9 Micronutrient Superfoods for Stress Relief
As we try to slowly adapt to a “new normal” in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a significant rise in health and nutrition-related complaints by people, specifically about feelings of not being full and being constantly hungry. Turns out that there is a scientific explanation for this constant state of hunger most of us are experiencing. Medical experts say this seemingly neverending cycle of wanting to eat all the time is due to the bane of all evils: stress.
Stress is the body’s response to the environment. When our bodies encounter a threat, the stress hormone adrenaline and cortisol are released into our blood, which causes a temporary spike in blood pressure. Under normal circumstances when the stressor disappears, our bodies revert to normal and so does our blood pressure.
You’ve probably experienced the side effects of bad stress—racing heartbeat, heavy breathing, and sweaty skin—which can lead to a more serious toll on your body. The good news is that you don’t have to look far to reduce this bad stress; maintaining a healthy and balanced diet can go a long way.
Yes, you can eat your way to a more relaxed state — and no, we don’t mean binging on comfort food. That might help you quiet the stress for a second, but causes more stress, anxiety, and depression long-term. And while there isn’t a single cure-all food to magically erase daily stress, you can get some long-term stress relief with a combo of exercising, eating small meals throughout the day, and getting more of these 9 nature’s cure goodies.
Many studies going back to the 1960s indicate that many people who suffer from anxiety and depression have an elevated incidence of folate deficiency. Asparagus is one vegetable that contains a valuable amount of this mood-boosting nutrient. One cup alone provides two-thirds of your daily recommended folate value.
Healthy Hint: Asparagus Spears Instead of Fries
Ditch the French Fries and sauté, steam, or grill some asparagus to serve as a side dish. If you tend to snack on fries, consider this substitute: dip cooked asparagus into salsa, hummus, or a bean dip.
2. Maca Root
This ancient Ayurvedan root, packs pick-me-up promises. No, it’s not the same immediate effect as coffee or even green tea: It doesn’t take effect immediately and the energy you get from maca is less of an intense uptick but rather described as clear, balanced energy that can be sustained over time.
There are different varieties of maca available, all with similar adaptogenic characteristics.
Red Maca: The rarest type that contains the most antioxidants and amino acids out of the three and is known to be most effective for balancing hormones (specifically for depression and stress) along with increasing strength and stamina.
Black Maca: Most known for increasing libido, increasing memory and energy, and acting as a mood booster. This variety is also thought to increase fertility in men.
Yellow Maca: This is the most commonly seen at the store. It’s more of a light brown color rather than yellow. It’s known for its universal mood-boosting ability and is thought to specifically balance hormones in women’s bodies.
Healthy Hint: Add Maca Root Powder to Your Morning Smoothie
Maca Smoothie Recipe Serves 2 Ingredients 1/4 chopped ripe frozen banana or 1/4 cup diced, steamed and frozen sweet potato 1 cup (250 ml) nut milk, such as almond or cashew, or coconut water 1 to 3 tsp. maca root powder 1 Tbs. nut butter 1/2 tsp. cinnamon 1/4 cup frozen blueberries or strawberries 1/2 cup raw kale or spinach 1 Tbs. chia seeds 1 cup nut milk, such as almond or cashew, or coconut water 1/4 cup steamed and frozen cauliflower (optional) Directions Blend all ingredients together. (If produce is extra frozen set it out on the counter for 10 minutes before blending.)
This fish is a total superstar when it comes to nutrition! When we get frazzled, our bodies produce cortisol, a hormone that has been linked to extra belly fat, among other unfavorable responses. The omega-3s in salmon reduce anxiety and depression by combating that cortisol. Salmon also contains vitamin D, which has been shown to help with depression. Oh, and it helps you burn fat. Can’t beat that!
Healthy Hint: Don’t like Salmon, but want the benefits? Try this glaze!
