Now that the holidays are over, it may be time to go on a diet. Not because you indulged too much, but because your stress levels are off the charts. Family, gifts, travel — there’s hardly a moment that isn’t even a little stressful. Luckily, there are certain foods that are actually good at regulating stress. Big presentation coming up? Tuck into a big bowl of spinach. Kids running circles around you, even though you’re all down with the flu? Grab some blueberries. Upcoming bill payments keeping you awake? Take a deep breath and drink a glass of milk.
When we’re stressed, according to Today’s Dietitian, our cortisol levels rise. Cortisol is a steroid hormone that’s produced from cholesterol in the adrenal glands on top of the kidneys. It’s released in response to things ranging from waking up in the morning to exercising to stress, and one of its functions is regulating food cravings for carbs, fats, and proteins. Cortisol is responsible for the desire to dive into a big bowl of pasta when you’re worried about how long your car can last before you have to go to the mechanic, or why you want to open up a pint of ice cream after a bad day. There are other nutritional deficiencies associated with stress and depression, like magnesium, and with clouded brain function and fatigue, like B12. Find out what nutrients (or lackthereof) may be getting you down and get yourself back on track for a mentally healthier new year with these recipes.
Pump up the protein
Serotonin regulates mood, sleep, and cognitive function. When your serotonin is a little out of whack, amino acids like tryptophan can regulate your serotonin levels, stabilizing your mood. Omega-3 fatty acids also help keep cortisol from spiking, which regulates how stressed you feel. For omega-3s and tryptophan, Today’s Dietitian suggests you try eating salmon, nuts, and avocado.
1. When you’re feeling particularly moody, combine all three into one big, healthy salad with this Blackened Salmon Salad with Avocado Ranch Dressing from Garnish & Glaze. Don’t skip the goat cheese: It’s got an extra punch of vitamin B12.
2. If your cortisol levels are pushing you toward a carbo-load, reach for whole grain rolls instead for this Feel Good Salmon Sandwich from Health.com. The iron-loaded spinach pesto includes walnuts, high in fatty acids, and the salmon is dry-rubbed with smoked paprika, brown sugar, and crushed red pepper, which makes your taste buds feel good, too.
3. Spirulina, a type of seaweed, is one of the greatest vegetarian sources of tryptophan. If you’re unlikely to eat salmon but still unsure of how you feel about eating seaweed, try this Spirulina Smoothie from Deliciously Ella. It’s packed with spinach, blueberries, kale, protein powder, chia seeds for extra amino acids, all of which are mood-stabilizing ingredients, and you can’t even taste the spirulina. Add some medjool dates to sweeten it and increase fiber even more.
Increase your iron
Iron helps rebuild hemoglobin, which carries oxygen to the blood, which in turn helps battle fatigue. Everyone gets cranky when they’re tired, which makes an extra dose of iron extra important when you’re feeling particularly stressed. Rebuild your blood’s oxygen stores and recover from hectic holidays with these iron-rich recipes.
4. Red meat is a great source of iron. This lamb burger from Eating Well is topped with mâche, or lamb’s lettuce — greens are also particularly high in iron. It’s a double whammy.
5. Breakfast could very easily be the most important meal of your day if you make this Mediterranean Breakfast Quinoa from All Recipes. The quinoa alone is at least a quarter of your daily iron intake, and then you pile in milk and almonds for protein and B12.
6. & 7. Clam Chowder, between the clams, potatoes, and dried thyme, is a powerful bowl of iron. One cup of it, according to its SELF nutrition data profile, is 17% of your daily iron intake. Better yet, it also packs in 200% of your daily B12. Whether you’re partial to Manhattan style or New England style chowder, the Food Network has you covered.
B12 to be sharp
According to the Mayo Clinic and various studies, there may be a link between B12 deficiency and depression. There’s definitely a link between cognitive function and B12. It’s necessary for the central nervous system and the formation of red blood cells. Not thinking clearly, being tired, and feeling run down are factors sure to leave you feeling stressed, so load up and feel better.
8. Vitamin B12 is naturally found in animal products ranging from meat to milk to eggs, so it’s easy to get plenty in a recipe like Food & Wine’s Skirt Steak with Moroccan Spice Rub and Yogurt Sauce.
9. For those who don’t eat any animal products, fermented foods are one of the best ways to get B12 because the bacteria involved in the process produce it. By combining miso, a fermented rice and soybean paste, and tempeh, a fermented soy cake, you’re bound to get plenty of brain-healthy B12 in this Maple Miso Tempeh from Our Fresh Kitchen.
10. & 11. For another animal-free way to pack in B12, start cooking with nutritional yeast. Better yet, it’s also high in protein. With a slightly cheesy flavor, it’s a great boost for everything from this popcorn from Gimme Some Oven to these vegan lasagna rolls with spinach and pesto from Post Punk Kitchen.
Magnesium for mental health
Another deficiency contributing to fatigue and muscle tension as well as insomnia — a serious stressor in itself, let alone combined with fatigue — magnesium is responsible for maintaining enzyme reactions in the body. Studies have shown that the mineral helps ward off migraines, too, according to Everyday Health. Luckily, greens, seeds, and whole grains come to your rescue.
12. Resynchronize your cortisol levels with this Grilled Chocolate Peanut Butter Banana Sandwich from Meals.com. Use dark chocolate for 24% of your daily value of magnesium, whole grain bread for another 10% boost, banana for 8%, and peanut butter for an additional 12%. Together, this chocolate sandwich gives you 54% of your daily value of healthy magnesium.
13. Half a cup of pumpkin seeds provides 100% of your daily value of magnesium. Roast perfect pumpkin seeds for a healthy snack with this recipe from Oh She Glows.
14. Kale, being a leafy green high in both iron and magnesium is the base of this stress-fighting Caesar salad from Lemon Stripes. The dressing uses soaked cashews instead of cheese and egg yolks and nutritional yeast to boost B12. The salad is topped with magnesium-rich sesame seeds for extra crunch and mineral value. Use whole grain bread to make this salad even more powerful.