12 Oct 2016

7 Foods to Fight Exam Stress & Anxiety

Wrung out by assignment deadlines and upcoming exams? While it may seem tempting to drown your exam anxiety in a bowl of ice cream or tame your nerves with a bag of chips, these sugary and high-caloric nibbles only trick us into thinking we feel better.

Stressful events – and they don’t even have to be big, just the daily hassles of life – are enough to throw up our cortisol levels. Cortisol is the hidden culprit that not only makes you fat by triggering food cravings, it also fools with your mood too!

Here’s some good news to keep in mind the next time you’re stressed out.

Eating can be a stay-calm trick, but we’re not talking about stuffing yourself with your typical go-to comfort food. There are anti-stress foods that could actually alleviate your tension. In fact, these foods go a long way in stabilising blood sugar and better yet, your emotional state too.

What are you waiting for? Grab your fork and dig into these seven stress-busting superfoods!

#1. Bust out the green leafy vegetables

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It’s tempting to reach out for that mouth-watering Ramli burger when your nerves are up the wall, but go green instead. Although a lot of us know that vegetables are beneficial in terms of hitting our vitamins and nutrients quota, not many are aware of its wonders for the stressed out soul.

That’s right, green leafy vegetables like spinach contain folate, which emits dopamine, a pleasure-inducing brain chemical that takes the edge off. Studies have revealed that chomping dark and leafy vegetables could buck up the production of happy hormones and mood-regulating neurotransmitters. Hence, changing the way you feel!

Folks from University of Otago also found people feeling calmer, happier and more energetic on days where they are munching on more fruits and vegetables than they typically did.

Pro Tip: Don’t feel restricted to just spinach. Give it a go at kale, broccoli, romaine lettuce or any dark leafy greens that tickle your fancy.

#2. Nosh on avocados

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What superfood list is complete without the avocado?

This creamy fruit is not only jam packed with health-boosting nutrients like potassium, vitamin E, glutathione and folate, it also stress-proofs your body due to its abundance of stress-relieving B vitamins.

A legit research from the Nutrition Journal unravelled the science behind it. Those who ate just one-half of a fresh avocado with lunch reported being 40% less hungry three hours after their meal and 28% less hungry at the five-hour mark compared to those who did not consume avocado. The study also found that avocados lend a hand in regulating blood sugar levels.

This ultra-combination of satiety and blood-sugar regulation is the key towards a steady emotion and mood regulation, buffering you even in times of stress!

Pro Tip: If you don’t want to expand sideways, don’t reach for slice after slice of avocado toast during crunch time. Instead, opt for only a single serving (about one-quarter of an avocado) of thin slices and spread them on sandwiches.

#3. Feast upon turkey breast

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More than just a scrumptious treat, turkey breast deserves a permanent spot in your diet. Here’s why.

Turkey breast is among the top sources of tryptophan, an essential amino acid that boosts the production of serotonin, the hormone responsible of regulating hunger and feelings of happiness as well as  wellbeing. On its own, tryptophan may even deliver a calming and soothing effect.

Still skeptical? Research has shown argumentative people who consumed tryptophan turn out to be remarkably more pleasant, significantly wearing away quarrelsome behaviours as well hiking up perceptions of agreeableness.

Pro Tip: Not all turkey breast will grant you the same effect. Processed, preservative-riddled turkey breast will not bring about the same perks. So make certain you stick to fresh and organic turkey. Alternatively, pumpkin seeds and nuts are also rich sources of tryptophan.

#4. Stock up on yogurt

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As outlandish as it may sound, the secret to perking up your mental health lies in your gut (read: stomach) as unhealthy gut has been argued to impact your brain health, enhancing your susceptibility to issues like anxiety and depression.

On the other hand, beneficial bacteria have a direct effect on our brain chemistry by transmitting mood and behaviour regulating signals to your brain. For instance, the chock full of probiotic, Lactobacillus rhamnosus in yogurt has been known to lower the stress-induced hormone, corticosterone, shrinking down anxiety and depression related behaviour.

Folks at University of California (UCLA) further affirmed the perks of yogurt in upholding a positive mood when 36 healthy women revealed that consuming probiotics in yogurt toned down brain activity in areas that handle emotion, including stress as compared to those who did not have yogurt.

Pro Tip: Without a doubt, you would be far better off making your own yogurt from raw milk. Give it a go here!

#5. Fill up on oatmeal

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As a carb lover that lives and breathes rice, you’re likely to succumb to a doughnut when stress strikes. But we’re not here to slam you or ask that you entirely sweep your craving for carbs under the rug.

According to MIT Clinical Research Centre, carbohydrates have the power of triggering your brain into getting the calm-inducing hormone, serotonin flowing. But before you reach out for another round of nasi lemak, opt for complex carbs like oatmeal instead.

Reason being? 1) Stress heightens your level of blood sugar. 2) Refined carbs (read: white bread and pasta) digest faster and spike blood sugar, messing with your mood and stress level. 3) Complex carbs are packed with beta-glucan, a type of soluble fibre that is famed for promoting greater satiety without the rise in blood glucose, while still generating a soothing feeling that combats stress.

#6. Munch on pistachios

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Yes, it’s time to toss away that bag of Lays because snacking on pistachios actually lends a hand in combating the effects of chronic stress. During times of stress, these nutrient-dense nuts helps lower your blood pressure and heart rate.

Researchers from American Heart Association also gave their nod of approval when they found consuming two servings of pistachios a day lowered vascular constriction during stress. In other words, the load on your heart is cut down since your arteries are more dilated.

So the next time you feel that exam pressure crushing on you, you might want to chow down some pistachios instead.

Pro Tip: When you have an ongoing loop of negative thoughts playing in your mind, doing something repetitive with your hands can help quiet the racing thoughts. Think of the rhythmic act of shelling pistachios as a therapeutic activity that helps you loosen up.

#7. Glow with oranges

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This last one is already everyone’s favourite nutritional supplement – warding off common cold and fighting cancer – but not many are aware that Vitamin C recently added a notch on its belt. Brimming with Vitamin C, oranges are also known to reduce both the physical and psychological effects of stress by curbing levels of stress hormones while strengthening the immune system.

In a German study, researchers subjected 120 people to a stressful event (read: a public speaking task combined with math problems). Half of the participants were loaded with Vitamin C while the other half were not.

The result? Not only people with high levels of Vitamin C in their system did not show the expected mental and physical signs of stress, they also bounced back from stressful situations quicker than those with low levels of Vitamin C.

Pro Tip: If you foresee a very rough day ahead, slip a few oranges in your bag and tote them anywhere. Since Vitamin C works rapidly and is short acting, it should be taken at regular intervals throughout the day.

#Bonus. Bask in the sun

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Okay, it’s technically not a food, but a daily dose of sunshine can play a role in stablising your mood. Serotonin, your feel-good hormone that is in charge of mood elevation rises with exposure to bright light and plunges with decreased sun exposure.

Not quite convinced yet? Well, fellow scientist once evaluated the effects of Vitamin D on the mental health of 80 elderly patients and guess what? The lowest levels of Vitamin D were 11 times more susceptible to be depressed.

So the next time you feel that stress monster start to weigh on your shoulders, ease your nerves by chowing down one (or more) of these seven superfoods to help melt away the tension!

Aside from feeding on good-mood foods, check out these 7 Must-Eat Brain Foods to Get You Through Exams that will power up your memory!

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