Stress is a natural physical and mental reaction to life experiences. Stress can be caused by average daily tasks like being stuck in traffic or arguing with a friend, or serious life events like an automobile accident or cancer diagnosis. Our bodies respond to this stress by releasing hormones that increase your heart and breathing rates and shunts blood to your muscles to help you escape from that stressful event. While this is a phenomenal mechanism we possess, problems arise when our hours and days are filled with these stressful events and our bodies aren't given the opportunity to restore and rebalance. Over time, continued strain on your body from stress may contribute to serious health problems, such as heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and other illnesses.
In this article, I'm going to share 7 ways to lower your stress through nutrition by providing examples of foods and nutrients that are key in supporting your body’s functions in maintaining balance, and therefore, health.
It most likely does not come as a surprise that water is essential for life. Water has many roles within our body including flushing toxins, cushioning bones and joints, hydrating our cells, improving oxygen delivery to cells, and transporting nutrients. Staying properly hydrated is vitally important to maintaining balance and supporting the body through stressful events. As a general rule, the goal is to drink half your body weight in fluid ounces. For example, if you’re a person that weighs 200 pounds you should consume roughly 100 fluid ounces of water per day. Keep in mind, fresh fruits and vegetables also are hydrating, but should not replace drinking hydrating beverages such as water, coconut water, or bone broth.
It is impossible to find a system in the body that does not rely on protein for healthy functioning, as all of our cells require proteins to exist. Hormones, nervous system messaging molecules (neurotransmitters), digestive enzymes, and energy-producing enzymes all depend on protein. Incorporating this macronutrient in your diet is key to supporting your body through stress as it will fuel your system from a cellar level, ensuring your body will return to balance. Make sure your protein sources (whether animal or plant based) are clean and organic!
The role of choline in the body is complex and is required for a wide range of critical functions. Choline has been shown to play an important role in brain health and may protect against stress. Egg yolks are the most concentrated source of choline in the American diet. Other very good sources of choline include shrimp, scallops, cod, collard greens, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, swiss chard, asparagus, and spinach.
Selenium is required for the proper activity of a group of enzymes that play a key role in the body's detoxification system and protection against oxidative stress. Studies have found a connection between severe and continued stressful events and higher biomarkers for oxidative stress. Incorporating selenium-rich foods will protect the body against oxidative stress and ensure proper detoxification. The best source of selenium is brazil nuts, followed by oysters, clams, liver, and kidney.
Vitamin D may be one of the most fundamentally important building blocks available to us for creating and sustaining vibrant health. Of its many roles, vitamin D regulates immune function, cell growth, and neuromuscular function. Studies suggest that vitamin D status plays an important role in supporting our bodies through acute stress. The very best source of vitamin D is the sun, followed by nutrient-dense whole foods like salmon, eggs, and sardines.
Turmeric has been used for centuries in Ayurvedic and Traditional Chinese Medicine. Prized for its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, recent studies have shown the spice plays an active role in treating various central nervous system disorders as well as offering a protective action against stress. Turmeric can be utilized either fresh or dried and is easily incorporated into many types of cuisines. A great beverage option that utilizes turmeric is Golden Milk!
Chamomile is one of the most ancient medicinal herbs known to mankind. Chamomile is best known for its wonderful calming action and is used to ease tension and stress, emotional upset, nervousness, and insomnia. Purchasing the dried, organic flowers in bulk is an easy and affordable way to always have chamomile on hand to be utilized as a tea, compress, or a lovely addition to your bath.
Vitamin D may be one of the most fundamentally important building blocks available to us for creating and sustaining vibrant health. Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that promotes calcium absorption in the intestine and maintains calcium and phosphate levels in the blood, protecting against osteoporosis,
rickets, and bone fracture. It also regulates immune function, cell growth, and neuromuscular function.
There are two main forms of vitamin D: vitamin D3, which is formed in the skin after exposure to sunlight and from consumption of animal-sourced foods, and vitamin D2, which is obtained mainly through plant sources and fortified foods. One interesting fact about vitamin D is that in its active form it is a hormone! Despite the original misnaming of vitamin D this term has continued to be used.
