Are you feeling maxed out? Is work making you feel stressed instead of inspired? We can relate. Life certainly feels like it's hurtling forward faster than we can comprehend right now. And we're not alone: Millions of Americans are just as overwhelmed and nearing burnout—it might be time to give these up in order to be happy. In fact, in a Huffington Post report, the World Health Organization labeled workplace stress as the "health epidemic of the 21st century and estimated to cost American businesses up to $300 billion a year."
If your cortisol levels are a little out of whack, we have a simple remedy to keep them in the happiness zone: food. Yes, we know, it's common sense, but keeping your stress in check really is as simple as adding a few key staples to your diet every day. And we're not talking overpriced superfoods or wellness trends either. Ahead, health and nutrition expert Jess Barron of Livestrong.com shares the top anti-inflammatory foods to reduce stress. Isn't it time you looked after yourself?
When you feel stressed, it can cause tension and pain. One area where most of us notice this tightness is in our jaws, but Barron advises a simple remedy for that: chewing. "Many people hold tension in the jaw, but the simple mechanical action of crunching down on something can help a clenched jaw to work that out," she told MyDomaine. "The stress eater may want to reach for chips, but why not crunch on something that contains antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties, such as raw veggies?"
Be a smart snacker and ditch the chips for presliced, convenient raw vegetables instead. "They provide a great crunch, but unlike chips are generally low in calories and high in nutrients (a win-win)," she said. Crunchy, low-calorie vegetables include celery, carrots, sweet bell peppers, radishes, cucumbers, sugar snap peas, and fennel. "Dip them in guacamole," she adds. "Avocados offer a plethora of antioxidants, such as lutein, beta-carotene, and vitamin E, as well as plenty of B vitamins like folate. Low levels of folate have been linked to depression." If you're ready to chew it out, try Barron's recipe for guacamole with a secret ingredient.
Instead of pouring another cup of coffee or black tea, skip the caffeine for ginger-infused tea instead. Barron says nutrition experts rave about its powerful anti-inflammatory properties. "This is important because stress causes inflammation throughout the body, and inflammation is a precursor to almost all of the chronic conditions we seek to avoid, including cardiovascular disease, cancer, and autoimmune disorders," explains Barron. Turmeric is in the same category.
To make your own ginger tea, simply slice the ginger root thinly and steep it in hot water. "You can make tea with turmeric too by adding a tablespoon of the spice to hot water," said Barron. "Add honey to taste, if you wish. You can also add a tablespoon of turmeric to your morning smoothies for a kick of anti-inflammatory action."
Cook a Stress-Free Meal
If left unattended, stress can really wreak havoc on your health, and it's been linked to digestive problems, heart disease, weight gain, and more. To reduce the risk, Barron recommends increasing your daily dose of antioxidants. This vital ingredient helps to prevent illness and keeps your body healthy by providing your immune system with disease-fighting power.
"Antioxidants protect cells from oxidative damage by free radicals, the byproducts of metabolism, and environmental factors," she explains. "They also stimulate the production of white blood cells, the body's defense mechanism. There are many natural antioxidants and immune boosters available in the form of vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, and other substances in the foods we eat."
To make antioxidants easy, Jess came up with a clever acronym of the word "kale," but spelled with a "c" instead. Follow this rule and power up your diet with these stress-busting ingredients.
C: Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant responsible for the increased production of infection-fighting white blood cells and antibodies. You'll get your vitamin C by eating oranges, grapefruits, bell peppers, broccoli, tomatoes, strawberries, and green leafy vegetables to boost your immunity.
A: Beta-carotene is converted to vitamin A only when the body needs it. This process allows the remaining carotenoids to act as antioxidants, fighting free radicals throughout the body. Beta-carotene helps strengthen the immune system and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease by interfering with the oxidation of fat and cholesterol in the bloodstream.
Beta-carotene has a preventive effect against atherosclerosis, stroke, cancer, and heart attack. Brightly colored fruits and vegetables such as carrots, apricots, sweet potatoes, squash, broccoli, tomatoes, cantaloupe, peaches, spinach, kale, pumpkin, and mango are rich in beta-carotene.
L: Reach for watermelon and tomatoes as sources of lycopene, a potent antioxidant.
E: Vitamin E signals the release of natural killer cells, which are cells that seek and destroy foreign particles such as germs and toxins. It also stimulates the production of B cells or immune cells that manufacture antibodies.
Vitamin E may reverse immunity decline related to the natural aging process. Eating a diet rich in nuts, seeds, vegetable oils, whole grains, leafy greens, and fortified breakfast cereals will help you meet your daily vitamin E needs.