The term “comfort food” often gets a bad rap because we don’t always make the healthiest food choices when we’re chasing our blues away. We’ve all had days where all we wanted to do was slouch on the couch and sink our faces into a bag of potato chips or tub of ice cream. That’s because when we’re stressed, the stress hormone, cortisol, creates food cravings which we often satisfy with carbohydrates or sweets. And excess carbs, as we all know, leads to more fat cells, which can stress us out even more. That being said, there is a healthy alternative to “stressed-out snacking” that can help us satisfy our cravings without adding on the pounds.
Choose “Calming” Foods Instead of Comfort Foods
Calming foods, as opposed to comfort foods, contain vitamins and minerals that can have an uplifting effect on your mood. They contribute to the creation of neurotransmitters that help to reduce the stressful effects of cortisol. B vitamins, such as folate, have been confirmed by numerous clinical studies to positively affect moods. Asparagus, spinach, and other dark-green, leafy veggies are especially high in folate. But if snacking on salad sounds less than ideal to you, avocados are also rich in B vitamins and L-glutathione, another known mood enhancer. Just be careful with portions, however, because despite being a fruit, avocado has plenty of natural fats. Vitamin C, aside from being an immune booster, can also support healthy moods. Oranges and berries, besides being terrific snacks, are also packed with vitamin C, offering even more healthy alternatives for snacking. Antioxidants are all the rage when it comes to antiaging, but they may also come in handy for mood support. Garlic may not have the most alluring odor, but most researchers are in agreement over its health benefits. Dark chocolate (not milk chocolate or white chocolate) is also a healthier snack alternative because it’s loaded with mood-enhancing polyphenols and flavonols. And for a more soothing alternative, chamomile tea and green tea can help calm your nerves while satisfying your cravings, too. Zinc is another mineral that is tied to healthy, upbeat moods. Nuts, such as cashews, are not only zinc rich, but also make great snack foods at any time of the day. Or, if you’re feeling extra fancy at dinner time, oysters (besides being renowned as aphrodisiacs) also contain lots of zinc. Beta-glucans in oatmeal also have positive influences on mood. But be cautious with how much you consume because processed grains also tend to increase blood sugar and fat levels. Omega-3s have also been shown to support circulation to the brain and enhance moods. You can obtain plenty of these from walnuts or fatty, coldwater fish such as salmon and tuna.
Satisfy Your Cravings and Be Happy, Too
As you can see from the alternatives listed above, whenever stress-induced cravings hit you (as they do us all), you don’t have to give in to junk food. Plenty of healthy alternatives exist that are equally delicious—and many times healthier. So the next time those cravings hit you, be choosy in your snack choices. You’ll definitely feel less guilty about it later.
- “Improve Your Moods with These Foods.” Oct. 2006. https://today.msnbc.msn.com/id/15490485/ns/today-today_health/t/improve-your-mood-these-foods/#.T-JNK5HNkS8.
- Magee E., MPH, R.D. “Foods to Help You Feel Better.” Jun 20, 2012. https://www.webmd.com/depression/features/foods-feel-better.
- Pierre C., R.D. “15 Mood-Boosting Foods.” Nov 2011. https://www.prevention.com/food/healthy-eating-tips/food-and-mood-best-foods-make-you-feel-better.
- Pierre C., R.D. “13 Foods That Fight Stress.” https://www.prevention.com/health/emotional-health/healthy-foods-reduce-stress-and-depression.