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Eat Healthy, Be Happy

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The right foods can help you combat stress and anxiety

woman-eating-saladAre you stressed out? Considering our current economic situation combined with our perceived daily challenges and demands, many feel stress, anxiety, depression or moodiness frequently. Our emotional condition can create harmful physical effects on our bodies, including digestive problems, ulcers, fluctuations in weight, high blood pressure, heart disease, lack of concentration and memory loss. Stress (and other related anxiety issues) are connected to our mood, immune system, food cravings and fat storage. Learning effective ways to change our thought patterns and maximize our health are beneficial ways to combat complications of stress without medication.

Simply attempting to enhance your health by optimizing nutrition and exercising will help you feel better and boost your mood. Good nutrition maximizes energy, stabilizes blood sugar and hormone levels, minimizes cravings and improves concentration. Here are a few tips to improved health:

  • Exercise releases endorphins that combat the inflammatory stress hormone, cortisol (increased cortisol levels also contribute to excess body fat, particularly in the abdominal area). Exercise also increases blood flow so that the brain receives more oxygen, which improves function. Any type of workout that you enjoy and that fits easily into your daily routine will be most effective long-term. Recent evidence suggests that even small bouts of exercise during the day (30 minutes or so) can be quite productive and sometimes easier to accomplish than an hour on the treadmill.
  • Include vitamin C in your diet to help reduce cortisol levels. Food sources are citrus fruits, strawberries, kiwi and dark greens, to name a few.
  • Consume foods that trigger the release of serotonin, the feel-good hormone. Protein foods, particularly turkey and chicken, contain tryptophan, which boosts serotonin levels. Vitamin D also enhances serotonin production (10 to 15 minutes of sun exposure on bare skin three to four times per week is sufficient). Food sources of vitamin D include salmon, sardines, egg yolks and fortified whole-grain cereals.
  • Emphasize Omega 3 polyunsaturated fat to help regulate mood by boosting serotonin levels. Omega 3 fatty acids are found in cold-water fish such as salmon and tuna. If you don’t consume a lot of fish, an Ultimate Omega fish oil supplement twice a day is sufficient.
  • Mix high-quality carbohydrates, such as beans, fruits, vegetables and whole grains, with lean sources of protein. Good carbohydrates help convert tryptophan (in protein foods) into serotonin in the brain (this is why many feel cranky and fatigued on low-carb diets!).
  • Include folic acid and vitamin B12 to help relieve depression. Some great sources of folic acid are fruits and vegetables (particularly dark greens), sunflower seeds and beans. Vitamin B12 foods include shellfish, fortified whole-grain cereals, beef, eggs and cottage cheese.
  • Reduce sugar and refined carbohydrates (made with white flour). These foods cause a sudden surge in blood sugar followed by a drastic drop, which can lead to fatigue and anxiety.
  • Limit processed foods filled with preservatives. They rob your body of essential nutrients. Look for whole foods, found on the perimeter of the grocery store: fresh produce, lean meats, low-fat dairy products. Avoid instant, canned and boxed foods. These choices are stripped of the nutrients, vitamins and minerals that protect your health.
  • Limit caffeine. Excessive amounts of caffeine can lead to an increase in the body’s stress response and cause anxiety and disrupt sleep. Aim for no more than 300 milligrams per day (one cup of coffee contains about 100 milligrams; soft drinks contain about 50 milligrams).

Address your stress. Many take solace in “comfort foods” when stressed-out (think mac and cheese, pizza, pastas, etc). These foods are typically high in saturated fat and calories. They serve as a temporary distraction and create a temporary boost in mood. Instead, engage in other enjoyable activities to feel better.

Final tip: Remember to fuel frequently on healthy foods throughout the day. This will maintain energy and boost your mood. We cannot change some situations that cause stress and anxiety in our lives, but we can change how we react to them, while maintaining a healthy body and lifestyle.