It is hardly news that the COVID-induced lockdown has wreaked havoc on our lifestyle and eating habits. We are tackling several things at the same time – a sudden disruption in our daily routines, disturbed sleep cycles, and having to work from home. Moreover, the uncertainty regarding the future has resulted in general anxiety looming over our heads round the clock. These factors are undoubtedly making us ever more susceptible to unhealthy lifestyle choices.
When the world is thrown into panic and chaos, it is important to develop a routine and take care of our mental as well as physical health. While meditation and physical exercise are essential, we mustn’t underestimate the effect that diet can have on our stress levels.
Food can be a great stress buster as well as a stress inducer. While we reach for comfort food to cheer us up when we are having a bad day, following restrictive diets can make us cranky or cause erratic mood swings. Hence, food has a lot to do with how we react to a stressful situation and can shape how we manage it. An important point to remember here is that food items that can help reduce stress levels aren’t necessarily restricted to expensive ones advertised as such – like avocado, zucchini, or Greek Yogurt. Affordable and easily available, simple home-cooked meals can also do wonders when it comes to reducing anxiety.
Here are five stress-busting food habits that can help us during the lockdown:
Step up your Fruit and Vegetable Game
Green leafy vegetables such as spinach and cabbage are rich sources of nutrients like folate and dopamine that release a pleasure-inducing chemical in the brain, and thus help relieve stress. Fruits like bananas and apples provide our bodies with a high dose of potassium and fiber that can also help combat anxiety and stress. It is for good reason that dietitians around the world recommend including green vegetables and high-fibrous fruits in our daily diets.
Include a Good Dose of Healthy Fats
Consuming healthy fats not just helps manage stress but is also good for an overall better health. Fatty fish like silver carp, hilsa and sardines are rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Similarly, nuts and seeds like flax seeds, pistachio, walnut and almonds, are packed with vitamins and minerals. The intake of nuts can help minimize oxidative stress, hypertension, and inflammation. Cod liver oil is another great source of omega-3 fatty acids.
Reduce Caffeine Intake
Many of us want our caffeine fix in the morning to function well throughout the day. But in reality, caffeine, present in coffee and tea, can cause high blood pressure and increase anxiety. Caffeine can elevate cortisol levels leading to prolonged levels of stress, thus leaving a negative impact on one’s health. While you may not want to give up caffeine entirely, it’s always a good idea to keep your intake in check.
Develop Healthy Snacking Habits
If you have a tendency to indulge in stress-eating, you might want to trick yourself with healthy snacks. Hard crunchy foods such as a handful of almonds, soy nuts, cashews, or baby carrots help relieve stress by putting tight jaw muscles to work. You can also choose snacks like pistachios which require an effort to peel. When you slow down, your brain gets a chance to intervene and it becomes easier to stop yourself binge-eating. A brisk walk or a cup of herbal tea can also work wonders in curbing stress-eating instincts.
Consume Foods Containing Antioxidants
Many healthy food items contain antioxidants that help keep oxidative stress at bay, an excess of which can cause serious damage to one’s health. Broccoli, strawberries, dark chocolate, raspberries, beetroot, purple grapes, tomatoes, and dark raisins, all contain different kinds of antioxidants that help manage stress.
To sum it up
Incorporating healthy eating habits does not have to be a boring or expensive endeavor. It is indeed a lot to do with developing a healthy relationship with food – with a little bit of planning, and perhaps with the help of a dietician, it is possible to find a solution that would work for you, without straying too far away from your usual eating habits and budget.