Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD
The fiscal cliff, poor economy, natural disasters, disturbing news stories, doomsday theories, and over-the-top reality TV…it’s all enough to make you want to bury your face in a bag of M&Ms.
And according to a new study from the University of Miami, that’s exactly what may be happening.
Researchers found that a perception of tough times triggers people to seek out high-calorie foods. And when study subjects were subconsciously primed to think about struggle and adversity, they ate 70% more high-calorie candy, compared to a group primed with a neutral message.
It may be that focusing on hardships leads us to perceive that resources are scarce, or, perhaps a “live for the moment” mentality kicks in.
But the good news is, you can combat the bad news. When life feels like one big bummer, here are six strategies for eating your way happy again (and as a result, prevent packing on unwanted pounds):
Find satisfying ways to enjoy veggies
Let’s face it, when you’re anxious or have the blues, you’re much more likely to crave carrot cake than carrots. But, eating more veggies may just be one of the top ways to get out of a funk. In one British study, nearly 80% of the participants reported that upping their veggie intakes improved their mood, including reducing anxiety and panic attacks.
But raw celery sticks aren’t going to make your mouth water. Instead, mist or brush veggies with an herb-infused olive oil and roast in the oven; stir-fry veggies in a naturally sweet aromatic sauce made from a combo of fresh squeezed orange juice, brown rice vinegar, fresh grated ginger, and minced garlic; or whip veggies like spinach or kale into smoothies along with berries, almond milk, and coconut.
An eating plan based on deprivation and restriction will only set you up for more stress, frustration, and even anger. That’s probably why research shows that women who strictly or repeatedly diet binge more frequently and weigh roughly 50 pounds more than those who don’t diet. Instead of thinking about what not to eat, focus on what to eat, particularly foods tied to weight loss, including produce, whole grains, beans, nuts, and healthy fats like avocado.
Doesn’t a salad made with romaine tossed with fresh pico de gallo topped with black beans, roasted corn, and guacamole sound a lot more appealing (physically and emotionally) than a bland “diet” plate of raw veggies and fat-free cottage cheese?
Drink more H2O and tea
In that same British study, water come out as the top stress buster. And a Japanese study found that people who drank at least five cups of green tea per day had stress levels that were 20% lower than those who drank less than one cup daily. Drinking tea has also been shown to boost immunity and reduce blood pressure, a major stress-busting combo. Plus, even the ritual of dunking your tea bag and slowly sipping your tea creates a calming effect. For an extra nutrient kick, add a squeeze of lemon–a Purdue study found that the addition boosts antioxidant absorption.
Grab a banana
Bananas get a bad rap for being diet busters, but they’re actually a nutrient-rich, feel-good food. A recent Appalachian State University study, in which cyclists ate bananas, found that in addition to fueling exercise, the fruit triggered a positive shift in dopamine, a neurotransmitter that plays a role in mood. Some research also indicates that low dopamine levels may be tied to obesity. Plus, bananas are portable and neatly wrapped! Toss one in your bag, or incorporate into healthy snacks. Preslice bananas and store in the freezer to toss into smoothies; grill a banana in foil and drizzle with melted dark chocolate or sprinkle with chopped nuts; or make frozen banana pops as an ice cream alternative.
Reach for more cinnamon
Cinnamon has been shown to improve blood sugar regulation, which can make your mood more stable. And this aromatic spice also boosts brain activity. Research suggests that just smelling cinnamon can enhance brain function. That may be why cinnamon has been shown to improve scores on tests related to attention, memory, and visual-motor speed. Add a pinch to your morning cup of Joe; whip it into a fruit smoothie; fold it into yogurt along with fruit, nuts and toasted oats; and add it to savory dishes like lentil soup, black beans, and oven roasted cauliflower or eggplant.
Eat dark chocolate
Dark chocolate is an effective stress reducer for several reasons. First, it contains magnesium, which has been shown to fight, fatigue, depression, and irritability. Also natural substances in dark chocolate trigger the walls of your blood vessels to relax, which can lower blood pressure and improve circulation. One recent study looked at volunteers who rated themselves as highly stressed and found that eating about an ounce and a half of dark chocolate every day for two weeks significantly reduced levels of stress hormones. Enjoy a few tasting squares every day as a “you time” treat, or incorporate dark chocolate into meals. Add it to oatmeal, whip it into smoothies, or if you feel adventurous, try combining it with herbs in savory dishes like chocolate vegetarian chili.
Have you been particularly stressed out lately? Do you notice a connection between your diet and mood? Please tweet your thoughts and favorite mood boosting foods to @cynthiasass and @goodhealth
Cynthia Sass is a registered dietitian with master’s degrees in both nutrition science and public health. Frequently seen on national TV, she’s Health’s contributing nutrition editor, and privately counsels clients in New York, Los Angeles, and long distance. Her latest New York Times best seller is S.A.S.S! Yourself Slim: Conquer Cravings, Drop Pounds and Lose Inches. Connect with Cynthia on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.
Monthly Archives: January 2013
Think your go-to soup is a healthy choice? You may want to take a closer look at the nutrition label. Many soups dubbed as smart picks are actually sky high in sodium.
People typically only look at calories when picking soups, says Lisa Moskovitz, RD, CDN, owner of Manhattan-based dietetic practice Your New York Dietitian, “but it’s important to look at the entire label, especially if you have high blood pressure or cholesterol, which can be aggravated by salty foods.”
Not sure if your favorite broth is a smart pick? Here, we expose the saltiest canned soups and offer mouth-watering alternatives.
