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  • Writer's pictureEmily Frlekin-Pardo

Calm & Diet: Foods That May Help Combat Stress & Anxiety

Updated: Aug 3, 2021

Parenthood is full of unforeseen stressors, but in Covid-times, they are compounded by complexities that were unimaginable before. As we navigate through an ongoing pandemic, momentum is likely waning, leaving many of us in search of solutions to get through another long haul (thanks, Delta variant). The fact that we are entering a second wave brings our stressors back to a heightened status. If you didn’t prioritize your health the first time around, now is the time to do it. Summer 2022 will thank you for putting your mental and physical health above those not-so-beneficial coping tactics such as overeating or increased alcohol consumption.

It’s time to gear up for another year of unknowns and possibilities, and a few simple dietary changes might make all the difference in how we succeed in coping with the influx of stress. In my opinion, doing what we can with the few opportunities we have, is nothing to balk at. While I am not a certified nutritionist, I have done my fair share of research on diet and its role in stabilizing mood, energy, and physical health. For our purpose here, I want to share with you how research supports the connection between a few key foods and the reduction of stress and anxiety. This is especially important during a pandemic but twice as important if you’re a parent of a child with special needs. Implementing these key foods could be the start of a healthier and happier you.

Before you dive into the foods and research section, here are some tips to think about:

TIP #1: Expectations. If the food is new to you, don’t expect an instant acceptance of it. If you find yourself reluctant to try something new, prepare the food item in a familiar form (i.e., fried, baked, breaded, buttered, slathered in sauce, drenched in cheese, etc.). Don’t stress the “health” of each item (aka “integrity”) until you develop a palate for it. Once you’ve become tolerant of the new food, you can simplify its preparation over time.

TIP #2: Speak positively about healthy food. Always. Even when no one is listening. Half the battle with accepting a new food is how we view it and the intention we have for it. Its true purpose leads to better food consciousness. For those that are app savvy, I hear Noom is built on food consciousness for the purpose of losing weight (disclaimer: I have never used Noom and am not endorsing it). I think it’s a valuable concept to use in order to override food negativity or reluctance.

TIP #3: Meal prep. A lot of us skip the healthy stuff for the drive-through because we’re pressed for time and, obviously, the convenience of it. That’s okay. It happens and sometimes is totally unavoidable. Many people find, including myself, that meal-prep on one day of the week is the key to eating well day after day. On Sundays, I spend about an hour prepping meals. When I’m done, I have 5 Glad stackable containers in my fridge that are filled with nutritious foods that support gut function and stabilize my energy and mood all week long.

Now that you’re primed, here’s a list of what you can include in your daily diet to support better wellbeing. It only takes one of these items to start you on your journey. Good luck and good eating!

Dark Leafy Greens are well known for their vitamin and mineral content, but it is specifically magnesium and folate that help support neurotransmitter connection and help reduce stress and anxiety. Read the research here.

**Note: Not a fan of kale? Look online for recipes to make kale chips. Most greens can also be blended in smoothies and hidden in omelets or soups.

Eggs consumed in their whole form are a good source of vitamin D, zinc, and tryptophan. Vitamin D has been linked to helping lower depression. Tryptophan is the amino acid that helps the body create serotonin. Serotonin is referred to as the “happy” hormone, but it has also been linked to lowering levels of anxiety and improved brain function.

**Note: Keep hard-boiled eggs in the fridge as an easy grab-and-go meal replacement or snack.

Miso-Fermented foods such as Miso soup, miso-marinated meats or tofu, may help reduce stress and anxiety. While research continues to confirm the exact relation of cause and effect, the benefit of healthy gut microbiota has a significant effect on our mental health. Read the research here.

**Note: Thankfully, miso-fermentation has come a long way in the culinary sphere. You can miso eggs, fries, potatoes, meats, vegetables, and more.

Oats are a healthy source of carbohydrates that help increase serotonin production in the brain. As mentioned earlier, serotonin is our “happy” hormone which can reduce stress levels.

**Note: Oats and not just for breakfast. There are tons of delicious oat recipes online that make boring oats truly sensational. Try one of these: overnight oats, oat pancakes, oat energy balls, oat smoothies.

Salmon is known for its natural source of beneficial Omega-3. Now research is discovering its link to lowered levels of anxiety as well as depression. Read the research here.

**Note: I hear, “I don’t like fish,” a lot. Revisit Tip #2, then commit to finding a preparation that will help you tolerate it.

Sweet Potatoes are a healthy carbohydrate-rich in magnesium. Magnesium is a chemical needed to ward off depression. Sweet potato nutrients have also been linked to lowering levels of Cortisol which causes inflammation, weight gain, pain, and other adverse effects. Read the research here.

**Note: Eat them in a pie, turn them into fries, mash ‘em, roast ‘em, so many choices! These are easy to consume in a variety of crowd-pleasing ways!

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