Stress is that one buzzword that simply keeps coming up in everyday life – at work, at home, at school, in traffic…. or even at birthday parties and gyms! Not all stress is bad news, some of it is good stress too – in fact, stress is a necessary part of life and all the decisions that we take to exist and thrive. However, in the most colloquial sense, stress is defined as the degree to which one feels overwhelmed or unable to cope as a result of unmanageable pressures.
Although there are many ways in which stress can be managed, food and nutrition can play a very important role. Eating healthy and on time is a good start, but every now & then when those deadlines begin to loom and the pressure begins to mount, our food often takes a back seat. Fluctuating blood sugars affect our mood as well as our emotional response. This in turn, sadly, starts to cause strain in interpersonal relationships and energy drain.
Here are my top 7 stress buster foods that can help to manage just those down days and some ideas on how to incorporate them into your plan as well:
Oatmeal: Carbohydrates are not just an important source of energy, they also are a great source of serotonin, a neurotransmitter extremely important for regulating mood and feelings of happiness and wellness. Simple carbohydrates from sugary cereal bars and cookies can cause a unwanted spikes and drops in blood sugar. Instead, a complex carb like oatmeal is a good way to get the serotonin and at the same time go easy on the blood sugar.
Berries: These gorgeously colorful fruits are rich in antioxidants and flavonoids. While antioxidants help in fighting the stress effects of free radicals, flavonoids have been shown to improve cognitive function and reduce depressive tendencies and improve mood. Blueberries have been shown to increase natural killer cells that are vital in immunity and critical for stress defense. Raspberries, red currants, grapes, blackberries, strawberries (watch out of pesticide levels). The Indian seasonal berries are even better, jamuns(Indian blackberry), amla (Indian gooseberry), shahtoot (Indian mulberry) are a better option to keep your diet fresh and local (for my Indian audience).
Green leafy vegetables: Yes! You can’t get through many healthy lists without this group! In this list, it’s the folate, a water soluble B vitamin, that is required for healthy cell growth and metabolism and is necessary for the proper biosynthesis of dopamine and other neurotransmitters. Dopamine is a pleasure-inducing neurotransmitter and a mood regulator. If you want to keep your mood and stress levels in a good place, make sure you get your daily servings of green leafies. Throw in some baby spinach into a sandwich or salad and you’re done! No cooking even!
Nuts & Seeds: Power packed with nutrients, calories, good fats and stress-busting goodness. There are so many reasons to have these handy babies around – better still mix them together with some dried fruits for your own trail mix. Nuts like cashews are super rich in Zinc as well as Iron, Magnesium and Vitamin B6 and many other minerals that support the nervous system as well as influence mood. An interesting nut to add is the elegant pistachio. Research has shown that the snapping sound along with the repetitive action of working the pistachios has a calming effect on fraying nerves. They’re also rich in phytonutrients that support cardiovascular health. Seeds like flaxseed, sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds are another good source of omega 3s, especially for vegetarians, and can help to alleviate depression, fatigue, irritability as well as symptoms of PMS.
Bananas: My mother will particularly be pleased with this entry, bananas being her favorite fruit. Maybe that’s why she’s one of the calmest people I know! 🙂 Bananas are not just rich in Potassium, they’re also a great source of Vitamin B6 which help in optimizing nervous function and decrease stress effects and fatigue. Better news still is that bananas are a good source of serotonin – that feel good & mood elevator.
Protein: Now I know this is a macronutrient and not necessarily a food, but proteins like poultry, fish, cheeses, tofu, lentils, beans and eggs all contain an essential amino acid, essential in the creation of serotonin in the body.
Chocolate: I had to save the best for the last! Eating 40 gm of dark chocolate (at least 70% cocoa) has been shown to reduce stress by lowering cortisol and epinephrine levels – both notorious stress hormones. Antioxidants in the chocolate have been shown to relax the walls of blood vessels and lower blood pressure as well as improve circulation. Serotonin and other compounds in chocolate show an improvement in PMS symptoms. Lastly, the presence of anandamide (named after the Sanskrit term, ‘ananda‘ meaning ‘bliss’), a neurotransmitter that creates a sense of euphoria and bliss – similar to the feeling of being in love.
First published on LinkedIn here.