On Monday, I posted about foods that can fuel stress. Fortunately, reaching for the right foods can have the opposite effect. Earlier today on Access Hollywood Live, I shared five foods can help take the edge off. Here they are, along with a few more, and the science behind how they work:
Fresh Fruits and Veggies
More than 74 percent of Americans fall short of the minimum recommended two daily fruit and three daily veggie servings, but filling the gap can be a powerful way to calm down. In a British food and mood study, more than 70 percent of the participants reported that upping their produce intakes improved their mood, and 25 percent said that this simple change reduced both panic attacks and anxiety.
Carbohydrates boost calming seratonin levels, but it's important to choose the right kind. Reaching for whole grains, such as popped popcorn, oatmeal, wild rice, and quinoa, provide a broad spectrum of nutrients. And because they're digested and absorbed slowly, these "good" carbs won't lead to the spike and drop in blood sugar you might experience when you eat refined carbs, which can actually trigger irritability and moodiness.
Enjoying green tea leisurely doesn't just feel good; it's good for you. A Japanese study conducted with more than 40,000 people found that levels of psychological stress were 20 percent lower in those who drank at least five cups of green tea per day compared to those who drank less than one cup per day. The results held true even after accounting for factors such as age, sex, medical history, body mass index, alcohol consumption, cigarette smoking, and diet.
Veggies from the sea are rich in iodine and one of the few sources of this important mineral. That's key because too little can trigger fatigue and depression. Just a quarter of a cup of seaweed packs more than 275 percent of the daily value for iodine, and it's a good source of magnesium, which can improve sleep.
One cup supplies more than 30 percent of the folate needed daily. Because of its link to the nervous system, too little folate has been known to trigger mental fatigue, forgetfulness, confusion and insomnia. In addition, several common medications can deplete the body's supply of folate, including cholesterol-lowering drugs, anti-inflammatory drugs, diabetes medications and birth control pills. Just be sure to eat them fresh because the folate in plant foods can plummet by up to 40 percent when cooked. Fortunately, fresh beets are in season all year.
They're rich in selenium, which studies have linked a deficiency of to a higher risk of depression, anxiety and fatigue. And they're the only plant source of natural vitamin D, a key nutrient three out of four Americans don't get enough of. A British study found that people suffering with seasonal affective disorder (which affects 11 million Americans) had an enhanced mood after consuming more vitamin D. New research shows that sunning mushrooms, which grow in the shade, after harvesting for just five minutes causes their vitamin D content to skyrocket to over 800 percent of the daily value.
A recent study found that eating about an ounce and a half of dark chocolate a day for two weeks reduced levels of stress hormones in volunteers who rated themselves as highly stressed. Dark chocolate is an effective stress reducer for several reasons. It contains magnesium, which is a mineral that can help alleviate PMS symptoms, including cramps, water retention, fatigue, depression, and irritability. Also, the antioxidants in cocoa trigger the walls of your blood vessels to relax, lowering blood pressure and improving circulation, which means better delivery of oxygen and nutrients to every cell. And finally, dark chocolate contains unique natural substances that create a sense of euphoria that's similar to the feeling of being in love!
Cynthia Sass is a registered dietitian with master's degrees in both nutrition science and public health. Frequently seen on national TV, she's a SHAPE contributing editor and nutrition consultant to the New York Rangers and Tampa Bay Rays. Her latest New York Times best seller is S.A.S.S! Yourself Slim: Conquer Cravings, Drop Pounds and Lose Inches.