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Foods that fight stress

The solution to that elevated cortisol level may be to chow down on something.

By Anna Chua-Norbert


Don’t get so wrapped up with stressful tasks that you completely forget to take care of yourself. Stress has been shown to lead to obesity, and desk-bound people who sit in front of a computer all day long and don’t watch what they eat can start sliding down a slippery slope. Plus, it’s worse for women: Studies conducted at the University of Connecticut and Yale University showed that non-overweight women who are vulnerable to stress are more likely to have excess abdominal fat.

Eat—and beat stress

Healthy eating can actually combat the signs of stress and make you feel better. When you’re feeling particularly done-in, the most important thing you can do is put the right foods in your system to help get you through. Here’s a list of food items that will help combat stress and help keep you balanced:

Whole grains. These carb-rich foods pack a punch, and help release the feel-good chemical serotonin in your brain. Keep some whole-wheat pretzels, crackers and bread around when you need something satisfying.

Nuts. Choose nuts high in vitamin E, B and zinc to boost your immune system and help your body manage stress. A suggested serving: a quarter-cup portion of almonds, pistachios and walnuts.

Yogurt. This guilt-free indulgence is a great way to ensure you’re getting enough calcium during the day. Add some granola or fruit to your yogurt for a more satisfying snacking experience.

Tea. Instead of coffee, try a mug of herbal tea. Drink it warm or put it in the fridge to chill. If you’d like to calm and soothe your stomach, try iced peppermint tea. Chamomile tea is famed for its relaxing properties.

Dark chocolate. High in flavonoids which are lauded for their relaxing properties, chocolate also contains phenethylamine, a chemical that enhances your mood. The darker the chocolate, the more healthy substances you’re getting in your diet, so look for bars that are 70 percent cacao or higher.

Spinach. Any dark leafy vegetables like petchay or kangkong are full of vitamins like magnesium to help relieve stress. Studies show that magnesium, found in greens like spinach, improves your body’s response to stress.

Skim milk. A glass of warm milk is really calming. One study found that women who drank four or more servings of low-fat or skim milk every day were about half as likely to experience stress-related PMS symptoms than those who drank less than one serving a week.

Oatmeal. Carbs help you produce serotonin, a calming hormone that helps fight anxiety’s negative effects—which is probably why many of us crave them when we’re stressed. Go with the craving, but choose healthy sources. Oatmeal is high in fiber, which means that your body will absorb it slowly. In one fell swoop, you’ll prolong the serotonin boost, keeping yourself feeling full for longer, and on less, while controlling your blood sugar.

Cold-water fish. Research shows that omega-3 fatty acids—abundant in fish like salmon, sardines and mackerel—can help reverse stress symptoms by boosting serotonin levels, and that an omega-3–rich diet can also help suppress the production of the anxiety hormones cortisol and adrenaline.

Walnuts. These nuts have been shown to help lower blood pressure, which is critical for those whose hearts are already working overtime, thanks to high adrenaline levels. In fact, research so strongly backs their health benefits that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommends 1.5 oz per day.

Sunflower seeds. A good source of folate, which helps your body produce a pleasure-inducing brain chemical called dopamine.

Fruits. Antioxidants found in grapes, bananas, apples, oranges, and blueberries counteract the effects of stress hormones like cortisol on your body.

For more healthy diet tips as well as nutritious and delicious recipes to try, grab a copy of the holiday issue of HealthToday magazine, out now in bookstores and newsstands.

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