“A crust eaten in peace is better than a banquet partaken in anxiety.” – Aesop, Fables
Summer has arrived! I couldn’t be more ready for summer to bring beautiful and tasty delights to the farmer’s market, longer days, warmer weather, and color, color, color. Summer used to mean long days at the beach, staying up late and playing all day without a care in the world. This view of childhood summers is in sharp contrast with what I currently experience.
I’m not at the beach all day – I’m in the office.
I’m not relaxed – I’m stressed. You?
I recently returned from a delightful trip (new tastes, sights, smells, friends…) to Charlotte, North Carolina where I participated in a leadership training program with Apex Performance. Among other things, we talked a lot about stress. This training program wasn’t about nutrition, but our conversations sparked so many thoughts about the role food plays in stress management that I just had to share them with you.
Are you stressed? (Is that a dumb question?)
- Do you crave a lift from sweets or alcohol, but later experience a drop in energy and mood after ingesting them?
- Do you eat as a reward or for pleasure, comfort or numbness?
- Do you feel nervous, jittery, irritable, headachy, weak, or teary on and off throughout the day; may be calmer after meals?
- Do you suffer from mental confusion, decreased memory or find it hard to focus or get organized?
- Do you have difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep?
- Do you feel light-headed, especially when standing up?
- Do you crave salty foods or licorice?
- Do you often feel “stressed”, “overwhelmed”, or “exhausted”?
If you answered YES to any of these questions, you may be stressed!
Many of us are aware of the emotional stressors in our lives that come from our relationships, work, finances, etc. and there is ample evidence that living a highly stressful lifestyle can cause physical damage leading to heart disease, high blood pressure, digestive problems, depression, and premature brain cell aging. But many of our stressors are out of our control – what can we do?
We can eat well. Did you know the foods we eat can affect our stress level? At each meal we have the opportunity to either create additional stress by consuming nutrient-depleting foods (or no food at all), or nourish our bodies to support our brain chemistry so we can better manage stress.
How diet can lead to stress:
- Low blood sugar (skipping meals, not eating enough) can raise cortisol levels and send our bodies into “starvation mode.” This is stressful.
- Refined sugars and flours, alcohol and drugs (including some prescription medications) can actually inhibit the production of the brain’s natural pleasure chemicals. This leads us to feeling like we need these foods to make us happy.
- A diet too low in protein won’t provide the raw materials (amino acids) necessary to manufacture the brain’s mood-enhancing chemicals.
- Many people are unknowingly sensitive to common foods like caffeine, dairy, gluten, eggs and soy. Consumption of these foods leads to a heightened immune response and additional stress on the body.
- De-stress before eating. Sit down, put away your computer, turn off the TV, put your hands on your belly to stimulate your digestive function and say a prayer of thanks. You’ll feel better and absorb more nutrients from your food this way.
- Pack your protein! The four key mood chemicals (neurotransmitters) are made of raw materials (amino acids) found in protein. Animal proteins contain the all the essential amino acids, so be sure to eat meals containing high-protein foods like fish, eggs, chicken and beef.
- Very few foods are high in tryptophan, which is the only nutrient that the body can use to make serotonin. Foods high in tryptophan are seeds (pumpkin, sunflower, sesame), filiberts and almonds, pork, beef, wild game, shrimp, chicken, turkey, tempeh, kelp, banana and milk. Tryptophan also promotes restful sleep, so enjoy a double benefit by eating these foods at dinner or before bed.
- Don’t skip meals! Keep your blood sugar steady by eating a meal or snack every 4-5 hours.
- Eat your vitamins! Colorful fruits and vegetables contain nutrients essential for brain function, health and happiness; eat a rainbow each day.
Tired of your standard trail mix? Spice it up with this fresh take on seeds and a delicious piece of summer fruit.
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- 1/4 cup pepitas (raw, hulled pumpkin seeds)
- 1/4 cup sunflower seeds (hulled)
- 1 teaspoon chili powder
- 1/2 teaspoon cumin
- ¼ tsp. cayenne pepper
- sea salt
Heat oil in a medium skillet over medium-low heat. Add seeds and spices; stir to coat. Toast for approximately 5 minutes, shaking the skillet frequently to move the seeds around and prevent burning. Pull skillet off the heat once the seeds start making a popping sound. Let cool and enjoy!
Seedy Crunch Bars
Yield: 18 servings
- ¾ cup sunflower seed butter
- 1 cup raw, organic honey
- 1 tsp. sea salt
- 3 cups sesame seeds
- 2 cups sunflower seeds, hulled
- 1 cup coconut, grated
- ½ cup cashews, chopped
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees
- Mix together sunbutter, honey and salt until well blended. Add the rest of the ingredients and mix well.
- Press flat into an oiled 13” x 9” baking dish (use wax paper or plastic wrap to prevent sticking to fingers).
- Bake for 20-25 minutes, until edges start to brown. Remove from oven and cool before cutting into 1” slices.