Stress and Food Part 2 – Inflammation

Inflammation is not always a bad thing. After all, it is a vital part of the body’s natural immune response to fight infections and protect injuries. Our bodies, however, are not meant to constantly be in a state of inflammation as this can have negative impacts on our brain chemistry, tissues, and internal organs. Factors that can contribute to inflammation include lack of sleep, stress, a sedentary lifestyle, smoking, excess alcohol, and some foods including refined sugars and processed foods. Eating foods which help to minimize your body’s inflammatory response may help to improve the chemical composition of our brains and thus, our mood. 

Below are a few easy swaps for these foods that can contribute to inflammation.

Choose less oftenChoose more often
Refined carbohydrates such as white bread, pastriesWhole grain breads and wraps, quinoa,  brown rice, oatmeal for breakfast.  
Fried food (e.g. French fries, onion rings)  Roasted potatoes or sweet potatoes. Or choose a side salad or veggie soup with your next TAM.
Sugar-sweetened beverages (e.g. pop or energy drinks)  Flavoured sparkling water (offered in the freestyle machine), water with lemon, lime, or berries. Tip: carry your water bottle around campus!
Red meat and processed meats (e.g. sausages, hot dogs, deli meat)  chicken, turkey, salmon, tuna, plant proteins such as beans, lentils or tofu.
Saturated and trans fats including partially hydrogenated oils, shortening and lard (e.g. often used in baked goods)Unsaturated fats including olive oil, canola oil or avocado oil. Note: the dining halls use canola oil for cooking!

Remember: French fries, hot dogs, pop and white grains are all completely fine to eat in moderation! Maintaining a balanced plate means balancing these foods with other nutritious foods and plenty of water.

A note on Caffeine:

Though coffee, energy drinks, and caffeinated teas might feel like your best friend when studying for midterms or finishing that paper, excessive amounts of caffeine can increase cortisol levels. If you want a warm pick me up, try a herbal tea, like peppermint or chamomile, or a decaf latte. To help get a restful sleep, limit caffeine intake within 8 hours of bedtime. Read more about caffeine here.

Our stress levels are not only impacted by our current circumstances; they can also be impacted by what we choose to eat. Therefore, eating a balanced diet, filled with nutritious fruits, vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats and proteins can be an effective strategy to reduce your cortisol levels and resulting stress levels.

For more strategies on managing exam anxiety, visit Student Wellness Services Resources here.

Disclaimer: A balanced diet is not a replacement for a trained therapist. If you are unable to cope with your symptoms, please seek help with a mental health professional. You can find more information on the Student Wellness Services website here

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Screen-Shot-2020-12-07-at-8.20.29-AM.png

Written by Annie Macgregor, reviewed by Hospitality Services Registered Dietitian.

Annie is a 4th year nursing student at Queen’s University. Previously, she completed an MSc in physical activity epidemiology at Queen’s and a BSc in kinesiology from the University of Guelph. Annie’s interests lie in the fields of nutrition, and health, and hopes to one day work in pediatrics or urgent care


Adan, R. A. H., van der Beek, E. M., Buitelaar, J. K., Cryan, J. F., Hebebrand, J., Higgs, S., Schellekens, H., & Dickson, S. L. (2019). Nutritional psychiatry: Towards improving mental health by what you eat. European Neuropsychopharmacology, 29(12), 1321–1332.

Bonaccio, M., Di Castelnuovo, A., Bonanni, A., Costanzo, S., De Lucia, F., Pounis, G., Zito, F., Donati, M. B., de Gaetano, G., & Iacoviello, L. (2013). Adherence to a Mediterranean diet is associated with a better health-related quality of life: A possible role of high dietary antioxidant content. BMJ Open, 3(8), e003003.

Peirce, J. M., & Alviña, K. (2019). The role of inflammation and the gut microbiome in depression and anxiety. Journal of Neuroscience Research, 97(10), 1223–1241.

Phillips, C. M., Shivappa, N., Hébert, J. R., & Perry, I. J. (2018). Dietary inflammatory index and mental health: A cross-sectional analysis of the relationship with depressive symptoms, anxiety and well-being in adults. Clinical Nutrition, 37(5), 1485–1491.

Dietitian & Allergy Appointment Buy Flex $
& Campus Meal Plans