By Dianne Holliday Fish, MA, LPC
If it’s a stressful day, what do you reach for first? It’s not unusual in our culture to reach for that second (or third?) cup of coffee, or a soda-type drink high in processed sugar along with caffeine and other stimulants. A little more awareness of what foods you are reaching for when stressed may provide you another tool to take control of your stress symptoms. Keep in mind that although caffeine can give you a temporary boost of energy, it may also leave you feeling even more jittery and anxious. Explore alternative beverage options without added sugars and caffeine such as: ice water with lemon or lime; a small amount of a natural fruit juice added to carbonated water; or a non-caffeinated tea with fresh mint leaves– hot or on ice.
If excess stress has you feeling unsettled and anxious, you might also try increasing your intake of foods with key vitamins and minerals. According to Dr. Dharma Singh Khalsa:
“Your adrenals respond to Vitamin C. The vitamin feeds the adrenal glands and enables them to function more optimally despite extra demands.
A Vitamin B deficiency makes you much less able to deal with stress. Also, sugar, which you may be more likely to reach for under stress, depletes the B vitamins. Vitamin B 1 (Thiamine) supports immunity, which helps you tolerate stress and keeps you from getting sick. All the B complex vitamins are essential for metabolizing carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. They also help maintain muscle tone in the digestive tract and boost your brain power.
Elevated levels of cortisol deplete calcium and magnesium and a lack of these minerals can make the symptoms of stress worse. Anxiety is one of the manifestations of a calcium deficiency, and you need magnesium to regulate levels of calcium and to create energy in your body.”
So how might you enhance your current diet to bring in more sources of B and C vitamins along with calcium and magnesium? Experiment for yourself by adding in a few food items from the lists below and pay attention to how your anxiety levels respond over time.
VITAMIN C: Fresh citrus fruits, kiwis, papaya, and strawberries are excellent sources. In addition try parsley, broccoli, red bell pepper, cauliflower, kale, mustard greens, and brussel sprouts.
B COMPLEX VITAMINS: Whole unprocessed foods including tuna, turkey, whole grains, potatoes, bananas, lentils, chili peppers, tempeh, beans, molasses, nutritional yeast, and brewer’s yeast. (By the way, according to Wikipedia, although brewer’s yeast is used in making beer, the ethanol also in beer makes it difficult or impossible to absorb the associated B vitamins- so not your best “B” source!)
CALCIUM: Dairy products such as milk, cheese, and fresh yogurt are well known sources. For those sensitive to dairy, other options include: seaweeds such as kelp, nuts and seeds (like almonds and sesame), molasses; beans, figs, quinoa, amaranth, greens such as collard and kale, rutabaga, broccoli, okra, and products fortified with calcium such as orange juice and soy milk.
MAGNESIUM: A host of food options including: tofu, legumes, whole grains, green leafy vegetables, wheat bran, Brazil nuts, soybean flour, molasses, pumpkin and squash seeds, nuts such as pinenuts, pistachio, black walnuts, almonds, cashews, and peanuts, whole wheat flour, oat flour, beet greens, spinach, agar seaweed, shredded wheat, bran cereals, oatmeal, bananas, potatoes (with skin), chocolate, and cocoa powder. Spices with magnesium include: coriander, dill weed, celery seed, sage, dried mustard, basil, cocoa powder, fennel seed, savory, cumin seed, tarragon, marjoram, poppy seed.
*Sources for this article include newsletter of Dr. Dharma Singh Khalsa, University of Maryland Medical Center, and www.whfoods.org.