For fast-acting relief, try slowing down, Lily Tomlin once said. But if you cannot do that, adding a few special foods to do your diet might do the trick.
In fact, what food we eat can either help our bodies to combat stress or spoil the endeavor, according a Washington University nutritionist, Connie Diekman.
“Some foods appear to soothe us; others fight the inflammation that comes with stress,” Diekman said. “Stress eating, however, can be a problem this time of year. During stressful periods, there is the mental response of ‘I need to do something.’ And that ‘something,’ for some of us, is eating as much as we can as fast as we can. We have learned. ‘If I eat, I can avoid’ or ‘I can energize.’ The problem is, of course, once people do it, they realize it didn’t help.”
She advocates eating a healthful meal every three to four hours to stabilize blood-sugar levels. Getting proper rest is also important.
“Lack of sleep is a huge trigger for inflammation as well as overeating,” Diekman said. “If you don’t get a minimum of five hours a night, there is a higher probability you will overeat.”
The 10 best foods to help fight stress
1) Whole grains
Diekman says whole grains, like oatmeal, whole-grain breakfast cereal and breads offer a range of stress-fighting benefits.
“They help you feel full longer, require chewing, which releases anxiety, and maintain blood sugar levels,” said Diekman. “Starting the day with oatmeal is one way to fuel the body, warm the core and provide nutrients that keep the body strong.”
Whole grains can also raise levels of serotonin, known for its calming effect.
2) Hot tea
Though not exactly a food, studies have shown the tea’s plant compounds help us relax. Not to mention its warmth.
“When we drink something cold, it causes the body to raise its core temperature; the opposite happens when we drink something really hot. But warm drinks appear to be calming to the body,” Diekman said.
Nuts, in particular almonds, walnuts, and pistachios, contain healthy fats, which can help the body fight stress-induced inflammation. The bad news: unhealthy fats found in comfort foods such as french fries and bacon don’t have the same benefits.
“A high-fat meal can put you to sleep,” Diekman said.
4) Vitamin C-rich foods
Foods high in Vitamin C help fight inflammation and keep the immune system strong.
“Research shows foods with flavonoids help our bodies fight stress. What the research does not show, though, is that they prevent stress,” Diekman said. “So it’s important for people to realize this isn’t about finding a capsule that has their flavonoids. It’s about getting these whole foods that keep the immune system functioning on a normal keel. So grab some oranges, blueberries, strawberries or even some spinach.”
5) Dark Chocolate
Dark chocolate, the healthiest kind of chocolate, not only increases serotonin but also reduces cortisol, the inflammation-inducing hormone triggered by stress.
“Just remember to choose portions wisely,” Diekman cautions.
6) Oily fish
Oily fish can block an even counteract stress biomarkers, Diekman says.
“Oily fish like tuna, salmon and sardines are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which help fight inflammation, a common result of stress, and they have a good variety of vitamins that keep the body strong,” said Diekman. “And oily fish also seems to enhance the brain’s functioning power.”
7) Warm milk
Warm milk is a soothing alternative to a cup of tea. Milk contains tryptophan, an important serotonin precursor.
“The milk sugars, like all carbohydrates, act on serotonin in the brain,” Diekman said. “Enjoy the milk with a graham cracker or another complex carbohydrate to get more glucose.”
Stock your fridge with plenty crunchy veggies. In fact, the mere act of chewing vegetables like carrots and celery may relieve tension.
“Raw vegetables generate lots of crunch, which is an aid to alleviating anxiety and prevents jaw clenching,” Diekman said.
Avocados are a superfood bursting with potassium, which can lower blood pressure.
“They can help keep the balance in muscle activity and fluid balance,” Diekman said. “In general, plant foods are just packed with compounds beyond the vitamins and minerals that play a huge role in the overall health of the body.”
Lastly, dont forget the most important stress fighter of all. Yes, it is water.
“You may not be sweating in the winter, but you are still losing fluids from the surface of the skin. That’s why your skin gets so dry,” said Diekman. “Hydration is essential to fighting stress since fluids keep fuel circulating in the body and the right balance of the electrolytes helps muscles and nerves perform their best.”
So, if you are ready for lunch, may we suggest spinach salad topped with beans, craisins, sunflower seeds and tuna. Another stress fighting choice would be a whole wheat tortilla topped with beans, veggies and some guacamole. And lots of water.