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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.

 

 

The NEW Canada’s Food Guide is here!

Plate

Today, Federal Minister of Health, Ginette Petitapas Taylor launched the new Canada’s Food Guide. The new Food Guide takes a modern approach to communicating guidance to consumers, health professionals and policy makers. This first suite of resources includes a document Canada’s Dietary Guidelines for Health Professionals and Policy Makers, as well as a Food Guide Snapshot.

Here’s just a sampling of what’s new in the Food Guide:

1. Positive key messages for Canadians in a modern format. Key messages are: Eat well. Live well. Eat a variety of healthy foods each day. The new Food Guide delivers healthy eating information in a mobile-friendly web application.

2. Beyond food. Healthy eating is more than the foods you eat. The new Food Guide offers advice on what to eat, what not to eat, and how to eat. Tips include cooking more often, eating meals with others, being mindful of your eating habits, enjoying your food, limiting foods high in sodium, sugars or saturated fat, using food labels, and being aware of food marketing.

3. Food groupings instead of food groups. Bye bye rainbow and the four food groups. A healthy meal is comprised of a variety of foods from three key food groupings: vegetables and fruit; whole grains; and protein foods. These foods should be consumed regularly.

4. Proportions not portions. There are no recommended servings to eat or serving sizes of food. A plate snapshot of the Food Guide gives at-a-glance information on what to eat. In the plate snapshot, 1/2 the plate is filled with vegetables and fruits; ¼ of the plate is comprised of whole grains; and ¼ of the plate is made up of protein foods.

5. Water is the beverage of choice. To help Canadians stay hydrated without adding calories to the diet, water is recommended. Alcoholic beverages are also flagged as potentially adding calories with little to no nutritive value.

The suite of online resources replaces the old “all-in-one” version of the previous Food Guides. More information and recipes are available from Health Canada. Additional consumer resources are expected to be released later this year.

Read about my chat with Canada’s Minister of Health, Ginette Petitpas Taylor about the new Food Guide.

Sue + Minister of Health Ginette Jan 23 2019 - 1

Dietitians are experts in translating the science of nutrition into practical healthy living messages for Canadians. Contact me for more a presentation or workshop about the new Canada’s Food Guide.

Written by: Sue Mah, MHSc, RD, PHEc – Founder & President, Nutrition Solutions Inc.

5 Foods to Keep Your Heart Healthy!

Heart healthy foods Feb 20 2017 - Sue L - 1

February is Heart Month! Did you know that 9 out of 10 adults have at least one risk factor for heart disease? The good news is that eating the right foods can keep your heart healthy.

Watch my interview on CTV Your Morning

Whole grains
Barley and oats specifically contain a special type of fibre called beta-glucan. This type of fibre has been shown to lower blood cholesterol which is important since high blood cholesterol is a risk factor for heart disease. The beneficial amount is 3 grams of beta-glucan fibre which is found in 1 cup of cooked barley or 1½ cups of cooked oatmeal.

Try this recipe – Vegetable, Bean & Barley Stuffed Peppers


Nuts

Research shows that eating about 1.5 to 3.5 servings of nuts 5 times or more per week can also lower the bad LDL (low density lipoprotein) cholesterol. All nuts have high proportions of healthy fats – these are called monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats – and it’s these fats which help to reduce our cholesterol levels. Nuts are packed with nutrition like protein, vitamin E, selenium, folate and even calcium but the calories do add up, so keep in mind that a portion size is about ¼ cup. One easy way to eat more nuts is to eat them as a snack. Or you can easily add nuts to your oatmeal, in your baking recipes or in a stir-fry.


Soy protein

About 20-25 grams of soy protein helps to lower blood cholesterol levels. Plus soy protein is a great vegetarian protein. To get this amount of soy protein, try any one of these options:
– ¾ cup cooked tofu or
– ¾ cup cooked edamame beans or
– 1 cup fortified soy beverage with ¼ cup roasted soy nuts

Fish
Fatty fish such as salmon, rainbow trout, artic char, mackerel and sardines are super sources of heart healthy omega-3 fats. These omega-3 fats can reduce inflammation and blood clotting. Aim to fish at least twice a week. A serving is 75 g of cooked fish or about the size and thickness of your palm.

Try this recipe – Salmon with Peanut Cucumber Relish

Veggies and Fruit
You can’t go wrong eating more fruit and veggies. Fruit and veggies are superstars for fibre, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants which protect us from not just heart disease but other health conditions too such as high blood pressure, cancer and diabetes. As a general rule, try to have 1-2 servings of veggies or fruit at every meal and snack. Or just think of filling half your plate with veggies and fruit at every meal.

Would you pass the breakfast test?


In a recent TV interview with CBC National News, I had the wonderful opportunity of meeting award-nominated journalist Heather Hiscox and rate her favourite morning meal. As the anchor for the national morning news, Heather starts her day at 5:30 am with “a handful of Shredded Wheat, some bran buds, half a banana and 2% milk.” It’s been her breakfast for the past ten years, and it tides her for at least four hours.

In rating her breakfast, I used the following five-point criteria:
1. Variety – does the breakfast contain foods from at least three of the four food groups in Canada’s Food Guide? Bonus points if veggies are included at breakfast!
2. Fibre – is there at least 4 grams of fibre?
3. Protein – is there about 20 grams or more protein?
4. Healthy fats – do any of the foods provide healthy fats?
5. Whole grains – are the choices whole grain?

So did Heather pass the breakfast test? Well, her breakfast included foods from three food groups; the meal contained at least 4 grams of fibre, thanks to the cereal and bran; and her cereal choice was a whole grain. When it came to protein though, Heather’s meal was shy of the 20 grams of protein that’s often recommended to help with satiety. Including a sprinkle of nuts or seeds would not only pump up the protein, but also add some healthy fats to the meal.

My overall grade for Heather’s breakfast: A-

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