You're overwhelmed, overtired, and in desperate need of some mental and physical nourishment. You're stressed. What can you do beyond throwing in the towel and hiding under the covers? Thankfully, you can relieve stress by eating certain foods and avoiding others.
Tara Geise, a registered dietitian (RD) in private practice in Orlando, Florida, and a spokesperson for American Dietetic Association says, "One of the keys is avoiding things that will give your body and mind real highs and lows like caffeine and alcohol. You don't want to intake a lot of stimulants or a lot of depressants when you're stressed." Geise also recommends skipping that sugary snack you crave when the stress builds up. "Sugar causes your blood sugar to spike and then fall quickly, which can make your energy level dip," says Geise. "Then you're low energy and stressed and that's not a good picture."
Not to worry -- there are many foods you can eat that will help with your stress levels.
This green veggie is high in folic acid, which can help stabilize your mood. "When you're stressed, your body releases hormones that affect your mood," says Geise. "Eating certain vitamins and minerals like folic acid and B vitamins can help keep your mood steady because they're needed to make serotonin, which is a chemical that directly affects mood in a positive way."
Recommended Serving Size: 7 spears, 1/2 inch thick, cooked, 25 calories
Even though beef often gets a bad rap, it's a great dinner option for a stressed-out family. Beef contains high levels of zinc, iron, and B vitamins, which are also known to help stabilize your mood. "People think they should stay away from beef, but it's very nutrient rich, even compared to chicken," says Geise. Ask your grocery store butcher for a lean cut if you're concerned about fat content.
Recommended Serving Size: Scant 1 cup of raw lean ground chunk, 137 calories Scant 1 cup of regular ground beef, 310 calories
Milk is high in antioxidants and vitamins B2 and B12, as well as protein and calcium. Have a bowl of whole-grain cereal and low-fat milk in the morning to start your day with a stress-fighting breakfast.
Recommended Serving Size: Whole cow's milk, scant 1/2 cup, 66 calories Two percent cow's milk, scant 1/2 cup, 46 calories
Cottage Cheese and Fruit
Cottage cheese is high in protein and calcium. "Foods with high protein content that aren't loaded with sugar won't cause a spike in blood sugar and will keep you satiated for a longer time," says Geise. Try mixing the cottage cheese with a fruit that is high in vitamin C like oranges. Vitamin C plays a role in fighting stress because it's an antioxidant that fights the free radicals that get released when you're stressed. These free radicals have been shown to cause cancer.
Recommended Serving Size: Creamed cottage cheese, scant 1/2 cup, 79 calories One percent fat cottage cheese, scant 1/2 cup, 72 calories 1 orange, 60 calories
Are you ever looking for something you can really dig your teeth into when you're stressed? Try crunching on almonds to get some aggression out. A good source of Vitamin B2 and E, as well as magnesium and zinc, almonds are high in fat, but most of the fat is unsaturated. Like vitamin C, vitamin E has been shown to fight the free radicals associated with stress, and in particular, those free radicals that cause heart disease.
Recommended Serving Size: Shelled almonds, 1/3 cup, 306 calories
Very rich in antioxidants, blueberries offer a high-fiber, low-calorie fruit option that is also rich in stress-fighting vitamin C. Try them with cottage cheese or as a snack on their own.
Recommended Serving Size: Blueberries, 2/3 cup, 30 calories
A great lunch option, tuna is high in stress-fighting vitamins B6 and B12. Tuna is also a good low-fat protein source. "Don't load tuna down with fat by using a lot of mayonnaise," cautions Geise. "Choose a light mayo instead."
Recommended Serving Size: Tuna canned in brine, 3.5 ounces drained, 99 calories Tuna canned in oil, 3.5 ounces, drained, 189 calories
Cornflakes or Crispy Rice Cereal
Although they aren't low in sugar, cornflakes and crispy rice cereal are fortified with B vitamins and folic acid to help reduce stress. Have them for breakfast with milk. Geise also recommends having them dry as an afternoon snack.
Recommended Serving Size: Cornflakes, 1 cup, 108 calories Crispy rice cereal, 2 cups, 111 calories
Originally created for BHG.com, September 2004.