This morning I attended a wonderful business meeting with my local Chamber of Commerce showcasing three of our country's Veterans – two from Vietnam and one current Vet from Iraq. In observance of Veterans Day this Friday, we were honored to learn about the challenges they faced before, during, and after serving our country. One prominent topic of discussion was the incidence of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in soldiers after returning home. The Department of Veteran Affairs reports PTSD occurs in 11-20% of Veterans that served in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom and 30% of Vietnam Veterans. While few of us will ever experience anything as crippling as PTSD, clearly we all go through times of negative stress – whether it’s as a result of school, work, family or friends. Stress can show its teeth in the form of headaches, exhaustion, or insomnia.
Believe it or not, nutrition can be an effective part of relieving stress. Stress takes a toll on your immune system, increasing your body’s need for certain nutrients. In addition, brain chemicals called neurotransmitters (such as serotonin or dopamine) play a huge role in how we experience emotions. Deficiencies of these chemicals may increase irritability, depression, and sleeplessness. Giving more attention to what you are eating may help you stay focused, alert, and energized during times of stress.
The next time you or someone you care about is suffering from stress (either low-level or high-grade), consider these nutritional remedies:
1. Don’t skip meals or over-indulge in high-calorie foods. These poor habits are often brought on by the stress we feel. High-calorie foods in moderation are fine, but constantly skipping meals (especially breakfast) and then grabbing fast food on the way home may lead to weight gain and affect long-term health.
2. Go easy on the caffeine: The idea is to calm the central nervous system, not to further stimulate it. Stick to less than 2 cups (16 fl. oz.) per day of caffeinated beverages.
3. Focus on complex carbohydrates: These foods contain serotonin, which helps boost mood as well as calm you and help you sleep. Food sources include whole grains such as oatmeal, quinoa, and whole wheat bread products, and whole fruits and vegetables (the fresher the better!).
4. Protein matters: Eating protein foods with those whole grains helps to effectively slow down how quickly your blood sugar rises as a result of eating carbs. Keeping blood sugar stable means metabolism and energy levels will also be stable, preventing headaches or exhaustion that often accompanies very high or very low blood sugar levels. Protein foods include dairy, poultry, eggs, fish, meat, nuts, tofu and legumes (beans or lentils).
5. Don’t forget your healthy fats: Studies show that low omega-3 fatty acids intake correlates with increased rates of depression and depressive symptoms. Food sources are oily fish, nuts (especially almonds and walnuts), canola or flax oil, and pumpkin or flax seeds.
6. Some research has shown a relationship between vitamin D level and incidence of depression. Have your vitamin D level checked to assess if you are deficient. Food sources of vitamin D are few, but include fatty fish (salmon, tuna, mackerel), mushrooms, and vitamin D-fortified foods (cereals, orange juice, yogurt, milk and other foods).
7. Never underestimate the power of staying hydrated. Drink enough fluids to create straw-colored urine.
Be Extraordinary and please remember our Veterans this Friday,