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Foods to Manage Stress

icons of bread, leafy greens, fish and cup of tea to accompany bulleted text

Can you believe that we’re into week 7 of physical distancing and the COVID quarantine? If you’re feeling stressed, you’re not alone.

In fact, a recent poll by Angus Reid found that 50% of Canadians say their mental health has worsened, feeling worried and anxious.

First of all, please know that there are many support resources available online to help you manage stress and anxiety during these tough times. Regular exercise, meditation and other healthy stress busting behaviours can help. Talk to a health care professional if you need some support.

As a dietitian, here are 5 key nutrients and foods to add to your plate which can help you manage stress.

Watch my 1-minute video clip.

 

 

 

Carbs, especially whole grain carbs

Carbs help trigger the production of serotonin. This is the feel good chemical in the brain (a neurotransmitter). Serotonin is made in brain from the amino acid tryptophan. This is a small amino acid and has a tough time getting into the brain.

When you eat a meal that’s mostly carbs, it triggers the insulin to clear the bigger amino acids from your bloodstream, allowing tryptophan to get into the brain and make serotonin. Overall, serotonin helps you to feel calm.

Some good whole grain carb choices are:

  • brown rice
  • whole wheat bread, whole wheat pasta
  • quinoa

Vitamin B6

Vitamin B6 also helps our body make serotonin. This vitamin is found in a wide range of foods, so it’s important to eat a variety of foods. Some of the best foods for vitamin B6 are:

  • chicken, turkey, meat, fish like salmon
  • chickpeas, pistachio nuts, sunflower seeds
  • potatoes, bananas, avocados

Magnesium

When we are stressed, our body (adrenal glands) releases cortisol which is a stress hormone. Cortisol actually depletes the body of magnesium. So we need to make sure we’re getting enough magnesium when you’re feeling stressed.

Some of the best foods for magnesium are:

  • leafy greens like spinach, kale and Swiss chard
  • nuts and seeds like almonds, pine nuts and sunflower seeds
  • whole grains like whole wheat bread (Fun fact: whole wheat bread contains 4x more Mg than white bread)
  • dark chocolate (a 30 g serving offers 15-20% of your daily requirements for magnesium!)

Omega-3 fats

You may already know that omega-3 fats are good for our heart health. But did you know that the animal sources of omega-3 fats also help to boost our mood!

Some of the best sources of omega-3 fats are:

  • fatty fish like salmon, trout, arctic char, sardines. Try to eat fatty fish at least twice a week.
  • omega-3 enriched eggs

Tea

Tea contains a special amino acid called L– theanine. This actually triggers the release of another neurotransmitter in the brain (called GABA or gamma-amino-butyric-acid) which gives you a relaxed feeling. Black tea, green tea, white tea and oolong tea all contain this special amino acid.

Stay well and stay safe. We are all in this together to get through the COVID-19 crisis.

 

 

Does coffee cause cancer?

coffee cup

Nutrition is a relatively young science with new research constantly emerging. The recent headline about coffee and cancer is a good example of this.

Twenty-five years ago, the World Health Organization (WHO) had identified coffee as a possible carcinogen linked to bladder cancer. On June 15, 2016, the WHO updated their advice.

The WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer, which is an international working group of 23 scientists, reviewed 1000 scientific studies, and found that drinking coffee and maté (a tea made from the dried leaves of the yerba mate plant) is not linked to cancer. In fact, coffee may be protective against cancers of he liver and uterine endometrium.

The new findings however do see a connection between high-temperature beverages and their potential link to cancer. According to the WHO, drinking beverages (even water) that are very hot – which is defined as anything above 65°C (149°F) – is linked to a higher risk of cancer of the esophagus. It’s thought that the hot temperature scalds the delicate tissue in the esophagus. This damage may then trigger a faster turnover of the cells which in some cases can lead to out of control malignant growth.

Esophageal cancer is the eighth most common cancer worldwide with the highest incidence in Asia, South America, and East Africa where drinking very hot beverages is common. Maté is traditionally consumed at very hot temperatures (70°C). Certain countries such as China and Iran also tend to drink their teas prepared at very high temperatures, above 65°C or 70°C.

It’s likely that your favourite hot drink from the coffee/tea shop is made at very hot temperatures. Here are my tips for enjoying your hot cuppa:
– Allow your hot drink to cool down a bit before taking that first sip.
– Add some milk or cream to lower the temperature of your hot drink.
– Brew your own tea using hot but not scalding hot water.
– Stick to four cups of coffee or less (4 x 8 ounces or 4 x 250 mL) – any more will put you over your daily caffeine limit.

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