan for mood support

One of the essential amino acids provided by dietary protein is tryptophan. Tryptophan is found richly in seed-based proteins such as pumpkin seed and sacha inchi protein. Tryptophan is uniquely associated with mood support as it is the precursor to serotonin which in turn makes melatonin. Melatonin is a hormone produced by the brain in response to darkness. Because of this, it is the hormone associated with the sleep/wake cycle.

The body cannot make tryptophan, it must be obtained from dietary protein sources. Low levels of tryptophan have been associated with mood disorders such as depression. Tryptophan also appears to have a connection to memory and brain health. As such, adequate protein intake is important to support mood and mental health via tryptophan levels.