Stressed? Anxious? Change Your Food and Change Your Life
While stress and anxiety can be triggered by any number of causes, there are some foods that can help alleviate anxiety on a physical level by blocking or lowering the body’s chemical response to stress hormones or increasing the amount of anti-stress chemicals. By understanding the effect of vitamins and chemicals contained in certain foods, herbs, and spices, you can actually create dishes that may lower your anxiety and stress level and avoid foods that increase your anxiety.
I often create recipes to suit my mood. For example, if I’m feeling stressed or under the weather, I will make a chicken or turkey soup with rosemary, thyme, sage, carrots, onion, and celery – ingredients that are all said to be stress and anxiety busters. In my cookbook, Christianne’s Herbal Kitchen: Fresh Herb Recipes for Body and Soul, I created recipes that are delicious, healthy and nutritious. In the book, I also share the history, chemical composition and beneficial qualities of several common herbs so that home cooks can tailor their own personal dishes to suit their emotional and dietary needs.
Here are a few herbs and foods that can help beat stress with the chemical explanation of how and why they help.
Rosemary, Thyme and Sage: This trio of holiday herbs has long been used by herbalists and aroma-therapists as natural anxiety and stress relievers. By including these herbs in your recipes you can receive the same benefits.
- Rosemary: Some studies have shown that Rosemary helps lower cortisol levels. Higher than normal cortisol levels are associated with extreme agitation or the “fight or flight” response.
- Thyme: This delicious herb has also been shown to lower cortisol levels in the body. It’s also commonly used to help alleviate insomnia. Sleep loss can also increase cortisol levels which can lead to a vicious cycle of stress, anxiety, and insomnia as well as other symptoms of depression.
- Sage: Several of the phytochemicals that make up common sage have antidepressant and anti-anxiety benefits. One recent study found that participants taking small prescribed doses of dried sage leaf had a reduction in anxiety versus those taking a placebo, while participants taking a 600 mg dose of dried sage reported an increase in “alertness”, “calmness” and “contentedness.”
Ginger: Ginger has long been used in folk medicine as a treatment for anxiety and depression. A study in the journal Bioorganic and Medicinal Chemistry found that ginger contains nine different compounds with a direct effect on human serotonin receptors. Further, they found that there was as much as a 60 percent activation of serotonin when participants ate ginger. Serotonin is also known as the neurotransmitter associated with a “happy” mood.
Chicken or Turkey: Both contain high levels of tryptophan- a precursor to serotonin. Many anti-depressants work by increasing the levels of circulating serotonin in your brain.
Chocolate: Chocolate is a go-to in my family for anxiety or a blue mood. Chocolate increases serotonin, as well as raises your endorphin level which can decrease stress and increase feelings of euphoria. The higher the percentage of chocolate and less processed the better. Processed sugar can lead to dramatic shifts in mood. Chocolate is also rich in magnesium- and a deficiency in magnesium can also lead to mood swings. Be careful, certain chocolates can be high in caffeine. Caffeine is a central nervous system stimulant and too much caffeine can mimic the signs and symptoms of anxiety.
To lessen anxiety symptoms, look for foods rich in B vitamins- especially B6 and B12. Both help to synthesize serotonin in the brain. A lack of B12 can lead to a blue mood.
Finally, tea drinkers should try herbal teas using lavender or chamomile. Both are traditionally used to lower stress and produce a relaxed, calm state.
By understanding how your food can affect your body and your mood, you really can change your life.