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Eat Right to Minimize Stress

By Brooke Schohl, MS, RD

Despite the magic and excitement the New Year brings, the pressures we put on ourselves to achieve our goals can be stressful.

There are several compounds in foods that help you to decompress during high-stress times. Here are five vital compounds to boost through dietary choices as the holidays draw near:

  1. Phenethylamine (PEA) is a mild alkaloid stimulant that creates anti-anxiety effects. This compound is produced naturally in the body and also occurs in food.
    Find it in: cocoa beans, beans, lentils, nuts (almonds), seeds, meat, seafood, poultry, and eggs.
  2. Antioxidants combat excessive free radicals that cause oxidative stress to the body.
    Find it in: vitamin C-rich foods (oranges, cantaloupe, cranberry juice, grapefruit, strawberries, papaya, kiwi, sweet red peppers), vitamin E-rich foods (almonds, hazelnuts, sunflower seeds, sweet potatoes, olive/canola/sunflower oil, wheat germ, fish oils), and beta-carotene/lycopene/lutein-rich foods (tomatoes, carrots, broccoli, brussels sprouts, kale, collard greens and mango.
    *Note: spinach is an antioxidant superfood as it’s high in vitamins C, E, and beta-carotene. 
  3. Flavonoids exhibit antioxidant functions in the body, which help to reduce oxidative stress caused by free radicals. Each subclass of flavonoids contains foods rich in stress-fighting antioxidants.
    Find it in: onions, tea, kale, olive, leaf lettuce, cranberry, tomato, apple, turnip green, endive, gingko biloba, pear, red wine, chocolate, parsley, citrus fruits, berries, cherries, plums, legumes (soybeans), nuts, milk, cheese, tofu and miso.
  4. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter involved in almost every type of human behavior including mood and appetite. Elevated levels of this compound are associated with less anxiety and depression.
    Find it in: omega-3 fatty acid-rich foods (fish such as salmon, snapper, scallops, shrimp and halibut), flaxseeds, walnuts, soybeans, winter squash, raw tofu, whole grains (breads, pasta, brown rice, bulgur, couscous, quinoa), sweet potatoes, vitamin B6-rich foods (oatmeal, gourds, spinach, peppers, jalapeno, Serrano peppers and cabbage).
    *Note: alcohol and excessive caffeine interfere with serotonin production. 
  5. Dopamin is another neurotransmitter that helps to regulate mood and personality. Help to keep stress at bay by increasing levels of this compound.
    Find it in: folate-rich foods (spinach, brussels sprouts, broccoli, asparagus, turnip greens, and okra) and those high in tyrosine (blueberries, spirulina, animal proteins, cheese, yogurt, milk, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, almonds, peanuts, legumes, and tofu). 

Take a proactive stance with your nutrition by consuming a wide variety of the foods listed above. By doing so, you can actually help to decrease your stress levels during the holidays and throughout the year. You’ll also receive the added benefits of a tough-as-nails immune system and ultra healthy diet. Eat up!

Brooke is a registered sports dietitian and the owner of Fuel to the Finish Endurance Nutrition Coaching/Destination Kona Triathlon Store in Scottsdale, Arizona. She is an avid triathlete, having recently completed her third Ironman. She integrates that personal experience and knowledge into developing customized, sport-specific fueling plans for her clients.

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