There is no doubt about it, we all lead stressful lives. Work, family, finances, traffic, even the television shows we watch contribute to our daily stress levels. All of these little stresses can take a toll on our bodies leaving us tired, irritable, unable to concentrate and even open us up to illness. However, there are ways to reduce the physical and mental effects of stress. Diet can play a big part in helping to manage the physiological effects of stress and some foods perform better than others.
Here are a few foods that top the list of stress busters:
Dark Leafy Greens
Dark leafy greens like spinach, kale or swiss chard contain magnesium and B vitamins both of which assist in the reduction of stress. Magnesium is necessary to help the body burn sugars for energy, calm the cells during periods of stress and is essential in the release and reabsorption of serotonin, a neurotransmitter responsible for positive mood. In addition, low levels of B vitamins, such as B3, B5, B6, B9 and B12, have been linked to depression and anxiety.
Dark leafy greens also contain a variety of antioxidants to help reduce the impact of environmental stressors like pesticides, pollution and other toxins.
When it comes to reducing stress, avocados are truly a superfood. Avocados have more folate (Vitamin B9) than any other fruit. In addition, avocados are rich in magnesium, B vitamins and Vitamin E all of which are important in helping to reduce stress levels. Consider that they are rich in monounsaturated fats and Omega-3 fatty acids and avocados become a stress reducing rockstar. Just a 1/4 of an avocado is all you need to receive the relaxing benefits.
Almonds are also a terrific stress reducer containing B vitamins, magnesium and zinc. Zinc is required to make serotonin, the “feel good” neurotransmitter we talked about earlier. These nutrients can be depleted in times of high stress. As an extra bonus the monounsaturated fats in almonds can help raise HDL levels, balance blood sugar and support metabolism. They are still a fat so don’t enjoy too much of a good thing. You can also find B vitamins, magnesium and zinc in other nuts like walnuts, cashews and pecans.
Nuts contain Vitamin E which is an antioxidant force to be reckoned with.
Oily fish like salmon, tuna, halibut, and sardines contain Omega-3 fatty acids. Studies show a depletion of fatty acids in the brain can be related to anxiety disorders. Also, the ingestion of Omega-3s improves communication between the nerve cells which can help reduce stress in the body. Additionally, oily fish are a good source of magnesium. Consider the cardiovascular benefits derived from these fish and now you have another reason to add them to your diet. Use them sparingly to prevent consuming too much mercury.
Don’t like fish? Try flaxseed or nuts instead.
Complex carbohydrates like oatmeal, brown rice, whole grains and even sweet potatoes help the brain produce serotonin. Along with improving mood, serotonin stimulates concentration and focus which can become disrupted in times of stress. Whole grains contain B vitamins and Vitamin E to help fend off free radicals and sweet potatoes are high in beta-carotene another antioxidant champion.
Round out a stress busting meal with asparagus, berries, citrus fruits, seaweed and lean sources of protein like grass-fed beef or chicken.
And of course don’t forget dessert.
Dark chocolate helps reduce levels of stress hormones in the body including cortisol and catecholamines. Also, dark chocolate has the double benefit of containing serotonin and aiding the body in producing more serotonin. It also contains magnesium. The darker the better to avoid the excess fat and sugar of the lighter chocolates. Remember to enjoy it in small amounts to avoid the stress of weight gain.
Combining a healthy diet with exercise and mediation are excellent ways to diminish the stress of your everyday life and make you happier and healthier too.