3 Everyday Meal Items that Zap Anxiety and Promote Serenity

19 Mar 2019 no comments Morwenna Voss Categories Blog

3 Everyday Meal Items that Zap Anxiety and Promote Serenity

Nerve-racking events such as health changes, work commitments, financial adjustments, budgeting, moving, family and social obligations can all be major stressors, adding to the normal tension of daily life.

Certainly, as a wellness coach and nutritionist with over 54,000 clinical hours and twenty years of experience, I have seen both my fair share of clients dealing with irksome lifestyle changes, and felt the personal impact of that in my own life. However, there are a few basics that I recommend as alternatives to hiding out form the world due to exhaustion: take your worries to the gym for a for a nice sweaty workout of twenty minutes or so, and follow that by feeding your body healthy foods that will assist your mind in managing the effects of stress like a superhero!

The Cycle of Cortisol, Stress and Weight Gain

When our mind senses a situation that seems dangerous or overwhelming, our cortisol levels rise, inciting tense emotion in our minds, which makes our body react, too, by tensing up.  At the same time serotonin, the chemical that makes us calm, unfortunately plummets, which positions us to decide if we are going to fight the stress or give into it (known as fight-or-flight mode).

As if this weren’t enough, when cortisol spikes in our mind, our body starts to get food cravings, especially for sweet foods, and the more sweet carbs we eat, the more we set our glucose levels swinging, and the worse our body feels. Cortisol also triggers an enzyme in our visceral fat cells found in the abdomen, a part of the body that naturally has more of these enzymes than the fat cells in the thighs and buttocks – all of which causes fat increase in our belly. The more stress we have, the more belly fat cells we create, which puts us at a higher risk for heart disease and diabetes.  Bottom line? Stress can make you gain weight at any age!

But, there is hope!  Below are three basic, easy-access food tips to help you bust stress every day, so that you can fight “the battle of the bulge,” and survive whatever comes your way with less headache, little weight gain and a healthier approach towards future stressful events. 

Stay Energized with Oats
Stressful events can not only be hard to process mentally, but they require a lot of our attention and emotion, which leaves us feeling depleted of energy with a foggy brain.  This is the complete opposite of what we need to effectively tackle the rigors of stress!

Tension-Taming Food Tip: Oatmeal is good both for mental wellness and physical health, and is a must-have to combat stress! It is also a great brain food to keep anybody sharp. Complex carbohydrates in oatmeal cause our brains to produce serotonin, the aforementioned feel-good chemical with awesome antioxidant properties that creates a soothing feeling for managing stress.

Beta-glucan, a type of soluble fiber found in oatmeal, has reflected higher satiety scores than other whole grains in food research, which means it’s better for our brain at keeping us sharp and energetic than other types of soluble fiber. (Note: Steel-cut oats are healthier for you than rolled oats, as they sit lower on the glycemic index.) Making a batch of oatmeal and putting it in the refrigerator overnight means that you can warm it up in the morning, add almonds, blueberries and organic honey to it – and find yourself ready to take on your stress!

Stick it Out with Salmon
Salmon is packed with omega-3 fatty acids which have anti-inflammatory properties to counteract the negative effects of adrenaline and cortisol. The two main omega-3 fatty acids found in salmon are docosahexaenoic acid, or DHA, and eicosapentaenoic acid, or EPA. Both of these fatty acids support cell membranes and lower inflammation, while decreasing cortisol levels and stress hormones. Omega-3s found in salmon are also found in supplement form as fish oil too.  Studies have shown that people who took omega-3 supplements had a 14% reduction in anxiety compared to a group given placebo pills, reflecting the impact that omega 3’s have on calming the endocrine system for stress management.

Tension-Taming Food Tip:  One 3-ounce serving of cooked wild salmon can have more than 2,000 milligrams of omega-3s, which is double the daily does recommended by the American Heart Association for people with heart disease. Mix salmon with kale or spinach, mangos and an olive oil-based dressing for a great stress-busting, energizing lunch!

Chew Some Chocolate
Last but not least — we get to the good stuff! Repeatedly, research shows the benefit of eating dark chocolate in helping to reduce high levels of cortisol and catecholamines, or stress hormones, in the body. In fact, a recent study published that there were significant reductions in stress hormones and other stress-related biochemical changes in high anxiety volunteers who ate dark chocolate for two weeks. This study is just one of many that show the potential health benefits of dark cocoa.

Studies have also shown that people with high blood levels of flavonoids (found in dark chocolate) have a lower risk of heart disease, lung cancer, prostate cancer, asthma, and type 2 diabetes. Not to mention that the healthy microbial activity dark chocolate promotes in the gut helps with digestion (an aspect also subject to threat in high-stress situations). 

Tension-Taming Food Tip: Although dark chocolate is healthy for stress release, go easy on your portions, since it is calorically dense and eating too much of it can help you pack on the pounds, which leads to more stress. One ounce of a high flavonoid chocolate packs more than twice the healthy antioxidants of red wine.  Break your dark chocolate into pieces and add it to your steel cut oatmeal or eat it a little bit at a time.  Either way, you will still get great benefits from enjoying something sweet and healthy for you when you need it.

Adding these three foods to your diet, not just during peak stress days, but weekly, will help your body and brain process the emotional and physical impact of stress more effectively, so you stay much healthier and happier on a consistent basis.