That time of year, that is.
From Halloween through New Year’s Eve, all too many of us find excuses to be gluttons, from nibbling on leftover Halloween candies to all-out binging. I call it, ominously, the “SS” time — for sugar and stress.
There’s no denying that we expose ourselves to way too many holiday stresses, not the least of which are family, traffic, and shopping at the mall. When we’re stressed, our eating habits slide almost immediately. We delay eating or skip meals entirely. Then, when we’re crashing, we overeat, usually on junk foods.
And that’s a perfect prescription for making stress even worse.
Our brain’s biochemistry depends on what we eat. Or don’t eat. Neurotransmitters are built upon nutrients, particularly amino acids (protein building blocks) and B-complex vitamins. Even our genes depend on nutrients to work properly.
When our blood sugar falls and we crash, ancient parts of our brain light up. We become aggressive, irritable, impatient. Eating a sugary or starchy food solves the problem quickly, but starts a new up-and-down blood sugar cycle.
So, what can you eat to stress proof yourself?
A little bit of quality protein, such as fish or chicken, stabilizes blood sugar. So do high-fiber veggies, which include almost anything except potato.
Protein provides the amino acids you need to make serotonin and GABA (gamma amino butyric acid), which are calming neurotransmitters. They also provide the amino acids to make dopamine and adrenaline, two energizing neurotransmitters. Sugar and starches don’t provide any of this, so the more junk food you eat, the more you starve your brain.
We were all taught that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. So begin the day with a little protein, and you’ll be more even tempered much of the day. An egg will do the job. So will a bowl of steel-cut (not instant!) oatmeal. Add some high-fiber fruit, such as an apple or some berries. Then be sure to include a little protein at lunch and dinner too.
If you’re taking prescription antidepressants or anxiolytics, better eating habits will help your meds do a better job.
To convert those amino acids to neurotransmitters, your brain needs the B-complex vitamins and vitamin C.
The Bs have been known as anti-stress vitamins since the 1940s. They are nature’s mood lifters and also take the edge off stress-induced anxiety. The B vitamins also play roles in breaking down food for energy, important if the season’s pressures and obligations tend to wear you down.
If you manage your stress and eating habits now, you just might not need to make a resolution about weight loss come January 1. That alone could put you in a better mood.
Copyright 2009 Jack Challem, www.nutritionreporter.com