By Dee McCaffrey, Guest Blogger
The high stress nature of the holiday season can make staying balanced through the holiday season challenging.
Prevention Magazine online recently reported that 90 percent of Americans experience feelings of stress during the holidays. Whether it’s caused by crowded shopping malls, traveling, or family relations, how we manage stress can affect whether or not we have an enjoyable holiday season or an undesirable holiday.
However, there is a solution! Including some of the holiday's best stress-relieving foods as part of regular meals is a great way to maintain a feeling of calm and balance. Eating high energy and nutritious foods can help potentially stressful situations, because these foods provide us with the energy and stamina to cope.
Which foods are the best for relieving stress? Those that contain high amounts of B-complex vitamins, vitamins C and E, and those that contain minerals like manganese, selenium and zinc. The food items rich in these substances should be included regularly in meals.
On the other hand, eating processed foods and those low in the stress-busting nutrients will deplete energy levels and potentially stressful situations will become stressful and harmful to health.
Here's a list of the some of the most beneficial foods for relieving stress. Many of these are part of the traditional American holiday fare.
Turkey contains an amino acid called L-tryptophan, which has a calming effect. This amino acid triggers the release of serotonin, a feel-good brain chemical responsible for feelings of well-being and happiness. This is the reason why many people who eat turkey feel relaxed, or even sleepy, after eating it.
2. Sweet Potatoes
Sweet potatoes are stress-reducing because they satisfy the urge we get for carbohydrates and sweets when we are under a great deal of stress. They are full of beta-carotene and other vitamins, and the fiber helps the body process carbohydrates in a slow and steady manner.
Peppermint helps relieve stress because it contains manganese, iron, magnesium, calcium, folate, potassium and copper. It also contains some omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin C and vitamin A. Make peppermint tea, add fresh peppermint leaves into smoothies and salads, or put a few leaves in a cup of hot cocoa!
Make peppermint tea, add fresh peppermint leaves into smoothies and salads, or put a few leaves in a cup of hot cocoa to help stay calm and relaxed!
4. Broccoli and Asparagus
Yet another food that is chock-full of stress-relieving B vitamins, broccoli has the added benefit of containing folic acid, also part of the B vitamin family. Folic acid helps relieve stress, anxiety, panic, and even depression. Stalks of asparagus are tender and are also a good source of the natural mood-lightener, folic acid. Broccoli, asparagus, kale and other dark green vegetables are powerhouses of vitamins that help replenish our bodies in times of stress.
5. Pumpkin Seeds
When making fresh pumpkin soup or fresh pumpkin puree for pies make sure to save the seeds. Pumpkin seeds are a rich source of protein and omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3’s protect against high blood pressure and improve mood. Pumpkin seeds are high in glutamate and L-tryptophan, the same feel-good compound found in turkey. Glutamate is used by the body to make gamma-amino butyric acid (GABA), an anti-stress brain chemical that helps reduce anxiety. Munch on a handful of pumpkin seeds or sprinkle them on salads to keep holiday spirits high and prevent stress.
When making fresh pumpkin soup or fresh pumpkin puree for pies make sure to save the seeds! Pumpkin seeds are a rich source of protein and omega-3 fatty acids; omega-3’s protect against high blood pressure and improve mood. Munch on a handful of pumpkin seeds or sprinkle them on salads to keep holiday spirits high and prevent stress.
6. Cacao and Dark Chocolate
Scientific studies have confirmed that eating raw or dark chocolate helps relieve emotional stress and lowers blood pressure. Raw cacao is one of the highest food sources of antioxidants known to lower blood pressure. A study published in the Journal of Proteome Research found that consuming 40 grams of dark chocolate daily for a period of two weeks reduced levels of the stress hormone cortisol and catecholamines, the fight-or-flight hormones. Raw cacoa is the best type of chocolate, available as beans, nibs or powder, for adding to holiday cocoa or blended into velvety desserts.
7. Almonds, Pistachios & Walnuts
Almonds are great stress relievers! They're packed with vitamin B2 (riboflavin), vitamin E, magnesium, and zinc. Vitamin B and magnesium are involved in the production of serotonin, which helps regulate mood and relieve stress. Zinc has also been shown to fight some of the negative effects of stress, while vitamin E is an antioxidant that destroys the free radicals related to stress. Walnuts and pistachios help lower blood pressure.
Avocados pack a double whammy of heart healthy monounsaturated fat and potassium, both known to lower blood pressure. One of the best ways to reduce high blood pressure is to get enough potassium—and just half an avocado provides 487 milligrams (more than a medium-size banana).
Whole Food S.O.U.L. Food Wednesday Recipes of the Week:
Chocolate Avocado Mousse
If the holidays create a hankering for a high-fat, creamy treat, skip the sugary calorie-laden treats and go for some homemade cacao avocado mousse—the thick creamy texture of the avocado plus the stress busting nutrients in cacao can satisfy your craving and reduce the frantic feelings. This delectable mousse makes a creamy dessert for any time of year.
Makes 4-6 servings
- 4 ripe avocados
- cup coconut nectar, raw honey OR 1 teaspoon liquid stevia extract
- tablespoon pure vanilla extract
- cup unsweetened cacao powder
- handful of fresh raspberries or other berries, for garnish (optional)
- 4-6 fresh mint leaves, for garnish (optional)
- Slice each avocado open and scoop out the inside creamy flesh. Place them in a food processor or blender. Next add the sweetener, vanilla, and cacao powder. Blend or process the mixture until fully blended. The mixture should be smooth and the color of chocolate.
- You can serve the mousse immediately, however, it is recommended you let it cool in the fridge for at least an hour to allow the flavors to meld and the mousse to firm up.
- Serve in cups garnished with fresh berries and mint leaves.
Coconut, Kale and Sweet Potato Soup
Makes 4 servings
- 2 tablespoons virgin coconut oil
- 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 teaspoons chopped fresh ginger
- 3/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
- 1 bunch (about 1 pound) lacinato kale (stems removed and thinly sliced into ribbons)
- 1-1/2 pounds sweet potatoes (about 2 large), peeled and cubed
- 6 cups vegetable broth, chicken broth, or turkey broth
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- 1 cup coconut milk
- 2 cups cooked chickpeas (or one 15-ounce can, drained)
- 2 cups cooked brown rice or quinoa (optional)
- In a large stock pot, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and translucent, about 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic, ginger and turmeric and cook, stirring constantly, for about 1 minute.
- Add the kale, sweet potatoes, broth, and sea salt. Turn the heat to high and bring the soup to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, partially covered, until the sweet potatoes are tender, about 25 minutes.
- Stir in the coconut milk and cooked chickpeas and cook until just heated through, about 1 minute.
- Ladle the soup into 4 bowls and top each serving with 1/2 cup of hot brown rice or quinoa. Serve immediately.
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About the Author Dee McCaffrey
Dee McCaffrey is an organic chemist turned nutritionist and weight loss expert. She is an internationally recognized author who lost 100 pounds and has kept the weight off for over two decades. Her passion lies in teaching others how to shop, cook, and eat healthfully, while serving as a role model and inspiration for sustainable weight loss and healthy living. Her book The Science of Skinnyhas helped thousands change their approach to food, eating and balanced health.
Dee is the lead instructor in Holistic Nutrition at the Southwest Institute of Healing Arts (SWIHA). Nutrition is Dee’s life—she lives it every second of every day. Whether she is coaching a client, writing an article, or creating a new recipe, her passion for healthful eating is the underlying energy that fuels everything she does.