When stressed, most people turn to comfort food, usually high in calories and full of fat. But, interestingly there are many superfoods or healthy foods that have a natural ability to relieve stress. These stress reducing foods will not only help you relax, they will also satisfy your cravings, provide you with energy and to boot, they will fill you up with healthy nutrients.
Stress, even the ordinary life stresses, cause our cortisol to rise. Cortisol increases our food cravings. In women, this is particularly bad, because our cravings tend to be strongest for carbohydrates. And usually it does not mean the good carbs like oatmeal, but rather sweet sugary foods. The more we indulge these cravings the worse our moods gets. It’s a no win situation.
In addition to the cravings, cortisol stimulates an enzyme in our fat cells which causes us to produce more cortisol. Interestingly, most of this enzyme is found in the belly fat, which also has four times as many cortisol receptors as regular fat cells. It is for this reason that women who are stressed accumulate more belly fat.
10 – Healthy Stress Reducing Foods
By choosing healthy stress reducing foods over junk food, you can actually positively impact your mood, relieve your tension, stabilize your blood sugar, and finally, send your stress packing.
I have compiled a list of 10 stress reducing foods to help uplift your mood. Enjoy!
Asparagus can help calm you and improve your mood. It is a nutrient-rich vegetable. Asparagus is high in folate, vitamin K, many anti-inflammatory nutrients and a variety of antioxidant nutrients including vitamin C and zinc.
Some of its nutrients are important in producing serotonin, a chemical messenger that is believed to stabilize your mood. Research shows that serotonin levels have an effect on mood and behavior, and this chemical is commonly linked to feeling good and living longer.
Asparagus is also especially rich in glutathione, a detoxifying compound that can help destroy carcinogens. For this reason, asparagus may help fight or protect against certain cancers, including bone, breast, lung and colon cancers. (reference).
Fish Rich In Omega 3
Fatty fish, such as salmon and tuna, among others, are rich in healthy omega 3 fatty acids. These fatty acids have been shown to significantly reduce stress and anxiety.
In a study from Ohio State University researchers found that when their study subjects were given omega 3 supplements their anxiety dropped by 20%. The subject who received placebo instead, remained anxious. Another study showed that omega 3 fatty acids inhibit activation of adrenaline and keeps the stress in check.
It is well known that carbohydrates improve your mood. They do it by kick-starting serotonin production in your brain. Oatmeal is rich in carbohydrates (starch which converts to glucose) and fiber. Oats are not easily digestible and to digest them takes longer. As a result, serotonin is produced and released at a more slow and steady pace.
Having a bowl of oatmeal for breakfast can help you keep calm all day long (according to J. Wurtman, Ph.D., co-author of the Serotonin Power Diet).
Yes, it is true. Chocolate does make you happy. The reason for its ability to lift your mood lies in the stress hormone reduction and energizing properties of the compounds found in chocolate, such as theobromine, phenylethylamine and caffeine. Chocolate stimulates our pleasure centers in the brain and the release of endorphins.
Chocolate also contains relaxing antioxidants called flavonoids. And, the darker the chocolate more of these flavonoids are present.
The purest and best form of all these stress reducing compounds of chocolate is, of course, pure cocoa powder. In order to maximize the effect of chocolate, drink chocolate milk that you prepare yourself. I like to make mine by adding 2 heaping tablespoons of cocoa powder to 2 percent milk. I do not add any sugar to my chocolate milk. I love the slight bitter taste.
Milk is high in antioxidants and it is rich in bone-building calcium, vitamin B, vitamin D and protein. It helps to relieve tense muscles and boost the production of calming serotonin. Try drinking some low fat milk before bedtime to bring on a more restful sleep.
The sugar in milk, lactose, breaks down into 2 simple sugars: glucose and galactose. The latter sugar has beneficial effects on kidneys.
Apart from the benefits I mentioned above, drinking milk and eating dairy products helps cut the risk for developing the metabolic syndrome (rampant in North America). To quench thirst have a glass of cold skim milk to get the benefits.
Cashews, the buttery tasting nuts are rich in omega 3 fatty acids and zinc. In fact one ounce of these nuts contain 11 percent of the daily recommended value of zinc. Zinc is an essential mineral that helps to reduce anxiety. This happens because zinc is thought to affect the levels of a nerve chemical that affects mood. Mood swings appear to be caused by a drop and /or fluctuation of zinc in your body.
There are other zinc rich foods, like chicken, beef, oysters but what is appealing about cashews is their content of healing omega 3 fatty acids.
Did you know that according to the World Happiness report the Swiss people are the happiest. Their happiness is credited to their beautiful surrounding and also to their healthy eating habits.
They love their chocolate and they love their famous cheeses. And cheese indeed can make you happy. Cheese, like milk, is rich in calcium, protein and tryptophan that induces relaxation by boosting the production of serotonin. In fact, eating cheese daily, helps reduce blood pressure, improve mood and even reduce belly fat (which, as you read above, is linked to the stress hormone cortisol).
Green Leafy Salad
Dark green leafy vegetables, such as spinach are rich in folate. Folate helps to produce mood regulating transmitters which include serotonin and dopamine. We’ve talked about the good mood influencer, serotonin. Folate also produces dopamine which is a known pleasure inducing brain chemical that helps to keep you calm. A 2012 Finnish study found that people who consumed the most folate had a lower rate of depression than people who consumed very little folate.
Another study has found that young adults felt happier and less stressed when they ate fruits and vegetables. Their results suggested that healthy fruits and vegetables are a driving force towards an emotional well being.
From these studies, it appears that what you eat today will determine your mood tomorrow.
Contrary to what you may have heard, red meat is very good for you. It contains high level of zinc, iron and B vitamins which help you stabilize your mood. Just 3 ounces of lean beef contains 1/2 your recommended daily allowance of B12.
To boot, according to Woman’s World, eating lean beef makes you half as likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease and memory loss. It is done by reducing amino acid levels that lead to brain disease and preventing brain shrinkage as you age.
Did you know that much of the secret of improving your mental health is in your gut? Unhealthy, toxic flora in your gut will negatively impact your brain and cause symptoms of anxiety, depression, bad mood and a whole host of other mental and behavioral disorders. Studies have shown that beneficial bacteria transmit mood regulating signals to your brain.
For example, research showed that the probiotic Lactobacillus rhamnosus markedly effects the levels of Gamma-Amino Butyric acid (GABA) in the brain. This is an amino acid which acts as a neurotransmitter in the central nervous system. It inhibits nerve transmission in the brain and the stress-induced hormone corticosterone is lowered. This results in reduced anxiety and depression related behavior.
Another study revealed that when women regularly consumed yogurt with beneficial bacteria the emotion and sensation center of the brain was positively affected.
In conclusion, as you can see your diet plays an important role in stress management. By replacing the sugary comfort foods with some of these wonderful stress reducing foods I listed, you can effectively change your mood and relieve anxiety. Then, with a clearer mind you will be able to effectively attack the problem that is actually causing you the stress.