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Let’s Talk Food: Foods that relieve stress

As the Kilauea eruption continues to impact Leilani Estates, water restrictions are in place for Kapoho Beach Lots, Lanipuna Gardens, Pohoiki Bay Estates, Garden Lake Farm Lots, Vacationland, Pohoiki and Kalapana. More than 1,200 earthquakes a week are shaking us without warning, there are cracks on Highway 130 and we are all facing some kind of stress.

If we do not live in the area, we are still concerned about the family and friends who do. If you have friends and family who are watching the national and international news, I am sure you have been asked if you are OK. We received inquiries from Thailand, Japan, Germany, Oklahoma, Texas, New York, Montana, Arkansas, Las Vegas, Portland, Ore., and Honolulu.

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Stressful events such as those we on the Big Island are faced with daily since the eruption began cause our cortisol levels to rise. That increase makes us have food cravings, and for women that usually means sweets.

According to the University of San Francisco Medical Center, the more sweets we eat, the worse our mood gets. As if that weren’t bad enough, the cortisol then makes more trouble for us. Our fat cells convert cortisone to more cortisol. Since our visceral fat cells (the ones in our abdomen packed around our vital organs) have more of these enzymes than the subcutaneous fat cells (the fat on our thighs and butt, for example), stress causes many women to accumulate more belly fat.

Calming foods include:

• Asparagus is high in folate, which is essential to keep our cool.

• Avocados are rich in glutathione, a substance that specifically blocks intestinal absorption of certain fats that cause oxidative damage. Avocados also contain lutein, beta-Carotene, vitamin E and more folate than any other fruit.

• Blueberries have the highest levels of the antioxidant anthocyanin, which is linked to sharpening cognition. But other berries such as strawberries and raspberries also are rich in vitamin C, which is helpful in combating stress. German researchers tested 120 people to give a speech. Each was given vitamin C, which lowered their blood pressure and lowered levels of cortisol after their speech.

• Cashews are a good source of zinc. People with low levels of zinc had a higher incidence of anxiety and depression. Remember, our body cannot store zinc so we should, in these stressful times, have some zinc daily.

• Chamomile, in the daisy family, is known for its calming effects. University of Pennsylvania researchers tested 57 participants with generalized anxiety disorders for eight weeks. They were given chamomile supplements, and the research found a significant reduction in anxiety symptoms. Chamomile tea calms nerves and promotes sleep.

• Chocolate is linked to our mood. University of California at San Diego School of Medicine researchers found that in moderation, chocolate can make you feel better. Dark chocolate, since it lowers blood pressure and makes you feel calm, is recommended.

• Garlic contains powerful antioxidants that neutralize free radicals (which are particles that damage our cells, cause disease and encourages aging) and can reduce or even help prevent some of the damage the free radicals cause with time. Stress weakens our immune system and garlic can help give it a boost.

• Grass-fed beef has more antioxidants, vitamins C and E and beta-Carotene than grain-fed beef. In addition, it doesn’t contain hormones, antioxidants and other drugs. Grass-fed beef has two to four times higher levels of omega 3 fatty acids. Studies by the British Journal of Nutrition found that healthy volunteers who ate grass-fed beef increased their blood levels of omega 3 fatty acids, as well as decreased their levels of pro-inflammatory omega 6 fatty acids. These changes are linked to lower risks of cancer, cardiovascular disease, depression and inflammatory diseases.

• Green tea contains the amino acid theanine, and a University of Illinois study found that it protects against cancer and is a brain booster, enhancing mental performance.

• Oatmeal, a complex carbohydrate, causes our brain to produce serotonin, which in turn creates a soothing feeling. This helps overcome stress.

• Oranges are a great source of vitamin C, great to fight stress and are great to pack and peel when you want to eat them.

• Oysters are loaded with zinc. Six oysters have more than half the recommended daily amount of zinc.

• Walnuts contain alpha-linolenic acid and essential omega 3 fatty acids and other polyphenols, which prevent memory loss. Researchers at Tufts University found animals that ingested walnuts reversed some signs of brain aging.

• Spinach is rich in magnesium, and stress can be a cause of magnesium deficiency. Magnesium is a calming and relaxing mineral. It regulates the nervous system and can help you cope with stress as well as prevent anxiety. Other foods rich in magnesium include Swiss chard, pumpkin seeds, dried figs, black beans, yogurt or kefir, bananas and almonds.

• Salmon is a great source of omega 3 fatty acids, as is flax, soy and chia seeds.

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• Red peppers have a lot of vitamin C, which lowers cortisol levels and helps people cope.

Email Audrey Wilson at audreywilson808@gmail.com.