If you struggle with stress or anxiety, you probably already know that techniques like meditation and yoga can help you relax. But did you know that certain foods can also have a calming effect? Here’s a look at what to eat – and what not to eat – if you find yourself feeling a little frazzled.
1. Start your day with a bowl of oats
Not only is oats a low GI carbohydrate and a good source of fibre, it can also help with the production of serotonin. Sometimes referred to as a ‘happy hormone’, serotonin is a neurotransmitter that is thought to have an effect on mood, sleep and even sexual desire.
Serving suggestion: Throw in some antioxidant-rich berries for added goodness and flavour.
2. Eat your greens
Leafy greens like spinach, kale and Swiss chard contain magnesium, which is sometimes referred to as the relaxation mineral. According to draxe.com, magnesium can help to improve sleep, alleviate inflammation and combat depression. Other magnesium-rich foods include almonds, avocados and dark chocolate (yay!).
Serving suggestion: A baby spinach and feta frittata is a great option for breakfast, lunch or dinner.
3. Add oily fish to your diet
Oily fish like salmon and sardines are packed with omega-3 fatty acids. Apart from being good for your overall health, some studies (including a 2011 Ohio State University study) have shown that these fatty acids can help to reduce depression, anxiety and inflammation.
Serving suggestion: Make grilled salmon with avocado salsa a regular feature on your menu.
4. Be good to your gut
We know how important the gut-brain connection is – in fact, the gut is often referred to as ‘the second brain’ – so it’s not surprising that gut health can have an effect on feelings like stress and anxiety. According to Harvard Health Publishing, “… a person's stomach or intestinal distress can be the cause or the product of anxiety, stress, or depression.” So why not add some fermented foods to your diet and boost your gut-friendly bacteria? Some great examples include sauerkraut, kimchi, yoghurt and kombucha.
Serving suggestion: Try your hand at making Kimchi Stew – you’ll find a delicious recipe at the Brisbane-based My Korean Kitchen blog.
5. Check your caffeine consumption
According to the Better Health Channel, caffeine is a stimulant that acts on the brain and nervous system, and having too much can cause rapid heartbeat, restlessness, anxiety and irritability, among other symptoms. If you’re feeling stressed, it might be a good idea to have fewer cups of coffee or tea a day. Or, if you find that caffeine regularly gives you the jitters, go for decaf or try a calming herbal tea instead.
Alternative option: Peppermint tea and chamomile tea are soothing and caffeine-free alternatives.
6. Go slow on sugar
Eating sugary foods might give you an initial energy boost, but the crash from the sugar high is never far behind – and that can leave you feeling cranky and down. So, try to cut down your sugar intake where you can (even fruit juices can be loaded with sugar) and avoid the obvious offenders like chocolates, sweets, sodas and pastries.
Alternative option: If you’re craving a sweet treat, have one or two squares of dark chocolate – it’s a good source of magnesium and tryptophan.