Nothing brings on a case of the munchies quite like stress. When overwhelmed or anxious, the body releases hormones that make you want to chow down. But, even though indulging feels great in the short-term, the types of foods we go for can leave us feeling worse—and set off a chain of hormonal reactions that do more harm than good. Here’s how to satisfy your snack attack and keep your hormones happy.
Air-popped popcorn with garlic and parmesan
Whole grains can really hit the spot when stress crops up. But, if brown rice or oatmeal aren’t sounding so great, popcorn just might. Forgo added salt and butter. Instead, drizzle a little extra virgin olive oil over the top and toss it together, like you would a salad. Olive oil’s rich, buttery taste is perfect for popcorn, especially with garlic seasoning and parmesan cheese mixed in.
Plus, olive oil adds more than just deliciousness. It’s a good source of monounsaturated fats, which help lower bad cholesterol and encourage nutrient absorption. Some studies have shown olive oil might even increase insulin sensitivity and raise B-cell function (the white blood cells that create antibodies to fight off germs).
Salmon or seaweed
Instead of going for fast-food, stop by the store and pick up some salmon. You’ll get a healthy dose of satiety-promoting protein, plus B vitamins, selenium, and other nutrients, like omega-3s. Omega-3 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fats and are needed by every cell in the body.
Fatty fish like salmon (or seaweed, if you’re vegetarian) are a great source of omega-3s, particularly eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Here’s how these two omega-3s may help your hormones:
- They may reduce your risk of postpartum depression and breast cancer, help with menopausal symptoms, aid in fetal growth and development, and foster healthy pregnancy.
- Omega-3s may lower triglycerides. If you’re on hormone replacement therapy (HRT), this is especially important. HRT can raise triglycerides, elevating your risk of stroke.
- Omega-3s decrease production of inflammatory prostaglandins, and may offer some pelvic pain relief for women with endometriosis.
Just a word to the wise: seaweed’s not the best choice for everyone. If you’re on thyroid meds, it’s a good idea to talk with your doc about your diet. Seaweed is highly nutritive and has iodine (which is good for your thyroid), but too much of it can be harmful.
Walnuts and carob chips
Craving something crunchy or sweet for after that salmon? Don’t open a bag of potato chips just yet. Pair walnuts and carob chips together for dessert. You’ll get the sensory factor you’re looking for and gain a lot more than empty calories.
Carob is a chocolate alternative and great for a sweet fix. It has no caffeine and serves up fiber, potassium, and calcium. Potassium helps nerves, muscles, and other cells function normally. And, calcium may reduce your risk of certain hormone disorders.
Why pair carob chips with walnuts? Walnuts have alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which is part of the omega-3 fatty acids family. Alpha-linolenic acid may reduce blood pressure, which can become elevated from high cortisol. Some studies show walnuts may also improve gut microbiome, which helps with estrogen metabolization and comes with many other benefits, too.
Aim to limit your overall portion of nuts to about one ounce. Nuts are highly nutritious, but they’re also high in calories. It’s easy to overdo it. Before you dig in, know walnuts are a phytoestrogen. That means there’s a chance they could have a slight estrogenic effect in your body, which you may not want, unless you’re in menopause. But if you keep your serving size small, you shouldn’t have to worry about indulging now and then. However, if you have concerns, speak to your provider.
Cold and creamy sounds good when stress levels are high. But ice cream isn’t your only (or best) option. Smoothies give your body the texture it’s craving but in a healthier way.
To make a perfect smoothie, skip the ice and go for frozen berries, mango, or other fruit chunks. Add in some almond or coconut milk, protein powder or nut butter, and throw in a banana or avocado. Along with extra nutrients, banana and avocado make the creamiest smoothie around. Just plug in your blender and enjoy.
Even though they have natural sugars, the dietary fiber in fruits means they don’t spike insulin as quickly as refined sugars do. Plus, fruits have lots of antioxidants, and that’s just what you want when anxious. When the body’s in a stress state, it readies itself by producing more energy. Energy production requires higher oxygen intake, and this can raise free radicals. Antioxidants lessen the negative effects damaging free radicals can have on the body.
Go ahead and bite into (or slice up) a pear. But, however you eat it, leave the skin on. Pears are a sweet way to satisfy a sweet tooth while getting fiber, vitamins C and K, and other antioxidants. They’re also a great source of boron, a trace mineral micronutrient with a long list of positives. It’s good for bone and brain health, glutathione production, and positively affects how your body makes, utilizes, and metabolizes vitamin D and sex hormones, like estrogen and testosterone.
In our book, avocado deserves to be on every list. It’s especially good to have in your arsenal against stress. Avocados have beta-sitosterol, which is a plant compound that’s similar to cholesterol and may help lower cortisol, the main hormone your body boosts in states of chronic stress. Cortisol levels in a healthy range can help manage inflammation, insulin, and weight gain.
But the plant sterols in avocados are great for another reason, too. They affect sex hormones and can be helpful for endometriosis and estrogen dominance, which is high levels of estrogen in relation to progesterone. Progesterone starts to decline in a woman’s thirties—even earlier than estrogen. Some studies show that avocados help block excess estrogen while boosting production of progesterone, which could help maintain a healthy balance in your body.
Yet another reason to throw an avocado on a smoothie or in a salad? Like pears, it’s also a fantastic source of boron, too.