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10 Foods to Help Get Rid of Stress

Dealing with stress? Chinese medicine expert Heather Lounsbury shares the best foods for optimal health.

These days, most of us are under a lot of stress. A lot. Whether our stress is driven by health issues, our job, finances, family issues, or concerns about animal welfare—or all of the above—times can get tough. In 2014, avoiding stress is pretty much impossible unless you live in a cave, but there is a way out. A combination of eating the right foods, exercising, meditating, acupuncture, and massage can do wonders for creating optimal health.

In Chinese medicine, there are very clear guidelines about which foods to eat when we’re in need of emotional support. While many people cope with anxiety and stress by popping pills, this can come with detrimental side effects. And guess what? Ingesting pills rarely, if ever, fixes the problem, especially in the long-term. So why not help ourselves naturally?

According to the Chinese, it’s important to nourish our liver with the best nutrition possible, as it becomes taxed when we are under stress. Not only does the liver filter out toxins, it is also responsible for filtering out anger and stress. Each organ has an emotion that affects it, and if you don’t release or process what you’re feeling, imbalances begin to occur. So when we’re angry, resentful, frustrated, or stressed, this is all held in our liver. How does this manifest in every day life? Headaches, high blood pressure, hair loss, blurry vision, poor digestion, muscle spasms, red eyes, fatigue, and low libido are all symptoms of an imbalance in the liver caused by stress.

While Western nutrition focuses on nutrients and what they do in the body, Chinese nutrition views food energetically. Thousands of years ago, no one knew what iron, protein, or B12 were, but the Chinese figured out the healing properties of every grain, vegetable, fruit, and seed. Combined now with the knowledge of vitamins and minerals and their role in mental health, we know which foods can be the most health-supportive. Here are 10 foods that both strengthen the liver and reduce our stress levels. 

1. Dark Leafy Greens
High in chlorophyll, dark leafy greens help remove toxins from the liver and promote formation of red blood cells. In Chinese medicine, it’s believed that healthy blood leads to a healthy mind. Add greens like chard, kale, spinach, arugula, and watercress to salads, juice, and stir-fries. 

2. Sea Vegetables
The high level of copper in sea vegetables helps regulate blood pressure. They also contain vitamin B2, which aids in the absorption of other B vitamins that are key to reducing stress. Sprinkle nori, kelp, wakame, dulse, or kombu on your steamed grains or add to a miso broth. 

3. Root Vegetables
Root vegetables nourish yin, which calms the mind and helps you feel relaxed. From beets and radishes to yams and potatoes, there are myriad ways to incorporate root vegetables into your daily diet. Roasting is my method of choice, but I also juice carrots and beets and make a parsnip soup with lentils and leeks.

4. Black Beans
Black beans are high in magnesium, which relaxes the nervous system and balances stress hormones. Once you’ve made a chili with black beans, you’ll forever be a convert.

5. Black Sesame Seeds
Sesame seeds contain a lot of B1, which supports your nervous system and brain function. Sprinkle these liver-enhancing seeds on steamed vegetables or salads.

6. Blackberries
High in iron to make strong blood, consuming blackberries can also lead to a healthy mind. Add summer’s bounty to your smoothies or mix in with coconut or almond yogurt.

7. Tofu
Tofu is great for the liver, and soybeans reduce blood pressure and are high in tryptophan, which is a natural sedative. Add tofu to vegetable curries or over quinoa, another stress-reducing food.

8. Parsley
With its large amount of chlorophyll, parsley also supports liver functionality. Forget using it as a garnish, use it liberally in juices and homemade tabouli.

9. Mung Beans
Mung beans contain isoflavones, which help regulate hormonal activity. Add curry powder, garlic, cayenne pepper, tomatoes, and vegetable broth to a pot of mung beans and simmer for 15 minutes.

10. Raw Apple Cider Vinegar
Raw apple cider vinegar has dozens of health benefits and is a great regulator of blood pressure. Use in salad dressings or add to a glass of water as a morning elixir.

In addition to adding these foods to your health regimen, be sure get daily exercise, avoid sugar and caffeine, drink ample water, and, if it all possible, simplify your life. Your body will thank you. 

Heather Lounsbury, L.Ac., is one of Los Angeles’ best-known acupuncturists and author of Fix Your Mood With Food. She pens the Chinese Medicine column for VegNews Magazine.

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