Did anyone else hear NPR’s report on stress and food? In case you missed it, basically stress eating is a real thing! “More than a third of the participants in a national survey conducted by NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard School of Public Health said they change their diets during stressful times”. Interestingly, stress eating can lead to “a bit of a vicious cycle,” says David Ludwig, a professor of pediatrics and nutrition at Harvard University and a researcher at Boston Children’s Hospital. “When we feel stressed we seek foods that are going to comfort us immediately, but often times those foods lead to surges and crashes in hormones and blood sugar that increase our susceptibility to new stresses.”
Dr. Ludwig and some of his colleagues ran a study where they gave teenage boys different types of breakfast meals: either protein-rich eggs, high-fiber, steel-cut oats, or instant oatmeal (which was highest on the glycemic index, a measure of how quickly sugar is absorbed and how soon a food is likely to make you hungry again).
“After the highly refined instant oatmeal, blood sugar soared but then crashed a few hours later,” Ludwig says. “And when that happened the [stress] hormone adrenaline, or epinephrine, surged to very high levels.”
So, NPR asked, “if eating lots of refined carbs and sugar may exacerbate our responses to stress, are there other types of food that make us more resilient?” Researcher Joe Hibbeln of the National Institutes of Health believes the answer is yes! He has spent the past two decades investigating links between the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish and emotional health.”One of the most basic ways that omega-3s help to regulate mood is by quieting down the [body’s] response to inflammation,” Hibbeln says. “You can either be good at weathering stress or you can be brittle. And omega-3s make your stress system more flexible,” Hibbeln says. He points to studies showing that omega-3s can help protect neurons against the damage that can be done by chronic stress. He also points to clinical trials that have found that omega-3s may help control depressive symptoms. And a study of schoolchildren in England linked omega-3s to more pro-social behavior.
Drew Ramsey, a psychiatrist at Columbia University and author of The Happiness Diet, says a nutrient-rich diet is best for beating stress.
“He points to his favorite stress-busting breakfast: scrambled eggs mixed with kale (or other greens) and topped with pumpkin seeds. With this meal, you’re covering all your bases: the eggs are a good source of B vitamins and protein, which can be more satiating than a carb-based breakfast. The greens are incredibly nutrient-dense, and are a good source of vitamin A, vitamin K and potassium, and the pumpkin seeds are a good source of magnesium — which is thought to play a role in fending off anxiety — and zinc, which may help boost the immune system“.
While most people think only of salmon when they think of Omega-3’s, many foods from flax to mackerel are chock full of Omega-3’s. Bon Appetit has a wonderful list of Omega 3 rich recipes. Here’s one to try tonight!
Mackerel with Crushed Potato and Oregano
- 2 pounds small waxy potatoes (such as baby Yukon Gold)
- Kosher salt
- 1 cup plain whole-milk Greek yogurt
- 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 4 cloves garlic peeled, crushed
- 5 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- 4 6-oz. skin-on mackerel fillets (you can sub black bass, snapper or trout fillets)
- 2 tablespoons fresh oregano leaves
- 1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
- Flaky sea salt
- Calories (kcal) 720
- Fat (g) 43
- Saturated Fat (g) 9
- Cholesterol (mg) 125
- Carbohydrates (g) 45
- Dietary Fiber (g) 3
- Total Sugars (g) 4
- Protein (g) 39
- Sodium (mg) 310
Place potatoes in a large pot, add water to cover, and season with kosher salt. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer until tender, 10–12 minutes. Drain; let cool slightly.
Meanwhile, preheat broiler. Whisk yogurt, lemon juice, and vinegar in a small bowl; season with kosher salt and pepper. Set yogurt sauce aside.
Place potatoes on a broiler proof rimmed baking sheet and, using the bottom of a small bowl or measuring cup, press potatoes to flatten slightly. Add garlic, drizzle with 4 Tbsp. oil, and toss to coat; season with kosher salt and pepper. Broil potatoes until golden brown, 10–12 minutes.
Rub skin side of mackerel with remaining 1 Tbsp. oil; season with kosher salt and pepper. Place, skin side up, on top of potatoes and broil until fish is opaque throughout and skin is crisp, 10–12 minutes. Remove from oven and top with oregano and lemon zest.
Spoon yogurt sauce onto each plate and top with potatoes and fish; sprinkle with sea salt.