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Healthy nutrition helps reduce stress
By Marcus Daniels
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Hurricane Katrina continues to turn lives upside down, but neglecting nutritious eating habits can lead to a vicious cycle of depression and poor health.
Sharon Haynes, area nutrition and food safety agent with Mississippi State University's Extension Service based in Winston County, said healthy diets may sound unrealistic given the magnitude of the disaster, but they remain important.
"People impacted by this disaster may forget about nutrition in a time like this, but health is a very important factor nutritionally, physically and mentally. People need healthy bodies to begin the rebuilding process," she said.
Haynes said poor diets can reduce a person's ability to cope with stress and lead to weight gain. Unhealthy diets can be even more dangerous if people have additional health issues such as diabetes or high blood pressure.
When people experience an increase in stress, they may not take much time to plan regular meals, miss getting a good amount of sleep and have low energy levels. Haynes said these conditions make it easy to eat whatever is available and quick, often resulting in poor food choices, high calorie snacks and fast food meals.
"Stress is the No. 1 factor causing people to make unhealthy food choices, followed by a change in their financial or economic status," Haynes said. "Overeating or not eating at all are reactions to stress."
While people may not have much control over the events that cause stress, they have a lot of control over their reactions to them, including how much and what foods are consumed.
"Keep a balanced meal plan that consists of breakfast, lunch and dinner with at least two snacks. Don't skip meals," Haynes said.
Haynes suggested more fruits and vegetables when making food choices because they are rich in fiber and have essential nutrients and vitamins.
"Try to avoid fried foods and caffeinated beverages. Caffeine only contributes to stress," Haynes said. "Instead, opt for beverages like water, fruit juices and milk."
Haynes also advises limiting foods with high-sodium content. Decreasing salt reduces the risk of elevated blood pressure. Keeping blood pressure in the normal range reduces an individual's risk of coronary heart disease, stroke, congestive heart failure and kidney disease.
Nancy Freeman, Harrison County Extension director, helped distribute Meals Ready to Eat, also know as MREs, to survivors.
"MREs are generally for military personnel requiring a high-calorie intake to sustain them in rigorous work," Freeman said. "But for times like these, it's an excellent meal source for breakfast, lunch and dinner to survivors who would not have food otherwise."
Some packages even come equipped with heating devices that allow people without natural gas or electricity to enjoy hot meals.
Because MREs are processed foods with an average shelf life of five to seven years, they are extremely high in sodium. Freeman recommended the food packages as only a temporary food source in times of need. She said some people may suffer adverse effects like constipation or weight gain after eating MREs for a long period of time.
For other nutritious food options and healthy eating habits that aid in stress reduction, visit the U.S. Department of Agriculture Web site at http://www.mypyramid.gov/.
Contact: Sharon Haynes, (662) 773-5531 or Nancy Freeman, (228) 865-4227