An Eater’s Guide to Beating Stress

There is no shame in being what some call an “emotional eater.” If you've found yourself craving a bag of chips or a good 'ol candy bar in the middle of the workday, at a meeting or after a fight, you're not alone. Comfort foods are named exactly for what they do for us—they’re comforting. 

But now that you know that you have the tendency to reach for the munchies, it's good to know why. Chances are, you're probably stressed out. Stress can come in many forms but despite its lousy reputation, it's not always bad for you—it’s how we manage our stress that really matters. 

Here, we’re sharing five foods that will help you manage one of the main underlying factors contributing to the global epidemic of cardiovascular disease. While stress and anxiety do not directly cause cardiovascular diseases, doses of cortisol—a hormone released by your body to help you cope with stress—can lead to an increase in appetite and sugar cravings and thus, long-term high blood pressure and/or cholesterol. 

Take a tip and choose one of these five foods to curb that stress.
Ditch the usual sweet oatmeal combo for this savory option.

There is some merit in what cereal companies have been trying to tell us all along: you should never skip breakfast, as it gets our motors up and running for the rest of the day. But despite what Tony the Tiger says, those Frosted Flakes aren't "Gr-r-reat!—before the dawn of cereal boxes, oatmeal, in fact, has been a breakfast staple for centuries. 

Studies have shown that the soluble fiber found in whole grains such as whole-wheat bread, brown rice, and oatmeal can help keep cholesterol at bay and in turn, reduce heart disease mortality. The complex carbohydrates in oatmeal also means that your body takes time to break it down and release its sugars to your bloodstream in a steady, constant pace. This keeps you feeling full and satiated for a longer period of time.

Meal prep tip: Not a sweet-tooth? Oatmeal's nutty flavors lend well to savory dishes just as it does to sweet. Try topping your morning oatmeal with a fried egg and in-season vegetables.

Toast lovers rejoice: avocados are an excellent source of monounsaturated fat. Research suggests that the said fat helps protect us against heart disease as well as lower our blood pressure. 

Meal prep tip: Though there are plenty of cookbooks written about how to best consume the buttery fruit, we believe in the value of simplicity, especially when dealing with already delicious and nutrient-rich foods. Avocado toast amped up with some homemade nut butter has our vote.

The Japanese soybean is named exactly for the way it is harvested: young soy beans picked while still nestled in their cosy pods. High in omega-6 fatty acids, an acid that's typically produced during and after physical activity to promote cell growth and repair, edamame is a bean worthy of its superfood crown. 

Meal prep tip: Quickly blanch fresh edamame in generously salted water for three to five minutes or until the pods turn a bright apple green. Best eaten as is.
Pan-fry your salmon fillets skin-down on a hot pan for a nice sear.

It is a superstar food for many reasons but in relation to stress-busting, it is the salmon's rich omega-3 fatty acids that we're after. Our body's stash of nutrients and minerals deplete when it tries to balance our cortisol spikes, resulting in sugar cravings to quickly restore our supply. Other foods rich in omega-3 acids include walnuts, seeds and eggs. So the next time you find yourself reaching for a powdered doughnut, break into your stash of walnuts instead.

Meal prep tip: Thanks to its fatty nature, salmon is a fish that lends itself well to numerous methods of cooking. But if you're short on time, a quick fry in a hot pan with some olive oil or ghee is a meal we can't say no to. No ghee? Butter would probably suffice but it bodes well to always have some nutty, toasty ghee on hand. 

Calories get burned up as you eat them, but if you scarf down a heavy dinner, you're not as likely to get rid of the calories before you turn in. (And, what you don't burn off is—surprise, surprise—likely to turn into fat. Additionally, eating too close to bedtime increases your blood sugar and insulin, which impairs sleep. Thus, your last meal should be the lightest of the day and be eaten at least three hours before bedtime. It's a tall order but it's a good habit to cultivate. 

Neuroscientist Will Clower says a square of dark chocolate eaten 20 minutes before a meal will trigger hormones in the brain, "tricking" it into thinking that you're full and therefore cutting the amount of food you subsequently consume. Finishing a meal with the same trigger could reduce subsequent snacking. For that reason, dark chocolate is best consumed before or after dinner. It has also been found to restore flexibility to arteries while preventing white blood cells from sticking to the walls of blood vessels, both of which are common causes of artery clogging. 

Meal prep tip: A good 70% cocoa chocolate bar doesn't need anything done to it. Get a bar that comes in bigger squares for maximum satisfaction. 

This article, written by Alethea Tan, first appeared on the MICHELIN Guide Hong Kong Macau website

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