I don’t know about you but I’ve been experiencing a lot of mixed feelings about the fact that it’s late in August and Labor Day is right around the corner. On the one hand, it’s nice to be able to savor these last days of those summer vibes and get excited about the possibilities a new month and season bring. On the other, many of us are looking at schedule changes, more responsibilities and coordination on the home and work front, and feeling the effects of less daylight. This anticipation and fear of the unknown can trigger stress and anxiety (been there), and even a subtle change in the light can cause changes in our mood.
As you guys know, I love nerding out on nutrition for mental health and brain function. A few favorite examples are this Forbes article on foods to beat stress, which features my fellow RD Elizabeth Shaw and this one on the top foods for brain health with Dr. Lisa Mosconi, author of Brain Food: The Surprising Science of Eating for Cognitive Power (Avery/ Penguin Random House).
When it comes to keeping our shit together during times of stress, blood sugar management is key. Meals and snacks that provide a combination of protein, fat, and complex carbohydrate break down slowly so we don’t get that crash-and-burn feeling we get when we turn to simple carbs like baked goods or chips when we’re wigged out—or that totally depleted, meltdown-y feeling that comes from skipping meals or forgetting to eat until we’ve reached that point of no return. Instead, we’re able to think more clearly and actually deal with the crazy at hand.
Confession: When I was working at the hospital during Hurricane Sandy in 2012, I remember this one morning where I had a very short break. I could either have had a snack or made a phone call to tell my mom I was still alive (again). I chose the snack. It was an egg, and it totally saved my hangry ass. I texted my mom. Compromise.
Speaking of eggs, there are also certain nutrients that help support efficient brain function. Here’s a day’s worth of easy, stress-busting recipes that show off a few of the must-haves.
Breakfast: Eggs And Veggies
Eggs and vggies (or this egg and vegetable scramble) with whole grain toast, roasted potato or sweet potato, or fruit on the side provides a stabilizing balance of protein, fat and carbs to keep you on an even keel. Choline, a nutrient found in eggs, is essential to brain function, so go ahead and eat the yolks.
Lunch: Crispy Chickpea Kale Salad
This Crispy Chickpea Kale Salad is a great go-to for a stressful day because the folate in dark leafy greens helps support production of dopamine, a brain chemical tied in to feelings of pleasure. The chickpeas also deliver a hearty dose of plant-protein and filling fiber. The avocado also provides satisfying (and heart-healthy!) monounsaturated fat so you stay full for hours—that’s good hanger management..
Snack: Chocolate Raspberry Yogurt Bowl
This Chocolate Raspberry Yogurt Bowl offers up plenty of protein thanks to the Greek yogurt. It’s also a good source of beneficial probiotic bacteria, which is important because the gastrointestinal system and the brain “talk” to each other—nourishing gut health supports clear communication and efficient brain function. Another reason I love this snack for stress management: antioxidant compounds in berries have been studied for their anti-inflammatory benefits to help protect the body from damage that can result from chronic stress.
Dinner: Salmon And Broccoli Sheet Pan Dinner
This easy-peasy Stress-Busting Sheet Pan Dinner is one of my go-to comfort meals when I need to come back to earth after an intense or triggering day. The salmon provides omega-3 fatty acids, which are helpful for calming a spike in cortisol, everyone’s favorite stress hormone. The broccoli provides calcium, a mineral that’s important for efficient muscle and nerve function—including those mood-regulating neurotransmitters. The sweet potatoes provide complex carbs, which are helpful for supporting production of neurotransmitter serotonin. They also provide antioxidants like vitamins A and C, which help the immune system function well and improve the body’s stress response by fighting inflammation.
I hope you find this helpful!
What are your go-to foods when you’re stressed out?