”Comfort foods don't have to be unhealthy!
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- How certain foods can help improve mood and combat stress
If you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed, put down the pint of ice cream and pick up a fistful of blueberries. Eating a diet that is rich in nutrients provides natural stress relief by altering your actual body chemistry to improve your mood instead of just being a comfort food laden with fats and sugars.
A symptom of stress response is heightened blood pressure, so it would stand to reason that eating foods that lower your blood pressure would in turn lower stress levels. This is the case when eating a diet that is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, otherwise known as Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids (PUFAs). Some common foods that contain high amounts of these fatty acids are chia seeds, flax seeds, walnuts, and fish.
When stressed, you may typically experience some digestion troubles or have a heightened risk for illness. Fortunately you can make an easy dietary change to both boost your mood and to keep your immune system in top shape. Probiotics are good bacteria in your gut that are responsible for transforming nutrients into neurotransmitters that elevate your mood. These probiotics are found in fermented and pickled foods such as yogurt or pickles. By introducing these compounds to your gut, you aide your digestive system into producing neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine that are directly involved in your mood.
A balanced diet for stress reduction should also include a mineral component. Studies have shown that magnesium helps to reduce anxious behaviors by aiding in the production of serotonin. This mineral also acts at the blood-brain barrier to prevent stress hormones from entering the brain in the first place. Some common examples of foods rich in magnesium are eggs, spinach, nuts, seeds, and avocado. By snacking on some of these throughout the day, you can help lower the stress response in your brain by blocking out the hormones that cause it.
The next time you start to get anxious, take a look in your kitchen and put something together that contains the right amount of omega-3 fatty acids with a fermented food and possibly some magnesium. One simple example of this dish would be a cup of non-fat yogurt with some chia seeds and walnuts sprinkled in. There are even more nutrients out there that help with relieving anxiety, but this is a good starting point that incorporates a large amount of food items that may already be laying around your house.
Thank you to the following sources that contributed to this article for MWi
Donvito, T. (2018). 9 Foods That Calm Anxiety (And 3 That Make It Worse). Reader’s Digest. Retrieved from https://www.rd.com/health/wellness/foods- for-anxiety/
Kiecolt-Glaser, J.K. et Al. (2011). Omega-3 supplementation lowers inflammation and anxiety in medical students: a randomized controlled trial. Brain Behav Immun. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21784145
Sartori, S.B. et Al. (2012). Magnesium deficiency induces anxiety and HPA axis dysregulation: Modulation by therapeutic drug treatment. Neuropharmacology. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/ articles/PMC3198864/
Slyepchenko, A. et Al. (2014). Gut emotions – mechanisms of action of probiotics as novel therapeutic targets for depression and anxiety disorders. CNS Neurol Disord Drug Targets. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/ pubmed/25470391