Stress: It’s practically in every mom’s daily job description. But, if your stress level is growing higher and higher (rivaling the sky-high laundry pile after last summer’s vacation), then it’s time for an intervention. Fight off stress with these four essential stress-busting foods and moves.
Why You Need Stress-Busting Foods
First, not all stress is bad. In small amounts, it increases stamina and concentration. High levels of the stress hormone cortisol can give your body the push it needs to run away from immediate physical threats.
However, chronic stress that lingers day after day (like the kind that occurs from trying to achieve the optimal work-life balance we all want but doesn’t really exist) becomes a problem. All that cortisol isn’t doing your body any favors. In fact, constantly elevated levels of stress hormones causes belly fat, makes you unable to fight off germs effectively, and puts you at greater risk for a host of illnesses. Check out my podcast to find out how stress causes abdominal fat and how to stop it.
Thankfully, you can get a handle on your stress with something you’re already doing everyday–eating. Get your stress load under control with these stress-busting foods.
Stress-Busting Foods #1: Vitamin C
First, to eat to reduce stress, you’ll want to include foods rich in vitamin C. This antioxidant makes your body more resilient to stress and reduces anxiety. A study in Germany found people’s stress hormones during public speaking returned to normal levels faster when they had more citric acid or vitamin C in their bloodstreams. Since high levels of stress hormones can damage your body, it’s important to find ways to lower these levels quickly.
So, while you want to incorporate these vitamin C rich, stress-busting foods on a daily basis, you’ll definitely want to stock up during more stressful times. Slip an orange in your little one’s lunchbox on spelling test day or try some sliced strawberries and kiwis before the big game.
When looking for sources of Vitamin C, think about fresh fruits, veggies and leafy greens.
Stress-Busting Vitamin C Sources:
- Bell Peppers
- Brussels Sprouts
While oranges tend to get all the glory in the vitamin C department, red bell peppers are also antioxidant all-stars. One cup of red bell peppers provide three times the amount of this stress-busting vitamin than one orange. One cup of jicama contains almost half your daily needs for vitamin C with the extra benefit of extra fiber to keep you full and maybe keep stress-induced emotional eating at bay. Try both in my Refreshing Jicama Salad.
Tip: Dazzle even the pickiest of eaters with food art! Make a bell pepper octopus. Cut the top off of a bell pepper. Remove the seeds. Cut 8 thin slices for legs. Turn the bell pepper upside down to make the body of an octopus, and situate the legs around it. Pair it with hummus or your child’s favorite dip. Check out my IG for more food art inspiration.
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Stress-Busting Foods #2: Omega-3’s
Second, the next type of foods you should eat to reduce stress are those that contain omega-3 fatty acids. Your heart and your brain thrive on these fatty acids. In fact, eating more omega-3 can reduce the risk of symptoms associated with depression. Having more omega-3 in your system can combat chronic stress, lowering levels of adrenalin. A study showed medical students had a 20 percent reduction in anxiety and inflammation with higher levels of omega-3’s.
Fatty fish are one of the best sources for omega-3. Aim for at least 2 servings per week. If fish isn’t your favorite, you can consider a high quality omega-3 fatty acid supplement.
Stress-Busting Omega-3 Sources:
- Chia Seeds
There are three types of omega-3 fatty acids: ALA, EPA and DHA. Plant-based sources of omega-3 include soybeans, walnuts and chia seeds. However, it’s important to know that omega-3’s from plants are mostly in the form of ALA. Your body can convert ALA to EPA and DHA, but it’s a process and means the nutrients are less readily available to your body. It’s important to get quality DHA and EPA for these brain-protecting benefits.
Tip: Consider a high quality fish oil supplement if you’re not a fish fan. Still can’t stomach the taste? Try keeping them in the freezer.
Stress-Busting Food #3: Tryptophan
Third, another essential stress-busting nutrient is tryptophan. This amino acid found in turkey, eggs, bananas, oats and sesame seeds can promote relaxation. Tryptophan gets a lot of press at Thanksgiving. While many people credit their tryptophan-containing turkey to their sleepiness, it’s generally more a food portion and food choice causing drowsiness.
However, when combined with calcium, tryptophan produces melatonin. Melatonin helps regulate your sleep and can help you get the shut eye your body needs to repair while under stress. Incorporating this stress-reducing amino acid at the end of the day is a good strategy to help you unwind before bedtime.
Stress-Busting Tryptophan Sources:
- Sesame Seeds
Tip: If you’re feeling a bit edgy after a stressful day, consider pairing calcium-rich yogurt with tryptophan-containing sesame seeds to help you unwind and avoid a night of tossing and turning.
Stress-Busting Foods #4: Vitamin D
Finally, the fourth type of stress-busting food you must include in your diet to take control of your stress hormones is vitamin D. It’s believed that around 42% of adults of deficient in vitamin D. Not getting enough of this vitamin can mean you’re more tired and have low moods. Low levels of this stress-reducing vitamin could contribute to PMS, Seasonal Affective Disorder or even the onset of major depressive disorder. Vitamin D deficiency can play a role in cardiovascular disease and cancer, as well.
While sunlight is a source of this stress-reducing vitamin, be sure you incorporate foods rich in vitamin D, as well.
Stress-Busting Vitamin D Sources:
- Egg Yolks
- Fortified Milks, Yogurts & Cereals
Tip: Consider having your vitamin D levels checked at your next physical. If you spend most of your time indoors and live in the northern hemisphere, you may benefit from supplementing with vitamin D as well as choosing a variety of foods containing this stress-busting nutrient.
Beware of this Stress-Inducing Food
Lastly, while it’s important to include foods to support your stress each day, you should also carefully consider what you’re consuming that could actually be making your stress levels much higher. The one type of food you must watch to reduce stress levels are those containing caffeine.
No worries, you won’t have to completely give up your morning cup of joe. Just be sure to limit yourself to an appropriate amount, about 2 cups a day or 300-400 mg of caffeine. Feel anxious or stressed out with just 2 cups? Your individual caffeine limit may be even lower.
Bonus: Try these 4 Stress-Busting Moves
Similarly, try these stress-busting moves, backed by science.
- Belly Breathing: Deep breathing can have a significant effect on stress levels. Belly breathing benefits both physical and mental health, lowers stress-hormone cortisol and can make you more focused. Become more aware of your breathing. Do you hold your breath when you check email, read a text? Give every cell of your body the oxygen it needs with deep belly breathing and keep stress levels down. Check out my belly breathing how-to video.
- Exercise: From a long run to quick walk, from yoga to stretching, moving reduces stress. Pair exercise with with your favorite tunes for added benefit. Research suggests music may help you melt away your stress. Exercise will also prepare your body for a stress-reducing good night’s rest.
- Sleep: Aim for at least 7-8 hours of sleep each night to allow your body to repair each night. Try some belly breathing or a gratitude journal before bed to ease worry and increase quality sleep.
- Stay Connected: Strong social support systems can reduce stress and increase health. Keep time with friends and family at the top of your to-do list. Also, consider the role the feel-good hormone oxytocin plays in stress reduction. Reap the benefits of this connectedness hormone to bust stress. Give your kids a bear-hug. Smooch your honey. Even giving Fido a pet can increase this feeling of relaxation and calm.