There’s a difference between a comfort food and a calming food.
For me, there’s nothing better than a glass of wine (or several, who am I kidding) after a long, stressful day. Paired with something sweet. That’s my favorite comfort food. I know for many others it’s a pint of ice cream, a pepperoni pizza, or a greasy cheeseburger from a favorite fast food joint.
But a calming food is something else entirely.
Did you know that there are certain foods, meals, and snacks that are soothing to the body and mind? That certain fruits and vegetables can actually help to combat your stress? I didn’t know either until recently, and I’m thrilled to share what I’ve learned so that next time you craft your weekly grocery list, you can include the items that follow.
Food cravings come from cortisol, which is your body’s stress hormone made in the adrenal glands. Experiencing stress, no matter how grave, causes your cortisol levels to rise. Those high cortisol levels are what cause you to crave sugary foods in particular, but consuming them when stressed can actually worsen your mood — no matter how delicious that milkshake might be.
So while reaching for your favorite unhealthy comfort food might provide you a temporary sense of calm, it’s nothing more than that — a quick fix.
On the other hand, choosing a calming food — not a comfort food — can actually help relieve your stress and relax you in ways that are so much more beneficial than just getting a temporary fix. The nutrients and steady flow of energy that these foods provide can help you feel more balanced and calm.
Below are some foods that I make a point to add to my grocery cart as often as I can. Some can be consumed as a snack, while others can be added to any meal.
I’ll be the first to admit that training myself to reach for these items instead of my go-to comfort foods after a long day or stressful event is tough. But sticking to it is actually one of my biggest goals that I’ve mapped out using my new goal-setting guide.
We’re all about progress in this community and making small changes that add up to healthier long-term habits. Even the tiniest changes can have huge results.
For example, if your workday leaves you feeling anxious, unnerved, or mentally drained, instead of stopping on your way home to pick up some less-than-healthy takeout, plan to make a meal at home that contains at least one of the items on my list. Additionally, you might even find that preparing your own food is therapeutic and already makes you feel less stressed!
The following foods are great to keep on hand so you don’t have any excuses:
- Avocado — Feelings of anxiety may be partially rooted in your body not getting enough vitamin B. Luckily avocados are filled with the stuff! Bonus: their monounsaturated fat and potassium can also help lower your blood pressure.
- Swiss chard — This leafy veggie contains magnesium, which helps to balance your cortisol levels, leaving you calmer — the opposite of how you might feel after a sugar binge!
- Berries — Blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, and blackberries are all helpful to combat stress because they’re rich in vitamin C!
- Cashews — These are a good source of zinc, which is important because low levels of zinc have been linked to anxiety and depression. Just make sure you take note of your portion size with these and stick to a small handful, because they’re also high in calories.
- Garlic — Garlic is filled with tons of powerful antioxidants, which is why some people even take garlic pills when they’re feeling sick — they’re an immune booster! Stress can weaken your immune systems, so garlic is great to have on hand.
- Red peppers — These have twice as much vitamin C as an orange! Enough said.
- Spinach — Much like swiss chard, spinach is rich in magnesium and can help you even out those cortisol levels, bringing your stress levels way down.
- Kombucha — Fermented foods work wonders. Not only is kombucha great for your digestion and liver support, but since it’s rich in vitamins B and C, it can help to stabilize your mood, increase your concentration, and even fight depression. Bonus: drinking kombucha can help reduce your cravings for both sugar and alcohol.
- Salmon — The omega-3 fats in salmon are extremely heart healthy, and they even help your body manage adrenaline levels which can lead to you feeling significantly calmer.
- Carrots — Like many of the other foods in this list, carrots are high in vitamin C. Opt for carrots when you need a calming antioxidant boost.
So there you have it. I do my best to make sure that I have at least some of these items on hand every week so that it’s easier for me to reach for them when I’m craving greasy or sugary alternatives.
I hope you’ll join me in my efforts to reach for calming foods over comfort foods. The next time you’re experiencing stress and craving your favorite comforting food vice, do your best to reach for one of the items on my list. Trust me, you’ll be happy you did!
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