We are all feeling stressed these days. Caring for our health, working at home, watching the kids to avoid fights and boredom: Chronic stress damages the heart, immunity and mood. Here are stress-reducing foods to give you an edge.
First among our calming foods are greens which provide chlorophyll, antioxidants and vitamins to soothe our nerves. Among them are lettuce, spinach and kale which are well-known and easy to prepare. There are others that are lesser known. They include:
Swiss chard is a leafy green vegetable that’s packed with stress-fighting nutrients. Just 1 cup (175 grams) of cooked Swiss chard contains 36% of the recommended intake for magnesium, which plays an important role in the body’s stress response.
Low levels of magnesium are associated with anxiety and panic attacks. Chronic stress depletes our magnesium, making this mineral especially important.
Parsley is packed with antioxidants — compounds that neutralize unstable molecules called free radicals and protect against oxidative stress associated with many illnesses, including mental health disorders like depression and anxiety. Studies suggest that a diet rich in antioxidants may help prevent stress and anxiety. They also help reduce inflammation, which is often high in those with chronic stress. Parsley is especially rich in carotenoids, flavonoids, and volatile oils, all of which have powerful antioxidant properties. Parsley is mildly diuretic which is helpful for reducing hypertension and for prevention of heart disease.
Cruciferous green vegetables like broccoli are renowned for their health benefits. A diet rich in cruciferous vegetables may lower the risk of certain cancers, heart disease, and mental health disorders like depression. Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli are some of the most concentrated food sources of nutrients such as magnesium, vitamin C, and folate — that have been proven to combat depressive symptoms.
Broccoli is also rich in a sulfur compound that has neuro-protective properties and may offer calming and antidepressant effects. Additionally, 1 cup (184 grams) of cooked broccoli includes over 20% of the daily requirement for vitamin B6, a higher intake of which is tied to a lower risk of anxiety and depression in women.
Kimchi is a fermented cruciferous vegetable dish that’s typically made with napa cabbage and daikon radish. Fermented foods like kimchi provide beneficial bacteria called probiotics and are high in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Research reveals that fermented foods may help to reduce stress and anxiety. For example, in a study in 710 young adults, those who ate fermented foods more frequently experienced fewer symptoms of social anxiety.
Probiotic supplements and probiotic-rich foods like kimchi have beneficial effects on mental health which is likely due to their interactions with gut bacteria that directly affects mood.
Baechu, or napa cabbage, kimchi is made by lacto-fermentation, the same process that creates sauerkraut and traditional dill pickles. In the first stage, the cabbage is soaked in a salty brine that kills off harmful bacteria. In the second stage, the remaining Lactobacillus bacteria convert sugars into lactic acid, which preserves the vegetables and gives them that wonderful, tangy flavor.
- 1 medium head napa cabbage (about 2 pounds)
- 1/4 cup iodine-free sea salt or kosher salt
- Water, preferably distilled or filtered
- 1 tablespoon grated garlic (5 to 6 cloves)
- 1 teaspoon grated peeled fresh ginger
- 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
- 2 tablespoons fish sauce or salted shrimp paste, or 3 tablespoons water
- 1 to 5 tablespoons Korean red pepper flakes (gochugaru)
- 8 ounces Korean radish or daikon radish, peeled and cut into matchsticks
- 4 medium scallions, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
Step One: Prepare the cabbage
- Cut the cabbage. Cut the cabbage lengthwise through the stem into quarters. Cut the cores from each piece. Cut each quarter crosswise into 2-inch-wide strips.
- Salt the cabbage. Place the cabbage in a large bowl and sprinkle with the salt. Using your hands, massage the salt into the cabbage until it starts to soften a bit. Add enough water to cover the cabbage. Put a plate on top of the cabbage and weigh it down with something heavy, like a jar or can of beans. Let stand for 1 to 2 hours.
- Rinse and drain the cabbage. Rinse the cabbage under cold water 3 times. Set aside to drain in a colander for 15 to 20 minutes. Meanwhile, make the spice paste.
- Make the spice paste. Rinse and dry the bowl you used for salting. Add the garlic, ginger, sugar, and fish sauce, shrimp paste, or water and stir into a smooth paste. Stir in the gochugaru, using 1 tablespoon for mild and up to 5 tablespoons for spicy (I like about 3 1/2 tablespoons); set aside until the cabbage is ready.
- Combine the vegetables and spice paste. Gently squeeze any remaining water from the cabbage and add it to the spice paste. Add the radish and scallions.
- Mix thoroughly. Using your hands, gently work the paste into the vegetables until they are thoroughly coated. The gloves are optional here but highly recommended to protect your hands from stings, stains, and smells!
- Pack the kimchi into the jar. Pack the kimchi into a sterilized 1-quart jar. Press down on the kimchi until the brine (the liquid that comes out) rises to cover the vegetables, leaving at least 1 inch of space at the top. Seal the jar.
- Let it ferment for 1 to 5 days. Place a bowl or plate under the jar to help catch any overflow. Let the jar stand at cool room temperature, out of direct sunlight, for 1 to 5 days. You may see bubbles inside the jar and brine may seep out of the lid.
- Check it daily and refrigerate when ready. Check the kimchi once a day, opening the jar and pressing down on the vegetables with a clean finger or spoon to keep them submerged under the brine. (This also releases gases produced during fermentation.) Taste a little at this point, too! When the kimchi tastes ripe enough for your liking, transfer the jar to the refrigerator. You may eat it right away, but it’s best after another week or two.
Salt: Use salt that is free of iodine and anti-caking agents, which can inhibit fermentation.
Water: Chlorinated water can inhibit fermentation, so use spring, distilled, or filtered water if you can.
Seafood flavor and vegetarian alternatives: Seafood gives kimchi an umami flavor. Different regions and families may use fish sauce, salted shrimp paste, oysters, and other seafood. Use about 2 tablespoons of fish sauce, salted shrimp paste, or a combination of the two. For vegetarian kimchi, I like using 3/4 teaspoon dried kelp mixed with 3 tablespoons water, or simply 3 tablespoons of water. (www.theseaweedman.com)
Storage: Kimchi can be refrigerated for up to a few months. Use clean utensils each time to extract the kimchi from the jar.
Become a nutrition expert and keep yourself and family safe and well. The Academy of Healing Nutrition, New York, London offers specialized courses featuring a “Food as Medicine” approach. Registration for the new year begins each October, but you can join the online classes anytime.