Healthy Eating: Six 'stress-free' super foods

Find out which foods may be all you need to help relax and calm yourself before or after a long stressful day.

water bottle 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
water bottle 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Feeling overly anxious? Trouble sleeping because of nerves? When people become stressed they generally gravitate towards “comfort foods” – buttery mashed potatoes, Ben and Jerry’s Chunky Money, a plate of crispy French fries– basically if it’s high in fat and/or sugar and low in nutrition, we crave it. While these foods will lift our mood and make us feel better for a minute or two, the relaxed sensation doesn’t last long and we quickly return to our overly tensed state.
So to help calm your nerves, and keep your stress levels down, you might need to say bye bye to those so called “comfort foods” and instead reach for others that will provide you with essential nutrients that may actually reduce stress and anxiety in the long run.
Chamomile tea
Many people consume hot tea in the evening as a way to unwind after a long busy day. While herbal teas offer an array of health benefits, one herbal tea – chamomile – has been proven to actually help you relax and sleep better. Drinking chamomile tea increases your levels of glycine – an amino acid that relaxes both muscle and nerves - and so may also explain why the tea seems to act as a mild sedative, helping one fall asleep faster and easier. In fact, animal studies conducted at the Maryland Medical Center showed that low doses of the tea may relieve anxiety while higher doses may encourage sleep.
The fourth most abundant mineral in the body, magnesium is needed for every single one of our organs to function properly. It is required for proper nerve and muscle function, for the immune system to stay strong, for the control of blood pressure and for the regulation of other minerals, including calcium, within the body, in addition to being necessary for more than 300 biochemical reactions. As magnesium is so important, having too little magnesium can result in headaches, fatigue and even anxiety. Moreover, magnesium also helps your muscles relax, which is always a good thing as high stress levels can cause the muscles in the neck and shoulders to tighten up and start to ache. Eating one cup of spinach provides up to 40 percent of the daily recommended value of magnesium.
Sunflower seeds
Sunflower seeds are an excellent source of Vitamin E, manganese, magnesium, tryptophan as well as many of the B Vitamins including thiamine (Vitamin B1) and pantothenic acid. Also known as Vitamin B5, pantothenic acid is needed for the production of red blood cells, a key role in the metabolism of carbohydrates, proteins and fats as well as the synthesis of stress hormones, amongst others. While this vitamin cannot stop stress, it is involved in the production of stress hormones that can help us manage the physical effects of stress. While it is sometimes referred to as the “anti-stress” vitamin,  more research needs to be conducted in order to determine the exact effects of pantothenic acid on the body's response to stress.
Trouble falling asleep at night? Many people will reach for a warm glass of milk to help them relax, and generally it does the trick. However, you could just as easily reach for a cold glass of milk, a yogurt or any other dairy product, for that matter, as it is not the warm milk that calms you down, but rather the calcium. Calcium-rich foods are an essential part of a healthy diet as the mineral is needed for proper bone growth and maintenance, blood clotting, nerve conduction, regulation of enzyme activity, cell membrane function and blood pressure regulation. Studies have shown that calcium acts as a natural tranquilizer and that muscle spasms and tension caused by stress can be soothed by the intake of this mineral.
Moreover, calcium may also help some woman manage their PMS symptoms. As most women know, PMS can cause several psychological effects, including mood swings and emotional sensitivity – all things that can make a stressful situation feel ten times worse. One study followed women who ate about four servings of low-fat dairy products or had fortified orange juice (in total equivalent to 400 International Units (IU) of vitamin D and 1,200 milligrams of calcium) and it reduced their PMS by 40% compared to those who did not take in these products.
Extended periods of physical or psychological stress produce adrenaline. Some studies have shown a connection between decreased levels of adrenaline and omega 3, an essential fatty acid found in cold water fish such as salmon, as well as walnuts, chia seeds and flax seeds. An essential fatty acid, omega 3 may help to keep adrenaline levels in check. Too much adrenaline causes nervousness, mood swings, and aggression. Omega 3 also helps to reduce blood pressure, which is typically elevated by stressful situations.
While a steamy hot shower or a scented bubble bath is an excellent way to relax, drinking a big glass of water is another way to eliminate stress on a hectic day. Why? When you do not drink enough water, your body becomes dehydrated. While dehydration is commonly associated with not drinking enough liquids on an excruciatingly hot summer day, most people can easily become mildly dehydrated when they do not drink enough water. In fact, 75% of Americans suffer from chronic dehydration – a condition that occurs over time when a person does not drink enough fluids day after day. Every single organ, tissue and cell requires good old H2O to function properly, so when you are dehydrated your body does not function at its peak – this can lead you to become stressed more easily. Moreover, dehydration can give you headaches and make you feel tired, all things that can make you feel more stressed and anxious.