If stress sends you diving for a bag of potato chips, butter-laden chicken curry, a slice of pizza or high calorie sweets - you're not alone. The bustle of life provides plenty of high stress moments for adults and kids alike, and the hectic pace of a crammed schedule can make healthy meals a fond memory.
Our bodies have natural, physiological responses to stress that leave us favoring fatty and high calorie foods over more nutritious fare. By fulfilling cravings for treats such as pizza, chicken curry, and pastries, your body is telling your brain to relax because you have re-fueled yourself with high-calorie foods.
The problem is that high-calorie treats are often lower in nutrients, but higher in fat and cholesterol - these foods won't ultimately do your body any favors. Learn to prepare healthy meals to keep you energized so that you can conquer stress and continue to function in a healthful way.
Stay Well-Stocked with Antioxidants
Keep yourself healthy in times of stress with a diet that is rich in antioxidants. Antioxidants are nutrients that remove toxic oxidants, also called free radicals, from the bloodstream. Some free radicals occur naturally in our bodies, but they are also caused by exposure to toxins such as cigarette smoke and pollution. Free radicals are harmful because they can damage DNA and suppress the immune system.
Stay healthy and protect your body by stocking your kitchen and fridge with antioxidant-rich foods. This is easy since many of the best high-antioxidant snacks do not require advance preparation, so you can eat them on the go. Pile up your shopping cart with:
- Fruits: oranges, strawberries, papaya, mango, pineapple, apple and cantaloupe
- Vegetables: tomatoes, bell peppers, broccoli, spinach, carrots, sweet potatoes, onions, eggplant, and beets.
- Nuts and grains: brown rice, oatmeal, and a wide variety of nuts such as almonds, pistachios, and walnuts.
- Legumes: soybeans, peas, lentils, red kidney beans and chick peas
Stress alone can cause your immune system to weaken, making you more susceptible to illness - right when you have no time to take a day off! Keep your immune system healthy with free-radical-fighting foods, and you'll be better equipped to stay on top of tension.
Do-Ahead Meal Ideas
Finding the time to create healthy, stress-busting meals is a legitimate concern for adults who rush from home to office, work late hours and then come back with no energy left to prepare a healthy dinner. Putting together dinner doesn't have to take a lot of precious time, and much of the prep work can be done in advance. Try these tips to save time and increase the nutrients in your family's meals:
- Chop and slice veggies as soon as you return from the market and freeze them. Defrost and cook as needed.
- Make dinner salads ahead of time with moong and chickpea sprouts as your protein source.
- Cook entrees such as chicken, fish or curries for vegetables on the weekends and freeze.
- Stock up on low fat cheese, lean meats, veggies and whole grain breads for sandwiches. .
- Make breakfast on a regular basis. Milk with cornflakes, vegetable dalia, vegetable omelet or vegetable sandwich are quick and nutritious breakfast options.
- Stock up on seasonal fruits; they are nutritious and easiest snack option.
Moderation is Key
Stress-free eating doesn't mean you have to give up everything you're craving. Moderation is the key to eating healthfully, no matter what your stress level. Practice portion control to ensure you're getting nutrients first and reducing your overall intake of high-fat and high-sugar foods. Be especially careful with indulgences such as alcohol and caffeine as these substances can actually increase your stress level.
Putting it into Practice
The next time you're feeling stressed, think twice about your eating habits before you enter into your favorite restaurant. Think about how much you'll benefit from a well-rounded meal with fresh ingredients and tastes you can savor. Consider how relaxing a nice meal can be, especially when you know you are making the right choice for your health.