We have all been guilty at some time in our lives of getting home from work after a stressful day at work and heading to the fridge and cupboards in search of comfort food – something that will make us relax and unwind.
How many of us have also picked up the nearest snack or opted for a takeaway at times of personal stress and upset? Comfort food is just that – comforting – but is it the best way to help our bodies relax and our minds focus?
Many such foodstuffs, as we know, are high in sugars which give us an instant lift but can then bring our bodies’ metabolisms crashing down again.
Far better we take our comfort and encourage relaxation through foods known to be high in tryptophan, an amino acid which helps the brain produce serotonin – a chemical that calms you down, and melatonin – a hormone that can make you sleepy.
Foods rich in tryptophan include milk, chicken, turkey, eggs, nuts, rice, cheese, beans and fish. No wonder then we have often been advised to have a warm milky drink before bedtime.
A banana is also a healthy snack to have for supper as it will also stimulate levels of serotonin and induce sleepiness.
Eggs and cheese contain high levels of tryptophan and are, of course, among the most flexible of foodstuffs – ideal to combine with others to make a balanced meal, to have in sandwiches or to include at breakfast.
We’ve all heard the virtues of chicken soup extolled – well, for good reason. Chicken stock is known to rid the body of infections and adding ingredients such as chili, onion, garlic add a calming effect on the nervous system.
Natural honey is also high in tryptophan and has a soothing effect on the nerves – another good product to add to everyday meals.
Nuts contain high quantities of selenium, magnesium, Vitamin E and Vitamin B complex which all help relax the brain. A handful of mixed nuts is a quick and easy snack to have on the move. Consider spreading peanut butter on your toast for breakfast or a healthy snack as it’s packed full of magnesium and Vitamin B6. Magnesium is good for mental stimulation and a deficiency of selenium can lead to higher levels of depression and anxiety.
Fish and seafood will help you relax and focus as they are rich in zinc, magnesium and selenium. Fatty acid Omega 3 combats stress hormones and can be taken in supplement form if you cannot acquire fresh fish. Regular portions of fish are recommended by nutritionists in our daily diet.
And if all this sounds a far cry from your routing diet, there is some help – small amounts of dark chocolate are also classed as healthy comfort food as it contains our friend tryptophan. It is also known to boost the endorphin levels in the brain that results in enhanced mood. Research has proven that eating a small amount of dark chocolate daily can lower the level of stress hormones in your body.
We will continue to reach for comfort foods at times of stress and upset – just try to train your brain to favour these foodstuffs and you will feel even more relaxed for longer.