Choosing healthy foods when you’re stressed is so important as it can impact your mood in a positive way and help relieve tension, stabilize blood sugars and send your stress packing.
While it may seem tempting to drown your anxiety in a bowl of ice cream or calm your nerves with a bag of chips… eating junk foods while stressed may be particularly dangerous to your health.
Junk foods will only give you a moment of reprieve. After the initial pleasure wears off, you may find yourself battling mood swings, irritability, and other unpleasant emotions on top of the stress, courtesy of the sugar, trans-fats, artificial colours, monosodium glutamate (MSG), and whatever other synthetic ingredients you may have consumed.
Foods rich in vitamins, minerals, and fatty acids are not only super healthy, but can also increase happiness, lessen symptoms of depression, and quell anxiety. To date, researchers have studied the association between foods and the brain and identified nine nutrients that can combat depression and boost our mood:
Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the body. It helps maintain strong bones, and healthy blood vessels. Its often paired with Vitamin D to help regulate mood fluctuations caused by PMS. Oestrogen plays a large role in calcium production. Great sources of calcium include: yoghurt, ricotta cheese, sardines, tofu, salmon, and collard greens.
Chromium is a trace mineral found in small amounts in the body. It increases the brains’level of serotonin, nor epinephrine and melatonin – all of which help the brain to regulate emotion and mood. Chromium works directly with the brains’ mood regulators and so is an effective treatment of stress and depression. Sources of chromium include: Broccoli, grapes (and grape juice), potatoes and turkey breast.
Folate (B9 or Folic Acid)
Folate helps the body create new cells and supports serotonin regulation. Serotonin is responsible for passing messages between nerve cells and helps our brains to manage a wide variety of functions. Folate also boosts the efficiency of antidepressants. Great sources of folate include: spinach, black-eyed peas, asparagus, Brussels sprouts, avocado.
Low levels of iron can lead to feelings of fatigue and depression. Iron is extremely important for our bodies. It transports oxygen around the body and helps maintain muscle strength. Maintaining good iron levels also prevents iron anaemia. Good sources of iron include: soya beans, lentils, turkey, steak.
Magnesium has over 300 uses in protecting our bodies health. Magnesium deficiency can cause irritability, fatigue and stress. Due to its ability to regulate emotions, magnesium is a common element in homeopathic remedies for balancing mood. Great sources of magnesium include: almonds, spinach, cashews, peanuts.
Omega-3 fatty acids
Omega-3 is an essential fatty acid important for brain health. Our bodies cannot produce its own Omega-3’s so we need to ensure we consume enough of it through the foods we eat. A deficiency can cause fatigue, mood swings and depression. Food sources of Omega-3 are: chia seeds, salmon, trout, herring, spinach.
Vitamin B6 helps the body produce neurotransmitters. A deficiency can cause anemia, weakened immune system, confusion and depression. Consuming the correct amounts of this important vitamin can maintain a healthy brain function and healthy moods. Highest food sources of Vitamin B6 include: fish, beef liver, organ meats, starchy vegetables and chickpeas.
Because moods depend largely on signals from the brain, B12 plays an important role in regulating depression — consuming enough vitamin B12 allows the body to synthesize a group of nutrients critical for normal neurological function. Vitamin B12 is found naturally in meats, oily fish, eggs and cheese. Vegetarians and vegans are most susceptible to developing a deficiency and so must be sure to take a supplement.
If you’re feeling down in the dumps, increasing your Vitamin D intake has been proven to ward off depression. Vitamin D regulates cell growth, maintains a healthy immune system and protects bones. You can get your Vitamin D naturally from sunlight – just be sure to slap on your hat and slop on your sunscreen! Food sources that contain Vitamin D include eggs, salmon and mushrooms.
Zinc is an extremely important mineral for our bodies to maintain healthy immune systems, decreasing depressive symptoms and protecting the gut. Vegetarians need as much as 50% more zinc than non-vegetarians due to the body’s lower absorption rate of plant-based zinc. Zinc-rich foods help to balance your mood. Food sources include pumpkin seeds, cashews, crab, pork and cheese.
Our diet plays an important role in stress management. Exercising regularly, getting enough sleep, and meditation are also important "release valves" that can help you manage your stress.