No matter how much goat yoga (yes, it's a thing) we may do in the new year, without our permission, life can still make us insane. We can blame the usual culprits: our job, Tinder, and that one friend. But according to recent scientific research, we should be blaming our plates, too. The New York Times recommends going on a "gut makeover" as a long-term investment in our well-being. Apart from strengthening our immunity and bolstering health, gut bacteria also affects mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression.
Because I’m always trying to slay stress, I asked Rebecca Lewis, in-house registered dietitian at HelloFresh, if we can eat ourselves chill. Here are the top calm-inducing foods she suggests incorporating into our daily diets.
Omega-3 fatty acid-rich foods like salmon are soldiers on the microbial level. Omega-3s reduce inflammation, which help us fight the low-grade, chronic symptoms of being overly stressed out. “Deficiency in [omega-3] can lead to fatigue, poor focus, and memory issues,” shares Lewis. Mood swings, anxiety, and depression, even arthritis, are just the tip of the iceberg when we omit omega-3s from our diet. “A lack of omega-3 in the body will eventually accelerate the rate at which our brains age!” warns Lewis.
The three major antioxidant vitamins, beta-carotene, C, and E, can help us fight the daily damage we do to our body—the kind that compounds when we’re stressed, nervous, or tense. “These nutrients can be found inside brightly colored fruits and vegetables, so choose dark purple, red, and orange-colored fruits and veggies.” Lewis suggests berries, plums, tomatoes, papaya, and sweet potatoes or vibrant greens such as spinach, kale, and broccoli.
03. Potassium and Calcium Power Smoothies
Bananas and almonds aren’t just quick breakfast options; they’re powerful doses of zen that should be a diet staple. Potassium in foods like avocados and bananas, and calcium in foods like kale and almonds, “help to calm down nerve activity and act as a natural muscle relaxer,” shares Lewis. Throw these ingredients into a blender with milk and ice, and you'll have a quick and nutritious smoothie to replace those stress-Oreos you've been hiding. If you're on the go, ZÜPA NOMA's Cucumber Avocado Fennel soup in a bottle doubles as a gut-health digestion aid with apple cider vinegar, fennel, and lemon juice.
With its distinct citrusy, botanical flavor, lemongrass can be therapeutic through its bright and crisp smell. Yet its effects go beyond aromatherapy. “In Brazil, lemongrass tea is often recommended to relieve tension and reduce anxiety—which may be due to the compound inside called citral,” Lewis explains. Citral, known for its antibacterial properties, has shown relaxant effects in studies too. So if you’re having a rough week, it might not be a bad idea to go out for Thai food (my lemongrass go-to). Sold fresh in many grocery stores, lemongrass goes great in soups and on meats.
05. Dark Chocolate
Vitamin B6, found in dark chocolate and pistachios, certainly deserves a spot on our A-list. It plays a major role in helping regulate how much serotonin our brain produces. “Since serotonin is our happy hormone, it helps lift our mood and relieve stress,” shares Lewis. (But it’s important to pace yourself on that chocolate because sugar is the enemy. Scharffen Berger's Dark Chocolate Bar with 70 percent cacao is so smooth, you won't miss the sweet.)
A pinch of saffron does more than add some flavorful oomph to bouillabaisse or paella. It adds oomph to your state of mind, too. In a few cases, it has even been as powerful as Prozac. Lewis explains, “The compounds crocin and safranal in saffron are believed to reduce depression and in some research studies they have been shown to be just as effective as prescribed anti-depression medications.” Saffron threads aren't cheap, but a little bit goes a long way. Add it to rice and roasts toward the end of cooking. Or whip them into sweet treats such as saffron snickerdoodles or poached pears in saffron cream.
07. Tart Cherries
Because sleeping is one of the best balms for stress, consider snacking on these after a long, stressful day. Lewis notes that cherries are “one of the only natural sources of melatonin—which is a hormone secreted at night by the pineal gland in the center of our brain to help regulate our wake and sleep cycles.” She emphasizes the tart. “Sweet cherries have about half the amount of melatonin as tart cherries, and dried cherries have virtually none.”
08. Pumpkin Seeds
If you insist on snacking in bed, we've found your new companion. Lewis explains that pumpkin is a natural source of tryptophan—the same sleep-inducing nutrient in turkey (see your annual Thanksgiving coma). “Your body uses tryptophan as a building block to produce the neurotransmitters serotonin and melatonin.” Sleep deprivation is the biggest cause of chronic stress, so noshing on pumpkin seeds while Netflix-ing can be a healthful addition to your nighttime routine. Get a dose of omega-3s and enjoy pumpkin season year-round with Sweet Home Farm Pumpkin Flax Granola.
Let’s get real. Stress-binging rarely makes anyone feel better—but these eight foods might take the cake (hardy har har). Incorporate these into your daily meals bit by bit, and you’ve got yourself a recipe to last you through this year’s oncoming frazzles.
Photo Credit: The Green Life