Summer months can be a tricky time to be putting your best food forward with nutrition. With patios and BBQs, it can feel fruitless—literally. And, naturally, this conundrum can drum up some stress and produce overwhelm with how to get back on the good nutrition track.
While it may seem tempting to dive into a bag of chips or a bowl of ice cream to cope, eating junk foods when feeling overwhelmed is counterintuitive, and can even be a slippery slope towards greater health concerns and feeling more anxious and stressed out down the road. Talk about a cycle.
Not only can stress eating lead to feelings of depression, weight gain, and more out of control cravings, but it can also cause an increased risk of insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes, not to mention a roller coaster effect on key hormones like insulin, leptin, ghrelin, and cortisol.
Instead of falling into the junk food trap, take a trip to the market and load up on these five stress-busting foods to help you feel good and stay on track.
Dark Leafy Greens
Spinach, kale, collards, Swiss chard, bok choy, and various lettuces are rich in a variety of vitamins and minerals such as folate, calcium, potassium, iron, and vitamins A, C, and K. These nutrients help to regulate mood-stabilizing neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine, which are your feel-good hormones, and are key to reducing anxiety and depression, and boosting energy. Enjoy them in salads, sautéed or steamed in stir-fries or as a side dish, in a smoothie, or in soups and stews.
This means kimchi, miso, sauerkraut, fermented vegetables, and kombucha. The secret to a happy mind and getting out of your stress rut is to start with your gut! You have an entire ecosystem living in your gut. Your body harnesses more than 70 percent of your immune system power here, not to mention powerful bacterial strains and combinations that have a direct effect on our brain chemistry, mood, and behavior sent directly from the gut to the brain via the vagus nerve.
We know so much more about the gut-brain connection now than ever before, including the fact that the more toxicity you have in your body the greater the chance you will have for mood swings, depression, anxiety, inability to cope with stress, and a variety of other mental health issues. By adding in daily—or even a few weekly—servings of fermented foods like those listed above, you can increase your good gut bacteria and fan the toxicity flames that can far too often ignite your stress fire.
Salmon is an excellent food choice for not only decreasing stress, but also supporting an active body, increased muscle tissue, and more productive training sessions. High in both EPA and DHA, wild salmon, along with other oily fish like sardines and mackerel, has long been touted as one of the best, most supportive and nutritious foods on the planet.
There have been hundreds of studies published on the effects of our body’s ability to handle stress when consuming higher doses of Omega-3 rich foods, and it has even been reported by many holistic and western practitioners that they prefer to change up a patient’s diet and increase their nutrient profile first before turning to stress-coping mechanisms and antidepressant medications. Eating salmon as a main dish with fresh or roasted veggies can be a delicious way to get your EPA/DHA Omega-3s, but if you’re pressed for time or don’t eat fish, you can always supplement with a high quality brand of fish oil and add it to smoothies.
These fatty favorites boast 20 body-loving nutrients like potassium, vitamins E and B, folate, magnesium, manganese, fiber, and more. Why do we love them so much? Because they balance out hunger and appetite-suppressing hormones leptin and ghrelin, and make us feel full, happy, and complete. They also help to regulate our blood sugar, which in turn steadies our mood.
Flax, hemp, pumpkin, sunflower, and chia are fabulous sources of healthy fat and protein, but they are superstars when it comes to a very important mineral for the female body: magnesium. Magnesium helps to regulate our mood and emotions, decreases depression and anxiety, battles fatigue and irritability, and can even ease PMS symptoms and water retention. Add a few tablespoons of seeds daily to salads, oatmeal, smoothie bowls, and trail mix.
Looking for a Stress-Reducing Recipe? Try This!
Recipe by Tiffani Bachus, RD and Erin Macdonald, RD
Photo by Rawpixel.com/shutterstock.com
Massaged Kale Salad with Miso-Tahini Dressing
Total Time: 20 min
Makes 6 servings
3 cups organic green kale, washed
3 cups organic purple or red kale, washed
1/2 sweet onion, chopped or sliced
1/3 cup carrot, grated
1 yellow bell pepper, seeded and chopped
3 Persian (small) cucumbers, sliced
2 tbsp sweet white or yellow miso
1 1/2 Tbsp tahini (sesame seed paste)
1 1/2 Tbsp pure maple syrup
2 Tbsp seasoned rice vinegar
1 Tbsp grapeseed oil or extra virgin olive oil
1/4 tsp ground coriander
cayenne pepper to taste
cracked black pepper to taste
1. Whisk all dressing ingredients in a bowl until smooth. Set aside.
2. Take the kale leaves and slide a knife along either side of the stem lengthwise to remove them. Chop the kale leaves into bite-size pieces and place in a large mixing bowl. Add all remaining vegetables and toss.
3. Pour the dressing over the salad and with clean hands, massage the dressing into the kale to help soften the leaves and evenly distribute the dressing. Massage for about 2 minutes.
4. Serve right away or cover with plastic wrap and let it sit in the fridge for up to a full day. The kale will continue to soften while it sits in the dressing.