Vitamin D is complex and requires other synergistic nutrients to be utilized in our bodies. For starters, vitamin D is fat-soluble, meaning, fat is a necessary vehicle for vitamin D to be absorbed. Another example is vitamin D’s role in building and maintaining healthy bones. While calcium is the primary component of bone, it can only be absorbed by your body when vitamin D is present. Another complex relationship is between the fat-soluble vitamins, A, D, and K. Vitamin A is an essential factor in vitamin D’s hormonal function, and vitamin K is necessary to activate the proteins made in response to vitamins A and D.
Recommendations for what constitutes adequate intake of vitamin D varies. Nutritional biochemist Dr. Chris Masterjohn has presented evidence suggesting that optimal vitamin D levels may vary from population to population. One must also take into consideration other vitamin deficiencies and lifestyle factors that may play a role in your overall vitamin D need. It’s best to find an integrative and functional healthcare practitioner that can test your vitamin D status while comparing those results with your overall health presentation.
There are three ways to obtain vitamin D: exposure to sunlight, food, and supplements. The most effective of all of these methods is exposure to sunlight. Your body makes vitamin D when direct sunlight converts a chemical in your skin into an active form of the vitamin. There are some limiting factors, however, such as location, time of year, skin pigmentation, age, pollution, and application of sunscreen. Due to these varying factors, it’s challenging to state a general amount of time one must spend outside. A great, free app, to learn how much time to spend in the sun depending on your age, skin color, and location is D minder!
The next best source of vitamin D is obtained from whole foods. In comparison to other nutrients, the list of vitamin D containing foods is quite short. According to The World’s Healthiest Foods, wild-caught salmon is the best food source of vitamin D as a single serving contains more than the generally suggested Daily Value (DV). Sardines contain over 40% of the DV, and tuna contains just under 25%. Pasture-raised eggs are a good source of dietary vitamin D, with about 10% of the DV per egg. The vitamin D is concentrated in the yolk, so you'll need to eat the whole egg to get it. Some mushroom species, including shiitakes, contain as much as 5% of the DV.
You may be asking, “why isn’t milk on this list? I always see ‘fortified with vitamin D’ on the container?!” This is where things get tricky. While milk does supply a high dose of vitamin D, I want to provide a caveat when relying on processed foods to meet your vitamin and nutrient requirements.
In the United States, as in most parts of the world, fortification of food was initiated as a systematic approach to correct identified nutrient deficiencies in the population. The problem with fortification is that the body does not absorb individual nutrients added to processed foods as efficiently compared to nutrients naturally occurring in whole foods. Whole foods contain synergistic nutrients that work together to enhance the bioavailability and utilization of each other in our bodies. For example, any milk that has been processed to remove the fat loses the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, and K. Although vitamins A and D are added back, our bodies cannot absorb them without a fat vehicle, nor can they function optimally without the assistance of vitamin K. Through this processing of the milk, we’re losing vital nutrients.
With all of that being said, milk does provide vitamin D, however, sourcing is very important. Ensure that your milk is from pasture-raised, organic, grass-fed cows that have ample access to the outdoors and sunlight, as their milk may contain vitamin D even if non-fortified.
Rounding this all out, the very best way to obtain vitamin D is to get plenty of sunlight combined with a nutrient-dense, whole foods diet. However, our modern sedentary and mainly indoor lifestyle, combined with a heavy reliance on processed foods has left the majority of Americans deficient in this vital nutrient. While vitamin D is generally regarded as safe, always consult with your doctor before considering the use of any Vitamin D supplement, especially if you have health conditions or diseases that need to be addressed or are pregnant or breastfeeding.
Balsalmic Roasted Tempeh Bowls
Whether you're a vegan/vegetarian or just trying to eat less meat, this is a great high-protein plant-based recipe. Make sure your tempeh is organic -- most soy products in North America are GMO so buying organic is important. You could also add some tahini dressing drizzled on top.
Below the picture is a link to a downloadable PDF file to save. Enjoy!
Instant Pot Salmon Curry
We could all use more fatty fish in our diets and I have a personal goal to eat more salmon. This Instant Pot curry salmon recipe could not be any easier. Just a few ingredients that you probably have on-hand and about 15 minutes to prepare, this will become a new favorite. Download the PDF file below, give it a try and let me know what you think.
This recipe is the bomb. You could also add chicken. I haven't tried it with other nut butters, but I think cashew butter would be good too. Link to download a PDF is below. Enjoy!
Cathy McCann is a functional nutritionist, coach, writer, speaker and meditation teacher, who is passionate about health and guiding people through the journey of healing.