Stress is a common feature in the lives of many American citizens, whether it is due to our career, financial situation, or family life. Studies show that three out of four Americans experience stress at levels that cause them to experience a range of stress related physical symptoms. Stress can often manifest itself in numerous adverse ways, causing stomach upsets, insomnia, headaches, elevation in blood pressure, changes in appetite and muscle tension and pain. Over half of stress sufferers claim that fatigue is their most frequent symptom.
Many people turn to food to comfort themselves from the emotional burden of stress. While foods can comfort us in these overwhelming times, many of the foods that we typically choose can be detrimental to our health – think pizza, pasta, chocolate, fast-food or anything overly processed. Foods that contain a lot of sugar, starch and excess fats may initially comfort us, however they eventually worsens the body’s stress by increasing inflammation, depressing the immune system, and increasing our risk for diseases such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure and diabetes.
Luckily, there are foods out there that can improve our moods, comfort the body, calm the mind and decrease stress without compromising our wellbeing. These stress-reducing foods work by stimulating the release of endorphins, supporting the immune system and harmonizing neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine for optimal brain function. Next time you are feeling stressed or overwhelmed, skip the usual comfort choices like sugary ice cream or a fatty burger, and try some of the following healthy options.
1. Avocados – If you are craving something rich and creamy like ice cream, pudding or pie, whip up a smooth avocado. They contain healthy oils comprised of monounsaturated fats which are good for keeping the heart, skin and hair healthy and they satisfy those creamy cravings.
2. Berries – All berries, including strawberries, raspberries, and blackberries, are rich in vitamin C, which has been shown to be helpful in combating stress. However, blueberries have some of the highest levels of an antioxidant known as anthocyanin, and they’ve been linked to all kinds of positive health outcomes, including sharper cognition. Add berries to your yogurt, cereals, or smoothie and see the results they have on concentration and overall wellbeing. You can even freeze them and have them for a tasty and cool summer snack.
3. Turkey – Turkey is a great food to calm the mood, and alleviate stress. Turkey contains tryptophan, an amino acid that boosts serotonin production in the brain. Have turkey as a main source of protein in your meals or add it to soup or salad. Turkey is great in sandwiches, and of course should be included in meals during the holiday season (since it is typically a stressful time for many people).
4. Spinach – This dark green leafy is great source of magnesium and fiber, and it helps to boost energy levels. Magnesium is a mineral that helps relax muscles and promote a sense of calm. Spinach is a great base for a leafy salad and can be prepared in a variety of great tasting combinations. The leafy green food is also relatively tasteless which makes it great for green smoothies. Combine spinach, bananas, strawberries, and almonds with ice and a little cacao and raw honey for a delicious “anytime” stress-busting smoothie that will knock your socks off.
5. Salmon – Not only does this fish full of Omega 3 essential fatty acids and DHA (docosahexanoic acid) help to boost serotonin production, it also helps to nourish the brain while mitigating stress hormones. Concurrently, the Omega 3 in salmon reduces inflammation and promotes healthy blood flow both of which are decreased during times of high stress. To avoid high levels of mercury, choose wild Alaskan salmon. Add salmon to your diet up to three times a week in salads, grilled, blackened or lightly pan-seared. Sushi (sashimi or ngiri) is another alternative to traditionally prepared versions.
6. Nuts and seeds – If you are looking for a light, stress-fighting snack that you can take on the go, nuts and seeds are great option to take the edge off a demanding day. They are a rich source of Omega 3 and Omega 6 essential fatty acids, both which help reduce stress. Selenium deficiency is associated with depression, fatigue and anxiety. Almonds are an excellent source of selenium, magnesium, zinc and Vitamin E, which all help boost your immune system. Walnuts are one of the best sources of Omega 3s, and cashews and sunflower seeds contain tryptophan, which boosts serotonin production. Add walnuts or cashews to a smoothie or create your own healthy trail-mix with almonds, cashews, walnuts, dried berries and dark chocolate for a tasty on-the-go stress-relieving snack.
7. Oatmeal – You can also start your day off stress-free with this healthy carbohydrate that boosts serotonin. Oats are a rich source of magnesium and potassium, which calm the mind, and lower blood pressure. Have a bowl in the morning of rolled or steel cut oats, and incorporate your choice of blueberries, strawberries and even walnuts. Add a little cinnamon to the mix for a kick, and get the added benefit of stabilizing your blood sugar.
8. Citrus fruit – Oranges, grapefruit, and other citrus fruits are a great way to get your vitamin C, which studies show reduces stress levels. Plus, vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that boosts your immune system. Have an orange in the afternoon for a calming and nourishing snack.
9. Sweet potatoes and carrots – Root vegetables are a good source of fiber and carbohydrates, which can help to boost serotonin production. Plus, because they are subtly sweet, they can offset cravings for sugar. Sweet potatoes and carrots are also a great source of vitamins and minerals that are good for your blood pressure and your heart. Have a handful of baby carrots with some almond butter in the afternoon or a sweet potato with dinner a couple of times a week.
10. Broccoli – This vegetable is packed with a lot of vitamins including stress-fighting B vitamins and folic acid (a member of the all-important B vitamin family, which many people are deficient in). The B vitamins are great for relieving stress, anxiety, and depression. Steam, sautee or add broccoli to casseroles and salads. For on-the-go health and stress relief, put a few crowns in a sandwich bag, and put a little light ceasar or ranch in a small Tupperware and whip it out whenever you feel the need for a stress reducing snack.
11. Dairy – Low-fat milk and cottage cheese are loaded with protein and calcium which can soothe anxiety and calm moods. Cottage cheese is both low in fat and sugar. The calcium in milk helps strengthen and relax the nervous system which can help the body manage stress. Waistline tip: Pick a brand of cottage cheese that doesn’t compensate for the low fat level by adding starches, fillers and sugars, as these can be bad for your stress and your waistline. You can add berries and other stress reducing fruits to your cottage, and try your milk warm just before bedtime as a soothing way to help the body relax before sleep.
Dr. Maiysha Clairborne is a holistic family physician, medical acupuncturist, life balance coach, and certified NLP/Hypnotherapy and Timeline Therapy Practitioner. The founder of Mind Body Spirit Wellness Inc, The Wellness Blueprint, and DocSupport MD, Dr. Clairborne focuses helping her clients achieve and maintaining physical, emotional, and spiritual balance through her various wellness and coaching programs. Her website (http://create-your-blueprint.