In most people’s minds, the perfect holiday spread is an assortment of sugary, boozy and fatty dishes that will have you avoiding the bathroom scale well into the new year. However, classic holiday foods like eggnog, candied yams and pecan pie do much more damage than adding to our waistlines. Sugar, for example, causes rapid fluctuations in blood sugar levels. This triggers a rush of adrenaline into the brain, resulting in feelings of anxiety and fear. Liquors like bourbon and rum can be misleading, since they initially reduce the body’s physiological response to stress. Heavy consumption, however, increases stress and anxiety by interfering with the brain’s neurotransmitters.
While no holiday is completely free from stress, a menu of stress reducing foods can help you and your guests fight the holiday blues. These foods, by the way, can be eaten throughout the winter to ward off colds and depressive conditions like seasonal effective disorder (SAD).
Sweet and sour clementines are the quintessential winter citrus fruit. Appealing to both adults and children, these vitamin C powerhouses help regulate cortisol, a primary stress hormone. A big bowl of these gorgeous, deep orange fruits is an attractive and healthy addition to your holiday buffet.
Are you expecting friends to stop by in between holiday errands? Soothe their nerves with a hot, fragrant cup of chamomile tea. Chamomile extract has been shown to reduce anxiety in numerous medical studies. It also promotes sleep, which can be difficult to get during periods of high stress.
Lower calorie nuts like cashews, almonds and pistachios are full of Vitamins B and E, which have been proven to help the body manage stress. Serve them au naturel, without salt or sugar for a truly healthy snack option. High calorie nuts like madamia nuts, pecans and pine nuts are fine as well, when eaten in moderation.
Minus the marshmallows and brown sugar, and you’ve got one of the most delicious stress reducers to serve your hungry guests. The potassium in sweet potatoes helps reduce excess sodium, thereby lowering your blood pressure. Sweet potatoes are also known to calm the nerves, relax the muscles and maintain healthy brain function.
Along with being a great source of lean protein, pork tenderloin is rich in Vitamin B which has been shown to reduce stress and improve mood states in numerous studies. For example, a 2013 study by the Center for Human Psychopharmacology in Australia showed that a daily dose of Vitamin B complex treatments over a period of 90 days indicated a significant decrease in workplace stress.
Yes, it takes several hours to cook, but this tryptophan rich bird is well worth the wait. Tryptophan is an essential amino acid that our body converts to serotonin. Serotonin is a brain chemical that helps you relax and regulate your sleeping patterns. Increases in serotonin levels also helps to reduce cortisol, often referred to as the body’s “stress hormone”.
While they’re not normally associated with the winter holidays, avocados are fantastic for party dips any time of the year. In addition to being rich in Vitamin B, avocados are high in potassium and monosaturated fat, which helps reduce blood pressure.
This list, by the way, is not meant to discourage you from cooking up family favorites or showing off your cookie icing skills. The holidays, after all, are a time for traditions and indulgences. There’s no need to beat yourself up over moderate indulgences, like a scoop of mashed potatoes or a glass of wine. In fact, denying yourself any and all indulgences is just as likely to cause stress as overindulging. So go ahead and enjoy that slice of Buche de Noel – just don’t eat the entire log.