Food Secrets to Stress Relief
The holidays are here, and we are all experiencing the good and bad stresses associated with this time of year - and not to mention the economic crunch of gift giving many of us are experiencing. Lucky for us, the food industry has taken note. In the past year, you may have noticed an up tick in products that offer something like "Zen in a bottle", so-called anti-energy drinks that claim to relieve stress, relax, calm, and even help you obtain happiness.
When you're feeling frazzled and in a hurry, it could be tempting to grab one of these on the go—that's OK, but don't forget that nature has provided us with foods that are known to have calming effects. There are also certain combinations of foods that can leave you feeling not just something close to blissful, but satisfied and nourished as well.
For the most part, calming foods are easy to digest and contain nutrients that can relax the nervous system or boost mood in some way. As a holiday treat, here are a few suggestions on how to naturally promote relaxation through food and drink, and infuse some Zen into this frantic season.
Tryptophan: you know when Uncle Arthur dozes off in his easy chair after eating his Thanksgiving dinner? Sometimes that post-turkey nap is due to the tryptophan in the bird. Tryptophan is an essential amino acid; and while it can make you sleepy, it also aids in the production of the neurotransmitter serotonin, which calms and helps regulate feelings. Production of serotonin can elevate your mood and ward off depression. Serotonin also helps promote adequate sleep. Combining tryptophan-containing foods with complex carbohydrates, such as whole grains, increases absorption and aids in the production of serotonin. In addition to turkey, foods that contain high levels of tryptophan include shrimp, spinach, chicken, tuna, soybeans, milk, salmon, and eggs. Vegetables like asparagus, broccoli, and cauliflower are also great tryptophan sources.
Chamomile, another very popular relaxation aid, has been used since ancient times and is known to promote general relaxation and relieve stress. Chamomile tea has been used a mild sleep aid and can help with digestion. Its leaves can be found dried as tea and has a very pleasant and calming aroma.
Omega-3s - try eating food that are rich in omega-3 fatty acid, such as walnuts, salmon, sardines, flax seed, and omega-3 fortified eggs. Omega-3 is an essential fatty acid that is needed for optimal brain health. Omega-3s also have an anti-inflammatory effect that may help in pain relief.
Zinc-rich foods such as spinach, lamb, and grass-fed beef can also have calming effects, as they help to stabilize metabolic rate, balance blood sugar, and aid in the optimal function of the immune system. Zinc is a trace mineral, essential for growth and development of all cells in our bodies, and thus a deficiency can lead to a litany of problems. Other good sources of zinc include calf's liver, shrimp, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, and crimini mushrooms.
Water is essential for every function in the body, but during busy days it’s one of the easiest things to forget. Drinking at least 8 ounces of water with each meal can help supply adequate energy, relieve headaches and head congestion, and generally help you think straight during hectic holiday times. It also helps with proper digestion. Drink plenty of filtered water throughout the day to remain hydrated, and feeling calm and healthy.
If you're feeling especially anxious, try decreasing your caffeine intake, and limit coffee and tea drinking to earlier in the day. Remember, some sodas and diet sodas also contain caffeine, sometimes in significant amounts, so read labels carefully. Caffeine speeds up the action of both the nervous system and other major body systems. It can also increase the level of adrenaline in your blood, which triggers an increase in heart rate, breathing rate, production of stomach acids, and urinary output. If you can, try to avoid artificially sweetened and sugary beverages altogether—they won't hydrate you as well as water and can contribute to stress.
The holidays should be fun and enjoyable! Use the above list as a guide to keep you feeling relaxed and calm as we transition into 2010!