These 7 Foods Can Fight Stress and Improve Your Mood

September 22, 2019

We all know that dancers are typically perfectionistic, highly-motivated, driven and capable of enduring physical pain. These same qualities that lead to success can also drive stress that eventually leads to burnout.

But did you know that diet can play a role in taking care of your mental health?

Research continues to demonstrate that nutrients can affect your mood. Not only does your body require proper nutrition to fuel muscles, it needs it to build hormones and neurotransmitters that regulate how we feel.

These mood-supporting foods can be easily incorporated into a dancer’s meal plan.

Citrus Fruit

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The adrenal glands are responsible for producing stress hormones, and vitamin C is vital to the process. In fact, these walnut-sized glands have the highest concentration of vitamin C in the body, providing a ready source for the production of flight-or-flight hormones.

When we are under stress, our bodies burn through vitamin C as they produce hormones like cortisol. This can leave us with a deficit that compromises mood and immunity. Which helps explain the connection between stress, illness and even injury.

Dance Bag Ready

  • Snack on citrus fruits like oranges, tangerines and grapefruit.
  • Bell peppers, especially the yellow ones, are a great source of vitamin C and can be eaten like an apple or sliced and served with hummus or tahini.
  • Squeeze lime juice into your water bottle for extra flavor and vitamin C.

Exposing your food to oxygen, heat and light will degrade vitamin C. Hold off on cutting or peeling produce until as close to serving as possible. Store cut produce in air-tight containers in the refrigerator or a cooler. When cooking veggies, minimize their exposure to heat, serving them tender-crisp rather than super-soft.

Pumpkin Seeds

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Pumpkin seeds (or pepitas) are a particularly good source of magnesium, which is critical for nerve conduction, regulating muscle contraction, as well as mood. Magnesium deficiency is associated with symptoms of depression and anxiety.

Pumpkin seeds are also rich in tryptophan, an amino acid required to make the feel-good hormone serotonin.

Dance Bag Ready

  • Pack a bag of pumpkin seeds in the shell or the shelled version (pepitas) to eat alone or to add to granola or a salad.
  • Pumpkin seed butter can be used in place of other nut or seed butters and eaten on its own, paired with celery, apple slices or crackers.

Dark Chocolate

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Dark chocolate is a delicious source of iron, magnesium and manganese, minerals necessary to support brain health. Yet athletes, including dancers, are often deficient.

Cocoa also contains caffeine and theobromine, stimulants which may be responsible for the quick lift it delivers.

Dance Bag Ready

  • A square of dark chocolate, a tablespoon of dark chocolate chips, or an ounce of cacao nibs can be eaten on their own, mixed into muffins or as part of a trail mix.
  • Cacao powder can be stirred into baked goods or coffee.

Chocolate is considered “dark” when it is made with at least 70 percent cocoa. The higher the cocoa content, the greater the health benefits.

Fatty Fish

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Fatty fish like wild-caught salmon, tuna and sardines are excellent sources of the omega-3 fatty acids DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid), which are known to fight excess inflammation. Chronic inflammation can drive stress.

Getting adequate amounts of DHA and EPA regularly is associated with a reduced risk of depression.

Dance Bag Ready

  • Tinned tuna, salmon or sardines are shelf stable and can be eaten alone, mixed in a salad, or as part of a wrap. Don’t dump the oil since it holds a good portion of the omega-3 fatty acids.

Fresh fish can be expensive. If quality fresh options aren’t available where you live, consider tinned versions, a more affordable alternative.

Whole Eggs

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Eggs are a versatile and cost-effective source of protein. They are also a source of the amino acid tyrosine, which is necessary for the production of serotonin.

Tossing the yolks is an outdated concept that costs both money and exceptional nutritional value. Whole eggs are a good source several nutrients that support brain health including choline, biotin, B6, B12, folate and omega-3 fatty acids, which are all found in the yolk.

Choline is essential for the production of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, which regulates stress response. In fact, research shows that low choline levels are associated with symptoms of anxiety.

Vitamin B12, which is only found in animal foods, is critical for nerve transmission and brain health. Deficiency can result in fatigue and depression.

Dance Bag Ready

  • Hard-boiled eggs are easy to prepare, pack and eat as a snack.
  • Mix chopped hard-boiled eggs with avocado, stir in a bit of mustard, salt and pepper, and wrap in chard leaves for a satisfying lunch or dinner.

Dark, Leafy Greens

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Spinach, kale, chard, collards and arugula are just a few of the dark greens that offer an excellent source of fiber and the B vitamin folate. Fiber is important for gut health, which is where much of our serotonin is produced.

Folate deficiency can contribute to depressed mood. A significant portion of the population isn’t able to metabolize synthetic version of folate (folic acid) found in fortified or enriched foods, so your best bet is to get folate from whole, minimally processed sources like leafy greens.

Dance Bag Ready

  • Make a veggie wrap by smearing hummus or bean dip on a tortilla of your choice. Next, load it with your favorite greens, sliced peppers, cucumbers and shredded carrots. Wrap tightly and keep cold until eating.
  • Dark greens are great in smoothies which can be enjoyed at home or on your commute.

Matcha Tea

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Matcha tea is green tea that’s been grown in the shade. This allows it to produce more of the compound L-theanine, which has been shown to support relaxation and calmness. Matcha is also a source of caffeine, which when paired with L-theanine promotes focus and memory. Caffeine can drive anxiety in people who are sensitive to it or when taken in excess, so be mindful about moderation.

Dance Bag Ready

  • Matcha can be incorporated into muffins or no-bake energy balls. Try this recipe for Matcha Energy Balls. They travel and freeze well.
  • Consider switching your morning brew to a matcha tea or a matcha latte. Either can be served hot or iced.