How Can I Optimize my Nutrition?
The key nutritional strategy to battle stress is to make smart choices. Are you skipping lunch on a long day at work? Are you hitting up the closest fast food place for breakfast because you're going to bed late? These small decisions add up and don't give our minds and bodies the nutrients we need to deal with stress. That doesn't mean you have to be perfect all the time, but simply do your best and be mindful of your eating habits. A helpful rule to remember is "80/20." That means 80% of the time you work hard at making good food choices, and allow yourself some wiggle room 20% of the time.
But what does a good choice mean when it comes to optimizing nutrition to combat stress? Finding a good mix and balance of these foods is a start:
- Lean protein – Salmon, beans, chicken and other white meats
- Complex carbs – Beans, whole grains (brown rice or oats), starchy vegetables (potatoes or winter squash) and fresh fruit
- Omega-3 fatty acids – Wild salmon, walnuts, shrimp, chia seeds, flax seeds
- B vitamin-rich foods – Pork, beans, whole grains, leafy greens
- C vitamin-rich foods – Citrus fruits, peppers, broccoli
- Magnesium-rich foods – Leafy greens, whole wheat bread, beans, whole grains and nuts
Benefits of a balanced diet
The following food types are key to good nutrition. Incorporating them into your diet as often as possible will help keep a healthy mind and body, and naturally fight off stress throughout the day.
Includes: Seafood, chicken, beans
- Builds muscle
- Anchors blood sugar metabolism
- Makes you feel full and satiated
- Provides natural energy throughout the day
Includes: Brown rice, potatoes, beans
- Natural source of fiber
- Provides body with glucose (fuel)
- Reduces production of cortisol (the stress hormone)
- Helps produce serotonin (a chemical in the brain that helps us relax)
Omega-3 fatty acids
Includes: Shrimp, chia seeds, flax seeds
- Reduce cortisol production
- Provides nutrients that help fight depression
- Decrease risk of heart disease
- Lowers stress related inflammation
Vitamin B-rich foods
Includes: Pork, grains, leafy greens
- Support and maintain nervous system health
- Produce serotonin
- Convert food to energy
Vitam C-rich foods
Includes: Oranges, peppers, broccoli
- Helps to recover from stress
- Strengthens immune system
- Is an antioxidant that reduces stress-related inflammation
Magnesium rich foods
Includes: Leafy greens, whole wheat bread, beans and nuts
- A natural muscle relaxer
- Reduces anxiety
- Improves nerve function
- Helps reduce headaches
The nutrition tactician
Planning your meals ahead is a great way to keep on track with your health goals and reduce the likelihood of making poor choices. If you know the restaurant you'll be eating at, maybe you can look for healthy options on the menu in advance so you don't feel pressured to make a poor decision. Packing healthful, portable snacks to keep you nourished throughout your busy work day can help keep your blood sugar legels from crashing and make sure you get the energy you need for a productive day.
Here are a few other activities to incorporate into your eating habits to promote good nutrition. Plan on using these tips a few nights a week during meals and see if you feel healthier, less stressed and more energized.
- Remember to breathe – It sounds simple, but it's easy to eat so fast your forget to breathe. Take five deep breaths before you start eating to put you in a state of mindfulness and bring a sense of calm to your digestive system. This prevents eating too quickly so you know when you're full.
- Remove passive stressors – Turn off your TV or cell phone while you eat. This keeps our minds off stressors in the news or a work problem that's causing you anxiety.
- Put down your fork – Between each bite, set your fork down on the table. This helps digest food at the right pace and allows you to be mindful of how much you're eating.
- Sip on tea with or between meals – Sipping calming teas like tulsi, chamomile, peppermint, ginger and green tea may help ease stress and soothe digestion. Tea provides a rich source of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds that can help reduce/repair stress-induced damage to the body. It can also soothe gas, bloating and other digestive discomfort commonly associated with stress.
This educational video will help you better understand what it means to be mindful when you eat.
There are some long-term tools at your disposal to make meals more enjoyable and beneficial to your health. Give these two a try over the next few months to make a bigger change in the way you eat.