I don’t know about you, but I find this time of the year incredibly stressful. Yeah, of course there are good things going on: parties, visits with family and friends, work functions. But with all that frenetic activity comes the stress: attempting to make it to multiple events in one night, eating way too much rich food, maybe drinking a little too much ‘nog. Add to that the pressure of cooking a ginormous meal for family, your crazy Aunt Ruth, trying to find the perfect gifts and just finding a parking spot at the mall!
So, you need all the help you can get these days leading up to Christmas and New Year’s.
In early November, I attended Cornucopia, which is Whistler’s annual celebration of food and wine. This year, though, they had a new feature at Cornucopia, which was called Nourish. This was a series around holistic living: yoga, meditation, and various workshops about healthy eating. One of the workshops I attended was called Stress Relieving Foods. The workshop presenter was the dietician for Nesters Market.
Here’s what I learned.
Stress can be positive or negative, and we all deal with it in different ways.
Stress is certainly a factor in today’s world. It pushes us to be better at our jobs, to create better lives for our families. It can absolutely be a good thing. But, of course, it can also be incredibly negative, and over the long term, can lead to serious health problems, like headaches, ulcers, even heart disease.
When it comes to food, you probably react to stress in one of two ways: you’ll either stop eating (I lost 15lbs going through a breakup one time), or you’ll eat more. And probably what you’ll probably not be eating carrots. You’ll be reaching for food that gives you comfort: carbs, chips, chocolate.
In the grand scheme of things, this makes perfect sense. Simple carbohydrates, like while flours and white sugar (in your favourite cookies), raise your seratonin levels. Serotonin is your “feel good” hormone.
The problem with reaching for a cookie is, you feel good, but the crash from your serotonin high is sharp. You’ll you’ll be craving another one soon, creating a kind of roller-coaster effect that is hard on the body, and leads to being “hangry” — hungry + angry. Not good.
So, how can you use food to fight stress? Read on.
1. Complex Carbs + Protein = the end of Hangry
Complex carbs are those that have a more complex molecular structure. It takes longer for our bodies to break them down, and that means slower, more even digestion, as opposed to a quick spike and then crash. Protein also fuels us for longer. Trade in your Cap’n Crunch for a more natural, less sweet cereal. Try to choose foods that are as close as possible to their natural state–like shredded wheat or oatmeal. Add a punch of protein, like an egg, nut butter or cheese, and you’ll be good to go.
2. Make magnesium your friend
Magnesium is a mineral that helps balance your electrolyte/salt balance. It’s also really important for your heart, and to help your immunity. Try to eat foods that are higher in magnesium. These include dark leafy greens, nuts and seeds, beans, fish, whole grains, bananas, figs, and dark chocolate.
3. Incorporate raw nuts & seeds into your day
Carry a little bag of almonds or walnuts with you. Packed with protein, calcium and magnesium, this can make a great alternative to hitting a drive-through when you are starving. Seeds like hemp, sesame, sunflower, pumpkin, chia and buckwheat are so good for you, and it’s easy to sprinkle them on your oatmeal, salads, yogourt, or incorporate into your smoothie. I’ve been using and liking Ra Energy, a seed mixture that comes in a container for easy sprinkling.
4. Enjoy some Christmas Turkey!
Yep, it’s true: turkey contains tryptophan, which is what our bodies use to manufacture serotonin. Other sources of tryptophan include chicken, soybeans, and fish like tuna, salmon, cod and halibut.
5. Slow down and enjoy
One way to fight stress is to not eat over your computer. Try to create a positive emotional association with eating. That means taking a break, slowing down, savouring your food, spending time with family, and enjoying.
6. Here’s a low-stress dinner option
In the morning, before you leave for work, peel a bunch of root vegetables (could include potatoes, yams, carrots, beets, turnips, parsnip and/or squash), cut them in chunks, and put them in your slow cooker. Add a thumb of ginger (peeled and chopped), a half an onion (peeled and chopped) and a couple of cloves of garlic. Cover with vegetable stock, and put the slow cooker on low while you’re at work. When you come home, puree the mixture in your blender, or with an immersion blender. Add a can of coconut milk, season, and reheat. Serve with a salad and crusty bread.
So, this December, make food your friend, and have a happy, stress-free Holiday!