You may have been reaching for things in the pantry during lockdown that may have increased your stress levels. Naturopath Dee Copland has a few tips on how to tweak your diet to gain a bit more calm.
Food is your fuel, so by strengthening your body with the correct nutrients, you lay a foundation for a healthier nervous system, brain and body. This means you can reduce your stress levels – by stabilising your blood sugar levels, you even out your mood.
A study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry found that people who followed a traditional diet of vegetables, fruit, meat, fish and wholegrains tend to be less anxious compared to those who followed a Western diet of processed or fried foods, refined grains, sugary products and beer.
Here are a few things you could include and exclude from your diet in order to maintain wellbeing.
Curcumin: There is a lot of research on curcumin (the active constituent in turmeric) in reducing anxiety and depression. This can be easily added to soups and curries.
Magnesium: This is an essential mineral that cannot be made by your body. When stressed, the body uses higher amounts of magnesium, so replenishing these stores is vital. Some of the benefits include increased cellular energy production and reduced feelings of anxiety. It also provides support for muscular cramps and tension. Magnesium can encourage a more restorative sleep, which is critical for wellbeing. Avocado and raw nuts and seeds contain some magnesium, however, the body tends to use more than we can consume through food alone, so using supplements is worthwhile and very safe.
B vitamins: Help to support a healthy nervous system and improve energy levels. If levels of these vital nutrients are low, symptoms such as low mood, headaches, poor concentration and irritability may occur. Green leafy vegetables such as broccoli, silver beet and spinach, as well as mushrooms, peanuts and eggs, are good sources of B vitamins.
Omega-3 fatty acids: We need to get these essential fats from our food because our body cannot produce them. These good fats can help to reduce anxiety, reduce the frequency of mood swings and help with improving sleep. Sardines, salmon, avocado, and chia and hemp seeds are all good food sources.
Unhealthy fats: They come from items such as margarine, canola oil, deep-fried food, processed muesli bars, instant noodles and pastries can increase feelings of stress due to the cellular damage they cause.
Trans fats: It takes the body around 51 days to digest trans fats, so these are best avoided. Opt for olive oil, avocado oils, raw nuts and seeds instead. Limit coffee and caffeinated drinks, which can increase your heart rate and breathing. People often desire coffee when tired and stressed. However, a few tired days reducing or even removing caffeine from your system will allow natural energy to return and reduce anxiety. Green tea is a good alternative as it contains some caffeine for mental alertness, but it also has L-theanine, which buffers the negative effects of caffeine and promotes a feeling of calmness afterwards.
Poke Bowl Recipe
Poke bowls are based on the bite-sized marinated fish salad famous in Hawaii and now have become a popular meal-in-a-bowl concept. They are easy to make at home with this quick recipe and you can include a range of beneficial foods for your nervous system.
450g uncooked wild salmon, skinned and cut into 2cm cubes (or hot-roasted, if preferred)
3 Tbsp tamari/soy sauce
2 Tsp sesame oil
2 cups cooked short-grain brown rice, warmed
2 cups packed spicy greens, such as watercress or mizuna, roughly chopped
2 Tbsp rice vinegar
2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 Tbsp Dijon mustard
½ tsp turmeric
½–1 medium ripe avocado, diced
¼ cup mango pieces, defrosted
½ cup capsicum, thinly sliced
½ cup broccoli florets, blanched
½ cup fresh coriander, chopped
½ cup edamame beans, boiled
1 Tbsp black sesame seeds
½ lemon, cut into wedges