Life can feel stressful enough having to deal with our own daily trials and tribulations. However, these days things seem amplified to a point that can simply feel unmanageable. So I thought for my first blog post I would talk about some of my favorite foods that not only combat stress but are also some of the healthiest foods around. Let's start with my favorite....
1- Dark Chocolate! Yummmmmm. I know, it's probably not what you would have thought I would start with but dark chocolate is actually an indulgent, antioxidant-rich source of stress busters. Dark chocolate reduces stress via its chemical impact and emotional impact. Because it feels so indulgent, the simple act of savoring a piece of rich dark chocolate can reduce stress. But before we get carried away, first let us sort out exactly what chocolate I'm talking about. I know when we are stressed, reaching for a candy bar seems like a quick fix to ease our tension. The fact is candy bars and other chocolates high in artificial sugars and additives will wreak havoc on your body. They will spike your blood sugar giving you a quick high then your blood sugar will crash making you feel worse off than you did before. I know, it sounds dramatic but it's true! Dark chocolate is rich in flavonoids which are powerful antioxidants. Cacao plants also contain a compound called theobromine which may reduce inflammation in the body and potentially lower blood pressure. Dark chocolate also can increase serotonin levels leaving you feeling happier. So next time you are feeling a bit stressed or hankering for that chocolatey goodness, I invite you to swap out the sugary candy bar for some high quality dark chocolate, at least 70% cacao. Look for brands that only have two or three ingredients; cacao beans, cane sugar and cocoa butter, the darker the better. I myself love the 90% and higher, even the 100% which I admit is not for everyone or perhaps you just need to work up to it. Dark chocolate does contain caffeine and a small amount of sugar so please enjoy in moderation.
2-Avocados. Yes, these creamy, delicious treats are loaded with omega-3 fatty acids, you know.....the good fat. These are essential acids that reduce anxiety and stress, boost concentration and improve your overall mood. Fatty acids are super important because they serve as a fuel source for your cells. Deficiency in omega-3 can cause fatigue and trouble sleeping, and can also affect your appearance, like brittle hair and nails and dry skin, yikes, so load up! Other great sources of Omega-3 are flaxseeds, chia seeds, walnuts and cold water, fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel and sardines.
3. Blueberries. These amazing little berries are a powerhouse when it comes to "good mood foods". Blueberries contain antioxidants such as anthocyanidin( the compound that gives the blue, red and purple color to foods) which has been linked to reducing inflammation as well as a person's risk for depression. They also seem to have significant benefits for people with high blood pressure. Blueberries are also what I like to call a beauty food. They reduce DNA damage. Oxidative DNA damage is an inevitable part of aging but because blueberries are so high in antioxidants they can actually neutralize some of the free radicals that damage our DNA. Just knowing that alone is a mood booster! So the next time you're eating blueberries think of them as little soldiers protecting your DNA.
4-Probiotics. Did you know that our gut has been called our second brain? Our gut is a whole ecosystem unto itself with a very particular balance of gut bacteria. This is called our gut microbiome. Scientists have found that gut bacteria produce many neurotransmitters such as dopamine, norepinephrine and GABA which are critical for mood, anxiety, concentration and motivation. So how can we support this complex and precious ecosystem? Eat probiotic foods or take probiotic supplements. Foods containing probiotics include fermented foods such as Kefir, a fermented yogurt drink (and for you non-dairy folks there are lots of vegan Kefir alternatives), miso, kombucha, sauerkraut, kimchi or a high quality probiotic supplement.
5-Sweet Potato. One of my personal favorites! I love sweet potatoes; their beautiful orange color, their sweetness, their delicious smell and the fact that they are a nutrient-rich way to satisfy those carb cravings. Sweet potatoes are packed with nutrients such as vitamin C and potassium which are star players when it comes to stress response in the body. Eating sweet potatoes may help lower cortisol, the stress hormone in the body responsible for producing the fight or flight response. Of course, we need cortisol. The problem is, for most people it is way out of whack and constantly spiking.