Stress can cause you to grab for food—and it's likely you'll grab for the wrong things and overeat them as well. Stress, for many, spikes appetite, making it turn into a greedy and desperate monster.
Almost 40 percent of Americans report overeating or eating the wrong foods as a way of dealing with their anxiety, according to the American Psychological Association. And those foods they turn to—comfort foods—are usually unhealthy ones, like cake, cookies, ice cream, chips and mac, and cheese.
They're foods rich in fat and sugar, which send pleasure signals to the brain. How? By boosting levels of the hormone serotonin, which has a calming effect. But some foods can help with stress. Yes, you can nurture yourself with good, healthy foods that will comfort you and soothe your anxiety. A word about carbohydrates: Many people crave carbs when they're stressed. Some experts think that the craving is related to the decrease in serotonin, that feel-good hormone.
So, if you love carbs, (like me the rice girl) then be smart and choose "smart carbs," like nourishing whole grains, beans, fruits, and vegetables, which contain healthy things like fiber, phytochemicals, vitamins, and minerals.
Here is a start with my top 5 calming and stress relief foods:
1. Green leafy veggies Think spinach, kale, collard greens, Swiss chard, broccoli rabe, mustard greens: they're rich in folate, which helps your body manufacture neurotransmitters (like serotonin and dopamine) that help regulate mood.
2. Salmon Thank the omega-3 fats in salmon (as well as in sardines and anchovies) for influencing your mood. In one study, medical students taking an omega-3 supplement enjoyed a reduction in their anxiety levels. Those omega-3 fatty acids have anti-inflammatory properties that may help fight off the adverse effects of stress hormones on your body as well.
3. Avocados We need B vitamins for healthy nerves and brain cells, and feelings of anxiety may be rooted in a B vitamin deficiency. Avocados are rich in stress-relieving B vitamins. Bonus: They’re also high in monounsaturated fat and potassium, which help lower blood pressure. Next time stress has you reaching for a pint of full-fat ice cream, opt for a non-dairy DIY version made with avocado blended with a ripe banana, vanilla extract, nut milk, and nonnutritive sweetener. Freeze, then chill-out.
4. Blueberries Blueberries may seem small, but just a handful pack a powerful punch of antioxidants and vitamin C, making them powerful stress-busters. When we’re stressed, our bodies need vitamin C and antioxidants to help repair and protect cells. While blueberries are tasty all by themselves (tip: freeze them for a frozen berry snack), there’s no better way to boost the nutrition in a serving of yogurt or high-fiber cereal.
5. Milk A glass of warm milk before bed is a time-tested remedy for insomnia and fidgetiness. That’s because milk is high in antioxidants, vitamins B2 and B12, as well as protein and calcium. The protein lactium has a calming effect by lowering blood pressure, while the potassium in milk can help relieve muscle spasms triggered by feeling tense. For added benefit add a teaspoon of ground turmeric for fabulous golden milk.