As we barrel into the fall, holiday season schedules are busier, days are shorter and the calendar seems to keep moving faster. It’s a stressful time, full of obligations. Who has time to keep up with a healthy diet? But when combating stress, what you eat may actually help keep tension at bay.
When you’re under stress, your brain, thinking it needs fuel to help fend off real or imagined threats, signals your adrenal glands to secrete cortisol, the stress hormone. It’s key to the body’s fight or flight instinct. That’s a good thing.
Cortisol aids the body by
- Controlling blood pressure
- Regulating sleep
- Increasing blood sugar
- Managing the use of carbs, fats and proteins
- Reducing inflammation
Unfortunately, for some people, the excess cortisol can cause cravings for fatty, salty and sugary foods and healthy eating goes out the window. There are, however, a number of foods that may help stabilize blood sugar, reduce cravings and help relieve anxiety. Reach for one of these snacks when the cravings hit.
These nuts have heart-healthy benefits and contain fiber, minerals and unsaturated fat that can help keep blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol under control. You eat less because the fiber and protein they contain keep you feeling fuller longer. Plus, the rhythmic process of cracking open their shells adds a step to slow down eating, giving your body the opportunity to sense that it’s had enough food.
Research has shown that cocoa-rich dark chocolate can reduce stress hormones, including cortisol. It is a good source of antioxidants and minerals and typically has less sugar than milk chocolate. The antioxidants in the cocoa trigger blood vessel walls to relax, which lowers blood pressure and improves circulation. Other research suggests that dark chocolate may help lower the risk of heart disease, reduce insulin resistance and inflammation and improve brain function. Look for varieties that contain at least 70% cocoa.
Citrus, Berries and Other Fruits
Vitamin C is a go-to stress reliever. Studies have shown that a vitamin C deficiency is widely associated with stress-related disorders. The vitamin can reduce levels of stress hormones in the blood and bring down other indicators of physical and emotional stress as well. Citrus fruits like oranges, tangerines and grapefruit, along with strawberries, kiwi, mango and cantaloupe are all high in vitamin C.
Magnesium is crucial to many body systems, such as nerve and muscle function and energy production. It has been shown to help alleviate depression, irritability and fatigue as well. Unfortunately, some studies suggest that most people do not meet the dietary requirements for magnesium. Pumpkin seeds, flaxseed and sunflower seeds are great sources, as are leafy greens, yogurt, nuts and fish.
Studies have found that drinking green tea lowers levels of cortisol and herbal teal like chamomile, peppermint or ginger can be wonderfully soothing to the stomach and gut. Evidence of long-term health benefits is emerging, too. Drinking at least a half of cup of green tea a day seems to lower the risk of developing depression and dementia. Having a calming cup of mint or other herbal tea before bedtime can help sleep become more regular. Keep caffeinated teas earlier in the day so you don’t have problems sleeping at night.
A healthy diet, sufficient rest and regular exercise all contribute to keeping our bodies healthy and ready to take on the world. As the holidays approach, schedules and deadlines increase the stress we deal with every day. Parties fill us up with high sugar drinks and snacks, torpedoing our waistlines as well as our body chemistry. Arm yourself with healthy snacks so you can enjoy the season. Happy Holidays!