I previously explored how yoga and meditation could assist with stress reduction but another technique for controlling stress lies in the foods we eat. We must eat to stay alive and what we choose to put into our bodies for nourishment is up to us. Everything that enters our mouth – food, drink, smoke and pills, can reduce or increase stress. We can consume nutrient rich foods or we can choose nutrient empty foods. We can create a balancing, calming or de-stressing effect or we can create an irritating, stimulating and stressful effect. The choice is ours.
Seratonin and ‘good-mood foods’
Good-mood foods can improve our mood, relax our mind and help us to function optimally by producing ‘endorphin’s’, better known as the ‘feel-good’ hormone.
“What you eat can affect your mood and how well your brain works,” says Judith Wurtman, Ph.D., a former Massachusetts Institute of Technology research scientist and co-author of The Serotonin Power Diet.
Serotonin is the mood neurotransmitter that enables us to feel peaceful and calm, as well as emotionally and socially stable. It has the opposite effect of cortisol and adrenalin, which increase stress and nervous tension and can even cause us to retain fat – especially around our midsection. We cannot produce the amino-acid, tryptophan, which is converted by the body into serotonin, so unless we get enough through our diet, we may suffer a deficiency. Low serotonin levels are associated with:
- Mood disorders
- Irritable bowel syndrome
Mood swings could be indicative of nutritional deficit. It is recommended that adults consume a minimum of 300 mg of tryptophan-containing foods daily to keep serotonin levels stable. Tryptophan occurs naturally in almost all foods containing protein, but as animals are subjected to a great deal of stress in the animal production line however, it is best to reduce animal intake or eat organic, high-welfare meat. You are what you eat, and if you eat an animal that was stressed and fearful when it was slaughtered, it will not be the best choice for reducing your own stress levels.
The best foods for reducing stress
At the top of the list of meat-free, good-mood foods are oats, whole grains, apples, bananas, honey, almonds, walnuts, sunflower seeds, wheat germ, brewer´s yeast, almond, oat or rice milk, lettuce, asparagus, spinach, mung beans and tofu.
Essential vitamins and minerals to control mood swings and stress include magnesium, calcium and zinc as well as Vitamin B Complex, especially Vitamin B12 and the antioxidants vitamin A, C and E. Too much stress may deplete your bodies reserve of magnesium, which is needed to relax the muscles, so it’s also important to include magnesium-rich foods such as dark green leafy vegetables, like spinach, as well as figs, raisins, seeds and nuts, including pistachio and walnuts.
Calcium is important in a destress diet as it has a natural tranquilizing effect on the nervous system. Calcium can be found not only in dairy products, which are not so easily assimilated by the body, but also in soy and green leafy vegetables, as well as in sesame seeds, almonds and molasses.
Experts suggest a good-mood diet should include B vitamins, which are found in whole grains, wheat germ, yeast extract, avocados, yogurt and dates, as well as in dairy and animal products. Vitamin B is the principal vitamin needed to effectively combat stress, as it helps to regulate and sedate as well as strengthen and regenerate the nervous system. Brown rice is not only high in complex B vitamins but also selenium, manganese and iron, which may also help to relieve stress. Brewers yeast is an important supplement to add when under heavy mental pressure, physical pressure or stress. It has proteins and vitamins and acts to detox and to relax.
Vitamin B6, folic acid, magnesium and Vitamin C are all necessary for the body to metabolize tryptophan. Make sure to also include complex carbohydrates which help the body to make insulin, which allows tryptophan to get into the brain.
These simple changes to your diet and habits can massively reduce your stress levels!
Something so easy as remembering to include plenty of water in your daily diet can make a huge difference in feeling stressed out or stress less – aim for at least 1 -2 litres, more in hot weather. Your body requires water and oxygen to function optimally. Failing to drink enough water or breathe deeply can put every cell of your body under stress. An empowering and relaxing routine to add to your drink of water is to mentally repeat “I am at peace and so is my world” as you take your first sip.
It’s best to start with small and simple changes that are easy to implement into your life and easy to maintain, rather than creating a long list of more challenging habit makeovers that could stress you further.
Remembering to laugh every day is a great stress reducer. Even if you have nothing to laugh at, fake it and you will find yourself instantly feeling better – a good laugh uses more muscles than a good workout does!
Consider Feng Shui for a dining area that is peaceful and free of clutter and excessive noise. Turn off the news (the news is normally not conducive to relaxation), put the telephone aside and enjoy some quiet music and quality time as you relax and enjoy your meal.
Above all else, be sure to place the most important ingredient of all in your dishes – a positive and grateful attitude. Prepare your food with consciousness, love and affection. The energy with which you prepare your dishes is absorbed into the food and thereby assimilated into the body – you are what you eat, so be sure to eat with love and gratitude. Enjoy a few seconds before beginning the meal to silently allow your eyes to savour the colours and your nose to enjoy the aromas. Offer thanks that you have food on your plate and to the living plants and creatures that sacrificed their lives in order that you may continue with yours and to try to honour them in the way in which you live your life.
Written by Jeanne Lurie
About the author
Jeanne has been practicing and teaching yoga and meditation for almost 50 years. Her specialty and her passion is Kundalini yoga better known as the yoga of consciousness. As an Ayurveda Yoga Therapist she is further able to assist her students and her clients in transformation to wellness and well being by finding the yoga, nutrition and massage for their type or Dosha. Jeanne also offers stress management consulting based on her training as a masseur, naturopath, nutritionist, stress management consultant and her life long practice of living a healthy life with healthy habits. She also offers the Healthy Woman – Healthy World program for empowering women.