A foodie's quest to turn up the heat through strength and conditioning with whole food and a hungry mind.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Friday Five: Relaaaaaax....with these Anti-stress Foods

Food is a common go-to item when we are stressed. A problem for most of us is the type of food we choose usually provides little to no nutritional value since they are most likely processed and packaged products. Pick a day to spend an hour or two putting healthier options together so they are ready when you need them.

There are many healthy foods than provide essential vitamins, minerals, and nutrients to help ease tension at work, on the road, at home, or anywhere. Since it is Friday, most of us should have lower stress levels, but gather one or all of the following foods to prepare for the dreaded Monday and keep away from unhealthy alternatives.
A shortage of selenium is associated with increased anxiety, depression, and fatigue. Nuts like Almonds and Brazil nuts contain selenium, and we don’t need a lot of it to ease stress. Most nuts are also a good source of other minerals like magnesium and zinc, along with vitamins B2 and E. A daily dose (just a handful) of mixed nuts a day will be enough to keep you from going…errr….nuts. Other foods with selenium (but not as much as nuts) are Shitake mushrooms, tuna, salmon, and other fatty (the healthy kind) fish.

Spinach and Broccoli
Magnesium and potassium help to keep our nerves and muscles relaxed. A deficiency in these minerals can lead to muscle tension, cramps, irritability, and fatigue. Spinach and broccoli happen to be a powerhouse for both minerals, and are also an excellent source of vitamin A, C, E, iron and folate. Just one cup of fresh spinach or broccoli a day will go a long way at keeping stress in check. Opt for organic when possible as these veggies are among the highest in pesticides. Other foods high in magnesium include halibut, pumpkin seeds, and peppermint Alternative sources of potassium include avocado, banana, kale, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, winter squash, eggplant, and tomatoes. Herbs like basil, lemon balm, and chamomile also provide a healthy dose of stress-fighting minerals; sprinkle on top of most meals and wash anxiety away with flavor!

Low-fat or Skim Milk
Is it surprising that milk has a calming effect? Milk works because it contains the protein amino acid tryptophan, which is converted to serotonin. This neurotransmitter not only helps you to relax, but also makes you sleep more soundly. Milk is high in antioxidants and vitamins B2 and B12, as well as protein and calcium. A bowl of whole-grain cereal with low-fat or skim is a great way to start or end your stressful day. To note, tryptophan occurs naturally in nearly all foods that contain protein; including most nuts, seeds, legumes, fish, and meat.

Complex carbohydrates enhance the absorption of tryptophan, which is used to manufacture serotonin; basically nature’s Prozac. Oats provide high quality starches that won’t flood your blood with sugars which might cause an insulin spike. They are also a good source of soluble fiber which helps to lower cholesterol in your blood. To get the soothing effect from oats, eat them together with a protein like nuts, seeds, milk, yogurt, or cottage cheese. Try making the Overnight Oats I posted about in the past; baked as a portable snack, or right out of the container are both tasty options. Popular alternatives are whole, unrefined grains and legumes you can choose to help quell stress levels.

Reduced Fat Cottage Cheese or Plain YogurtReduced fat cottage cheese is high in protein and calcium, and low in fat and sugar. Plain yogurt has a higher sugar content, but it is naturally occurring, and equally satisfying. Mix one of these with fruit high in vitamin C like blueberries, strawberries, or oranges since vitamin C plays a vital role in fighting free radicals that get released when you're stressed. Beware of non-fat cottage cheese and there are many added gums, starches, and other fillers to maintain an ideal consistency. I found that the Daisy and Nancy's brands are the only available varieties with just skim milk, cream, and salt as ingredients in my area. As with most protein containing foods, cottage cheese is also a great source of the essential amino acid tryptophan.

I just noticed 3 of my 5 choices include a bowl and a spoon.  If you can't tell, if I have a bowl/cup and spoon in hand, chances are my stress levels are low!

Do you already include these foods in your diet but you’re still stressed? There are several foods that can contribute to raising stress levels and should be consumed moderately or not at all.  These include caffeinated beverages, trans fatty acids, sugar, and alcohol. Caffeine is known to cause anxiety and raise stress hormone levels; trans fats compromise the immune system; which causes more stress on the body and increases your risk for heart disease; sugar can spike blood sugar levels, which robs your adrenal glands of their ability to control stress hormones and protect the body against stress; excessive alcohol consumption is also harmful to the adrenal glands. Just keep these products limited in your daily life and you should be safe.

Most people are able to find one of the five things I listed as something they enjoy eating. Try incorporating these in your diet and see if you are able to better manage your stress levels. A point to keep in mind is that these foods are meant to help reduce stress in your life, diet alone will not solve everything, but it’s a great step in the right direction.

What do you plan on using/eating to battle stress in your life?

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