If you diet and exercise, but find that you still can’t seem to shake off the weight, it may be time to look to your stress triggers. A poor diet, busy lifestyle, and a demanding job can all contribute to chronic stress levels.
A poor diet associated with high-calorie, high-fat foods not only contributes to overeating and subsequent weight gain, but they can make your stress even worse. If you’re looking for more when it comes to eating for comfort, opt for some of these healthy stress-relieving foods instead.
Regularly consuming fatty fish like wild salmon, mackerel, and tuna will help you boost your mood. These fish are loaded with omega-3s, a mood-boosting fatty acid that may make it easier for serotonin — a chemical that makes you feel happier — to pass through cell membranes and multiply. Fatty acid can also help decrease inflammation, a common side effect of chronic stress.
Oatmeal is a fairly common comfort food, especially on cold winter mornings. This cozy food is a good source of slow-digesting complex carbohydrates that help the brain make serotonin, the same substance regulated by antidepressants. But instead of reaching for that sugary bear claw, go for complex carbs. The higher fiber content in old fashioned oats versus its “quick” alternative will also keep you fuller for longer.
You’ve probably heard that the tryptophan in turkey is to blame for that food coma on Thanksgiving. Tryptophan actually helps to boost serotonin production. This amino acid won’t just put you to sleep, although it can help with that, too. Nothing wrong with sleeping away a bad day though if it means sweet dreams! Tryptophan can also help ease symptoms of PMS, which inherently causes stress.
Research has shown that the brain sends signals to the gut when under stress that can inflame gastrointestinal symptoms; communication may flow the other way too — from gut to brain. Consuming probiotics in yogurt reduces brain activity in areas that handle emotion, including stress. In fact, a small study by UCLA researchers found an association between consumption of probiotic yogurt and reduction in stress hormone level elevation following an emotional task.
The antioxidants in blueberries are known to be great for fighting off the negative effects of stress. The antioxidants and phytonutrients found in blueberries fight in your defense, helping improve your body’s response to stress and fighting stress-related free radicals.
Seeds and nuts
Most seeds and nuts (two standouts are pumpkin seeds and almonds) are high in magnesium — a vital nutrient for your body’s natural stress coping mechanism. Common symptoms of a magnesium deficiency are an inability to manage stress and the physical ramifications of stress, like high blood pressure, insomnia, fatigue, or loss of appetite. What’s more, nuts are also rich in mood-boosting selenium, the amino-acid serotonin-precursor tryptophan, and depression-relieving omega-3 fatty acids.
Green leafy vegetables
Research suggests that folic acid deficiency can suppress the production of S-adenosylmethionine, a naturally occurring compound that helps produce serotonin and dopamine. Compounded with the fact that when you’re chronically stressed, your brain begins to produce excess stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol, and fewer neurotransmitters associated with relaxation and happiness, such as dopamine and serotonin, you’ve got a problem. Luckily, scientists believe that increasing folic acid intake can help reinstate happy hormone levels. For more sources of folic acid, try beans, asparagus, avocados, and broccoli.
Red peppers boast the highest amount of vitamin C in the produce aisle, even more so than oranges. Just one cup has over three times the recommended daily intake of the nutrient! Getting enough vitamin C can actually stop the production of the stress hormone cortisol, which our bodies produce when we’re feeling frazzled. The antioxidant properties of vitamin C also fight off free radicals. If red peppers are not to your liking, another food packed with vitamin C is fresh strawberries.
Vitamin D rich eggs can boost your mood when you are feeling down. Exactly how vitamin D works to improve mood isn’t yet fully understood, but one theory is that the nutrient increases levels of the feel-good hormones serotonin and dopamine in the brain. The slow-digesting protein and fat in eggs are also believed to stabilize blood sugar levels.
Dark chocolate is full of antioxidants, which researchers have found can help stimulate the euphoria-inducing chemicals that real chocolate does, especially serotonin, working to buffer the effects of stress. In contrast, milk and white chocolate are full of sugar (which would only pull you down and make you frown) and contain fewer cocoa solids.