‘Tis the season to be stressed, but you don’t have to believe in magic to have a more jolly holiday. If you tend to reach for high-sugar and refined carbohydrate foods during these stressful times, your likely exacerbating stress rather than helping control it. While filling your plate with comfort foods may feel good in the moment, they can contribute to increased stress, physiologically and emotionally. So next time you feel like Scrooge, tame your tension with these holiday-inspired foods and drinks.
- Make oats part of your traditions. Comforting and filled with fiber, oats give you consistent energy and can quell carb cravings when you’re stressed. Cortisol — a hormone that is released when we are stressed — increases blood glucose and reduces the body’s ability to use sugar by reducing insulin sensitivity. Foods filled with fiber can help slow digestion and stifle the effects of stress. Try oatmeal, oat muffins, or oat crumble atop your favorite seasonal gratin.
- Eat your greens (we promise they won’t turn you into the grinch). Leafy greens, particularly spinach, are a rich source of magnesium. Magnesium deficiency has been linked to increased stress response and disrupted sleep patterns (which can worsen stress). Salads aren’t the only way to eat greens, try including in a breakfast bake, wilting them in your favorite soup, sautéing as a side, or even making spinach pesto. You can incorporate magnesium other ways too with whole grains, beans, quinoa, avocado, almonds, and even dark chocolate.
- Think beyond the candy cane. When stress has you craving something crunchy, grab a handful of roasted or popped chickpeas and lentils instead of sweets. They can be purchased in both savory and sweet flavors or you can even make your own. Not only are they filled with fiber and magnesium, two nutrients that may help bust stress, the act of snacking on something crunchy can also help crush the effects of stress.
- Unwrap the nutcracker. Nuts and seeds are filled with zinc, which may play a role in how the brain and body responds to stress. Top your morning oatmeal, make a plant-based pâté for your charcuterie board, or put a twist on holiday staples with options such as roasted walnut and parmesan mashed potatoes or balsamic and pine nut brussels sprouts.
- Ditch eggnog for herbal tea. Just thinking about sipping something warm brings a sense of calm, doesn’t it? Chamomile tea has been linked to reduced anxiety and decaffeinated green tea was shown to improve sleep quality. Taking a few moments to stop what you’re doing and sip slowly may be just what the elves ordered.
No one is immune to stress, but how you handle it can make a meaningful difference in your day. Eating balanced meals, getting enough sleep, exercising regularly, and taking time to get outside can also help reduce stress.