CHICKEN NOODLE SOUP
Campbell’s Homestyle Chicken Noodle Soup (140 cal/cup, 940mg sodium)
Smarter pick: Campbell’s Healthy Request Classic Chicken Noodle Soup (110 cal/cup, 410 mg sodium)
What’s not to love about this classic favorite? Not only is it the perfect treat to satisfy a comfort-food craving, but it can even boost the immune system. Chicken soup has anti-inflammatory properties that can ease the side effects of the flu or a cold, found researchers at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. Campbell’s Healthy Request variety has half the sodium of its saltier counterpart, making it a smart choice—even for those with high blood pressure, says Moskovitz.
Muir Glen’s Organic Savory Lentil (130 cal/cup, 950 mg sodium)
Smarter pick: Amy's Organic Light in Sodium Lentil Vegetable Soup (160 cal/cup, 340 mg sodium)
Lentils are an excellent source of protein, iron, and hunger-crushing fiber, making it a great pick for vegetarians and carnivores alike. Both soups may be organic, but only Amy’s is a heart-healthy choice. While it does tote some extra calories, it has a fraction of the sodium of Muir Glen’s Savory Lentil.
LOW-CAL CREAMY SOUP
Progresso's Vegetable Classics Creamy Mushroom (150 cal/cup, 830 mg sodium)
Smarter pick: Campbell’s Low Sodium Cream of Mushroom (131 cal/cup, 75 mg sodium)
Creamy soups are typically thought of as diet no-no’s, but the right variety can actually be a healthy choice. Skip Progresso’s creamy classic, which has more sodium than a McDonald’s McDouble burger! Instead, chow down on a cup of Campbell’s for an impressive 75 mg of sodium and a quarter of the USDA’s daily potassium recommendation. A potassium rich diet can ward off a number of diseases from high blood pressure to cancer, so dig in!
Muir Glen’s Organic Tomato Basil (130 cal/cup, 880mg sodium)
Smarter pick: Wolfgang Puck Organic Roasted Red Peppers with Tomato Soup (170 cal/cup, 570 mg sodium)
Although Wolfgang Puck’s version of this comfort food classic totes 40 more calories per serving than Muir Glen’s, it has nearly 300 mg less sodium, making it the better pick. Bonus: With 15% of the day’s recommended vitamin A, Wolfgang Puck’s soup may also boost the body’s immunity and promote cell growth.
Worthington’s Vegetarian Chili (280 cal/cup, 1230 mg sodium)
Smarter pick: Health Valley’s Organic Vegetarian Black Bean Mango (210 cal/cup, 460 mg sodium)
Just because this Tex-Mex staple is vegetarian doesn't mean it’s healthy. Worthington’s soup has more than half a day’s recommended salt intake in a single cup! Stick to Health Valley’s tangy mango variety to cut calories and salt, without sacrificing taste.
SPLIT PEA SOUP
Muir Glen’s Organic Homestyle Split Pea (170 cal/cup, 900 mg sodium)
Smarter pick: Health Value’s Organic 40% Less Sodium Split Pea & Carrots Soup (120 cal/cup, 480 mg sodium)
Split pea soup is a great source of belly-filling fiber and protein but Muir Glen’s variety has nearly half a day’s sodium in just one serving. Instead, eat Health Value’s variety. You’ll save 50 calories and consume about half the salt.
Campbell’s Beef with Vegetables and Barley Soup (160 cal/cup, 890 mg sodium)
Smarter pick: Healthy Choice’s Vegetable Beef Soup (130 cal/cup, 420 mg sodium)
Vegetables and barley are typically healthy picks, but when they are part of a soup boasting 800 mg of sodium per serving it’s better to steer clear. Healthy Choice’s variety has half the sodium and is a good source of energizing B-vitamins and fiber, making it a smart swap, says Moskovitz.
ITALIAN WEDDING SOUP
Campbell’s Hearty Italian Style Wedding Soup (140 cal/cup, 650mg sodium)
Smarter pick: Campbell’s Healthy Request Italian-Style Wedding Soup (100 cal/cup, sodium 410 mg)
At 21 grams, this soup has as many refined carbohydrates as two slices of white bread and more than a quarter of a day’s recommended sodium. Consuming too many refined carbs can cause blood sugar crashes, increasing appetite and fatigue, notes Moskovitz. Instead try Campbell’s Healthy Request variety. It has half the carbs and is lower in sodium.
Campbell’s Old Fashioned Vegetable Soup (160 cal/cup, 920 mg sodium)
Smarter pick: Progresso’s Light Italian-Style Vegetable Soup (70 cal/cup, 470 mg sodium)
Vegetable soup is a great source of fiber, but Cambell’s beef-based broth version has nearly 50% of the USDA’s daily sodium recommendation in just one cup! Pick Progresso’s water-based version to cut half the salt and calories. Need another reason to chow-down? Beta-carotene rich carrots—a veggie soup staple— boost the production of white blood cells, helping ward off infections such as cold and flu.
MEXICAN CHICKEN SOUP
Campbell’s Fajita Chicken with Rice and Beans Soup (130 cal/cup, 850 mg sodium)
Smarter pick: Progresso's Light Zesty Santa Fe Chicken (80 cal/cup, 460 mg sodium)
While broth-based soups are a better pick than most taqueria-inspired meal choices, Campbell’s variety is doused with nearly half a day’s salt. Switch to Progresso's variation to cut calories and sodium by nearly half.
- 25 Surprisingly Salty Processed Foods
- Low-Sodium Recipes for Every Meal
- Salt Shockers: Worst Fast-Food Meals for Sodium
Health World USP