Mood and food are intimately related as certain flavours and aromas trigger memories of special occasions and feelings of contentment. All emotions including stress and anxiety trigger chemical responses in our body as hormone levels fluctuate and the sympathetic “fight or flight” system kicks in. With each meal, we have the opportunity to counteract or subdue the stress response with the foods we choose.
Nutritionist Julie Daniluk has some novel foods to add to the list of top-notch stress busters you may want to reach for during
any anxious time. Daniluk, author of Meals that Heal Inflammation, recommends boosting levels of B vitamins, vitamin C and protein while keeping intake of refined sugar to a minimum when adrenaline is running high and you’re feeling frazzled.
A busy schedule can also throw off your the timing of your meals so keeping healthful, wholesome snacks like trail mix and all-natural granola bars in your car or purse can keep you from having a blood sugar freak out.
Here are a few top picks for stress-busting foods:
Seeds and nuts. Don’t let their high calorie count deter you. Seeds and nuts contain valuable B vitamins and a hefty dose of magnesium to help you make calming neurotransmitters like serotonin. Magnesium along with calcium is also useful for relaxing tense muscles. Sprinkle some sunflower or pumpkin seeds onto your salad or nosh on a few almonds or walnuts before a long meeting. Just remember to keep portions small as a little goes a long way.
100% whole grains. Women in particular are notorious for reaching for high-carbohydrate foods in times of turmoil. This craving may be the body’s way of asking for more fuel in preparation for a “fight”. Carbs also boost
of feel-good serotonin. Choose whole grains like brown rice, 100% whole wheat bread or pasta for sustained fuel. For extra nutritional value, try ancient whole grains like quinoa, spelt, kamut and amaranth which are higher in protein and antioxidants.
Fresh fruit. Speaking of antioxidants, boost your vitamin C intake with oranges, grapefruit, strawberries, kiwis and cantaloupe. Prolonged stress depletes levels of vitamin C as the body’s defences against free radicals get worn down. At the beginning of a stressful week, make a big fruit salad with seasonal berries, melon balls and grapes to have ready for snacking or packing. Vitamin C from whole foods give you the added benefit of fibre that you don’t get from juice or supplements.
70% cocoa chocolate. Stressful times call for a little indulgence so make your special treat count towards correcting the biochemical imbalances created by stress. Dark chocolate has been making headlines for helping with blood pressure reduction however researchers are also finding that this healthful food contains natural anti-depressants like phenylethylalamine. Like seeds and nuts a little goes a long way so keep your indulgence to no more than 40 grams (1.4 ounces) per day.
Hemp seeds. Also known as hemp hearts, hulled hemp seeds are great for sprinkling on cereal or salads and they’re an excellent source of protein, omega-3 fatty acids and B vitamins that help your body make nerve-calming tryptophan.
Coconut water. Available in convenient single-serve tetrapaks, this tropical drink is a natural source of electrolytes, vitamin C and medium-chain fatty acids that are used as immediate energy for your active body.
Granola bars with no refined sugar. Between meals, when you’re on the go, granola bars are easy to slip into your bag so you don’t have to resort to vending machines or gas station fare. Choose a bar with no refined, white sugar in the ingredient list as that will only aggravate your overworked adrenal glands.
Trail mix. Pre-pack small handfuls of dried fruit, seeds and nuts to help keep blood sugar levels stable during a long day. Like granola bars, these little bags of raw energy will prevent resorting to non-nutritive processed food that may stress you out further.