3 tbsp dijon mustard
3 tbsp brown sugar
1 tbsp maple syrup
1 tbsp soy sauce or GF soy sauce
1 tsp rice vinegar
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line baking sheet with parchment paper or foil. If using foil, use cooking spray. Season salmon with salt and pepper. Place the filets on the prepared baking sheet and bake for 12 minutes. Then cover with prepared glaze and broil for 3 minutes and serve.
We need B vitamins for healthy nerves and brain cells, and feelings of anxiety may be rooted in a B vitamin deficiency. Avocados are rich in stress-relieving B vitamins. Bonus: They’re also high in monounsaturated fat and potassium, which help lower blood pressure.
Healthy Hint: Next time stress has you reaching for a pint of full-fat ice cream, opt for a non-dairy DIY version made with avocado blended with a ripe banana, vanilla extract, nut milk, and nonnutritive sweetener. Freeze, then chill-out.
Chamomile isn’t just in your “sleepy time” tea. It’s actually an incredibly popular herb often used for medicinal purposes. As it turns out, studies have shown chamomile to be effective in aiding with relaxation, and also helping with anxiety, depression, and insomnia (hence the sleepy-time effect).
Healthy Hint: Tea is the best and most pleasant option and is safe for almost everyone. Those who are pregnant should ask a doctor as well as anyone who’s allergic to sunflower products because chamomile is in that same family.
The translation of Ashwagandha is roughly, “the smell and strength of a horse”, which may not make it sound delicious, but Ashwagandha is an incredibly healthy medicinal mushroom that is classified as an “adaptogen,” meaning that it can help your body manage stress. Some of the many things Ashwagandha can do include: lowering blood sugar levels, reducing cortisol, boosting brain function, and helping fight symptoms of anxiety and depression.
Healthy Hint: Ashwagandha is a rare mushroom and is most effective when eaten in powder form and capsule, which can be purchased in most health-food stores. Doctors recommend between 250mg-700mg daily to combat stress.
As bizarre as it may sound, the bacteria in your gut might be contributing to stress. Research has shown that the brain and gut communicate via body chemicals, which is why stress can inflame gastrointestinal symptoms. And a UCLA study among 36 healthy women revealed that consuming probiotics in yogurt reduced brain activity in areas that handle emotion, including stress. This study was small, so more research is needed to confirm the results—but considering that yogurt is full of calcium and protein in addition to probiotics, you really can’t go wrong by adding more of it to your diet.
Healthy Hint: Eat yogurt with raw fruit before eating heavier cooked foods, or hours after. These items digest quickly and are better absorbed on their own, and less likely to cause pain.
8. Blueberries & Blackberries
Full of antioxidants, blueberries and blackberries should definitely be part of your diet. They help produce dopamine, that stress-fighting chemical! And they’re delicious.
Healthy Hint: Eat them plain, on top of your yogurt, or stirred into oatmeal. And for a go-anywhere snack, try freeze-dried blueberries!
All you need is one cup of spinach to start reaping the benefits of this mineral’s natural stress-fighting power. Spinach produces serotonin—one of those feel-good hormones that help balance out your mood, appetite, sleep, memory, and more. Spinach is also high in the amino acid tryptophan, which helps elevate your mood and promotes better sleep. It’s also high in magnesium, which helps to relax nerves and muscles. Rest is a huge contributor to relieving stress.
Healthy Hint: You don’t have to eat endless salads! Spinach salads are delicious, but they can get boring. Plus, fresh spinach doesn’t last long, and so often gets thrown out. Instead, cook down and freeze spinach into ice cubes to be added to smoothies and soups with ease!
Now there’s a whole blog onto itself. But for now, our top tips are to get 7 hours of sleep, avoid screens for at least 1 hour before bed, and eat mindfully (that means undistracted by TV or while driving). Take deep breaths as often as you remember, and practice gratitude once a day.
And if you really want to cut down on food stress… we definitely recommend using MacroPlate as your own personal macro-based meal-prep chef. It really reduces food-choice anxiety!