Are you a stress-eater?
In stressful times, it can be easy to reach for comforting foods – and sometimes those foods aren’t the best for our health. But what if instead, you reached for stress-busting foods? As in – foods that not only benefit your health, but (perhaps more importantly) help you reduce and manage your stress?
Here are the best foods to help reduce the effects of stress on your body:
1. Wild Blueberries
Wild blueberries are different from their larger cultivated cousins you typically see in the produce section. Wild blueberries have sky-high levels of antioxidants, which help your body recover from all kinds of stressors. Antioxidants prevent disease – and they are best found in whole foods versus in supplement form, according to the Mayo Clinic. Free radicals in the body cause disease and what’s called “oxidative stress”, and antioxidants neutralize this effect. As we grow through years in life, our bodies undergo a process called “oxidizing” – which is essentially the deterioration of cells. Fruit gives us the gift of antioxidants, which combat the oxidation process – fighting the effects of stress and contributing to a long, healthy life. In addition, a 2018 study found that antioxidants reduce the risk of a second heart attack in the months following the first. Wild blueberries are an extremely adaptogenic food, allowing them to adjust to what your body needs and fulfill it.
Wild blueberry plants can adapt to their environment to grow, no matter what. These low bushes can grow hanging on a cliffside – and even when burned to the ground, they come back stronger than ever. When wild blueberries are frozen, their nutritional value increases. The challenge of extreme conditions – be it hot or cold – pushes wild blueberries to overcome and perform at their best. When you eat wild blueberries, these qualities become embedded in you too. While in a tough, stressful situation, not only can wild blueberries manage your stress physiologically – they can help on a deeper emotional, mental, and spiritual level.
How to eat wild blueberries? The options are endless! You can typically find wild blueberries in the frozen section of the grocery store, and Costco also carries them in some parts of the U.S. The simplest way to enjoy them? Defrosted (or not) and with a spoon! I love putting them in my daily smoothie, making them into ice cream, or tossing them into baked goods or waffles/pancakes.
2. Jerusalem artichokes (Sun Chokes)
Unlike a green artichoke, Jerusalem artichokes look like a ginger root or potato tubers. They grow from a North American sunflower – up to about 200 tubers per plant. Sun chokes (as they are also called) are extremely versatile and can be used even more widely than a potato, as they are also delicious raw with a crisp, watery texture and taste slightly sweet and nutty with hints of radish.
These “earth apples” are very high in antioxidants, which as discussed above help repair and prevent the damage done by stress in the body. They are also a good source of potassium, which helps maintain the electrical activity of your heart and the pH balance in the blood (among many other functions). Jerusalem artichokes also contain a significant amount of iron, which plays an important role in carrying oxygen throughout the body. What do people tell you to do when you’re stressed? Take a deep breath – and that’s what iron helps your body do.
There are countless ways to use Jerusalem artichokes! I’ve used them in root mashes (similar to mashed potatoes), made them into vegan scallops, and are easy to steam and purée into a delicious and nutritious baby food. There are many amazing recipes out there for tasty ways to enjoy this stress-busting food!
3. Brazil nuts
Yes, brazil nuts are a complete protein, but more important is the high amounts of selenium they contain. Selenium not only strengthens your immune system (which can help your body fight against stress responses and external stressors), it also decreases inflammation – which is linked to stress and many dis-easements in the body. Selenium directly protects your body against inflammation and free radical damage. When we are deficient in selenium, it can show up as mental fatigue, reproductive disorders, weakening of the heart, hair loss, low immunity, fatigue, heart palpitations, and thyroid disorders.
On a budget? Well guess what – only 2-6 nuts a day are needed to obtain all the complete nutritional and health benefits of brazil nuts! Consider chopping them up and sprinkling over a salad with a squeeze of fresh lemon and fresh herbs or adding a few to a smoothie or trail mix.
This amazing root/spice is a natural wonder for your health! Its benefits reach far and wide, but as far as reducing stress, turmeric is an important one. More and more research is showing us that chronic stress is linked to inflammation, which can impact the brain and nervous system and cause or worsen depression. This tells us one way to help interrupt or prevent depression is not just to work on stress management, but that we can also target the inflammation that results from stress.
What’s one of the most powerful anti-inflammatory agents on the planet? Turmeric! It has been used as a medicinal food for centuries, and has even been shown to stop tumor growth and reverse the damage done. Turmeric and its active agent curcumin banish inflammation and support a variety of functions in the body, including the immune system.
To fight stress and its effects on your body, turmeric is a wonderful addition. Try tossing the spice with your veggies before you roast them, juicing the fresh root with ginger for an amazing shot of nutrition, or using it to make this incredible detoxifying drink. One of my favorite ways to add turmeric into my daily regimen is to make my lemon honey ginger water with a chunk of turmeric added in! (Note: you do not need black pepper to “activate” the curcumin in pepper.) You can also supplement, as long as it is a high-quality brand (I like this curcumin supplement).
Brimming with nutrition, the Maradol papaya (the large, green variety) can reduce inflammation, flood the body with antioxidants, and restore digestive processes. Papayas can help soothe the nervous system, which can become overactive in times of stress, due to their high amounts of magnesium. If you are feeling crabby or irritable, papaya can lift you out of negativity and enliven your mood.
Papaya is one of my favorite fruits, and I love eating it with a spoon, tossing it in a smoothie, or making a yummy pudding by blending it up. The black, spicy seeds inside can be tossed on salads or chewed for an amazing digestive aid. I have also dehydrated these and put them in a pepper grinder to crack over our family dinners! If I can’t find fresh papaya, I often use this powder in my smoothies.
6. (BONUS!) Swiss chard
Did you know that leafy greens also have a ton of antioxidants? Swiss chard is no exception, and it is for its high levels of antioxidants that it is a fantastic stress-busting food. It is also extremely high in magnesium, which calms the nerves and muscles to ease a mind and body tense with stress. Also containing selenium and anti-inflammatory properties, swiss chard is a great way to help your body process and reduce stress.
You get the optimal benefits of swiss chard when it is raw or juiced, but it makes a great addition to a variety of dishes. Add it to juices, smoothies, salads, soups, sandwiches, wraps, etc. for an incredible boost to your defenses against stress.
Food As Stress Management – In a Healthy Way
Is it okay to reach for a cookie to soothe the sting of some hard news? Yes – though I would encourage not making it your constant automatic response. By raising our awareness, we can use food as one tool to help manage stress and anxiety in a healthy way by supporting our body’s systems and needs. There are many ways to manage stress, and we often benefit from using many of them at once (for example, meditation, movement, sleep, sunlight, etc). It is my hope that these foods are one more tool in your toolbox – and that you can continue to find less stress and more joy in your daily life.
P.S. If you want to learn more about how to support your immune system in these times, sign up to learn more about my upcoming online course here!