Editor’s Note: The holidays are here! We love this time of year, but there’s no denying the fact it’s hard season for anyone who already has issues with anxiety and stress. The good news is, picking the right food for stress can help a ton — and, no, we’re not talking about Christmas cookies. (Though you can bet your bottom dollar we’ll be eating those, too.) Do you have any anti-stress foods that are your go-tos during the holidays? Let us know in the comments below!
Fifteen years ago my body was speaking to me, but I wasn’t listening. And when we don’t listen, our bodies speak louder and LOUDER.
On the surface, I was “healthy.” I was a vegetarian; I went to the gym and was happy with the numbers on the scale. There were hints of a problem, but it was much easier to play the ostrich game and hide my head in the sand. But then, boom, it hit me hard. I was losing excessive weight, there was blood in my very loose stool, I had stomach cramps, I looked a decade older than I was, and I felt exhausted much of the time.
This realization 15 years ago not only changed my life and my health, but also my career and my passion.
Eventually and many doctors later, I was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis. I did a lot of research and experimenting and found that, luckily for me, the solution was fairly straightforward. What I ate, or what I didn’t eat, made a tremendous difference. I started to feel better than I ever had. This realization 15 years ago not only changed my life and health, but also my career and passion. Through my wellness practice, Stiggly Holistics, I now help clients improve their health, and, of course, looking at the food they eat is a big part of the picture.
More than 2,000 years ago Hippocrates proclaimed, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” That’s not just a clever slogan. Everything we eat and drink creates a chemical reaction within our body. You have probably heard it said that our gut is our second brain. In fact, countless studies have proved that good nutrition is absolutely essential to healthy brain function, which naturally affects the way we feel. I started by focusing on my colon health, but in the process healed so much more, and now I understand how important our diet is to just about everything.
Focusing on what’s good for us—what we can eat—is much more positive than a “no list,” which only evokes the inner toddler and makes us want it more.
In this time of uncertainty, I have seen an increase of stress and anxiety in my clients and friends. While much is out of our control, one thing we still very much can decide for ourselves is what we eat and drink. While we tend to focus on the negative—on what foods we need to avoid—I’m a big fan of having a “yes list.” A “no list” only evokes the inner toddler and makes us want it more. Below are just a few of the many anti-stress foods that can provide a feel-good boost.
Anti-Stress Food #1: Wild Organic Blueberries
I think of wild blueberries as my anti-stress “medicine,” and I enjoy them pretty much every morning. Frozen, they are perfect in a smoothie, and I love them fresh and straight up during the summer—foraged or from the farmers’ markets. Blueberries (especially the wild variety) are low on the glycemic index and high in antioxidants and anthocyanins and have the ability to prevent or slow the release of cortisol to the hippocampus, thus being really helpful in reducing stress. Plus they are delicious.
A favorite simple smoothie blend: half a can of full-fat organic coconut milk; a cup of organic frozen wild blueberries; a tablespoon of organic, grass-fed, non-GMO collagen powder or organic pea protein; a pinch of good quality salt (I like the Himalayan pink salt); and perhaps a touch of filtered water if you like your smoothie a little thinner. Mmm!
Anti-Stress Food #2: Healthy Fats
Our brains, which are made up of 60 percent fat, literally need good fat from dietary sources to function. Thankfully, we understand today just how important good fat is for our brains and mental health. Good fat also aids digestion, releases weight, lubricates joints, nourishes skin, and so much more. Not all fat is created equal, and certain fats, like vegetable oil and deep-fried foods, must be avoided. Instead, stock up on grass-fed ghee (Indian clarified butter) or butter, virgin unrefined coconut oil, and extra virgin olive oil. Start every day with at least a teaspoon of coconut oil or ghee to feed and wake up your brain; I like to add it to my hot morning beverage as well. Also recommended: avocados, small amounts of walnuts and other nuts, and a variety of seeds, such as flax, hemp, and chia.
Anti-Stress Food #3: Oat Straw Infusion
Oat straw, also known as avena sativa, is highly nutritious and mineral-rich and supports the nervous system, making it wonderful for the very stressed (and who doesn’t fit that category these days?) and those who suffer from poor sleep, anxiety, or emotional fatigue. It’s gentle on the system, non-addictive, and can help ease the symptoms of menopause. Some say it can also boost the libido; the term “sow your wild oats” purportedly relates to oat straw. Oat straw best consumed as an infusion on a regular basis over time, as it builds in the system rather than being a quick fix. While it has a very calming effect, it doesn’t make you sleepy, so it is perfectly fine to drink during the day. I usually combine it with hibiscus and other favorite herbs in an overnight brew, and drink it at room temperature throughout the day.
Anti-Stress Food #4: Leafy Greens
Known for being rich in fiber and good for keeping you regular, leafy greens—kale, spinach, arugula, collards, dandelion, mustard greens, cabbage, and chard—also help our bodies produce the neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine, which play huge roles in how good we feel and the health of our libido.
Anti-Stress Food #5: Lemon Water
Most of us don’t drink enough water, and dehydration can cause of headaches, constipation, severely dry skin, low sex drive, and so much more. Adding fresh-squeezed lemon juice to your water not only makes it taste more fun, but it also helps cleanse your system. Lemon water is anti-inflammatory and ignites the metabolism; it’s a simple wonder. Before you consume anything else in the morning, break your overnight fast with a pint of filtered water and the juice of a half lemon—sip, smile, breathe.
A version of this article was originally published in March 2017.