Psst! C'mere. You feelin' a little down? Wanna pick-me-up? You want a little somethin' that will take away those bad feelings and make you happier? Give you more energy? Banish your stress and help you look and feel lighter, instantly? Then I got what you need, right here, under my coat. What I got here is…food.
It's true: Food can be the right cure for all your ills. And it's cheaper and more effective than seeing the doctor, popping a bunch of pills, or calling up your no-good cousin with the shady connections. You don't need pharmaceuticals to battle depression, ease stress, or pick you up when you're beat. Simply altering your diet will do the same thing, but much more safely, cheaply, and effectively.
Our bodies—and how we feel inside them—are nothing more than a reflection of the various chemicals that flow through our system on a daily basis. And when those chemicals are the healthy kind you get from the right mix of fruits, vegetables, proteins, and fats, you'll feel healthier, more energetic, and happier than you have in years. Unfortunately, most Americans are suffering from two separate-but-related maladies: We're overmedicated and undernourished. When something goes awry with the way our bodies function, our first instinct is to head to the pharmacy. But food is—or should be—our first line of defense that stops symptoms when they arise and protects us from their reappearance. Check out the below arsenal of all-natural cures from your kitchen, and don't forget to also add these 40 Healthy Snack Ideas to Keep You Slim to your lineup.
When You're Stressed
Modern life is a big, boiling cauldron of anxiety stew, and we get a heaping helping every day. Whether you're talking to your boss about a promotion, talking to your spouse about the credit card bills, or talking to your kids about that mud stain on the new rug, stress is lurking around every corner. So, calm yourself quick with these natural nerve-settlers.
Yogurt and Mixed Nuts
Scientists in Slovakia gave people either 3 grams each of two amino acids (lysine and arginine) or a placebo and then asked them to deliver a speech. Blood measurements of stress hormones revealed that the amino acid–fortified speakers were half as anxious during and after the speech as those who took the placebo. Yogurt is one of the best food sources of lysine; nuts pack tons of arginine. Mix 1 cup of plain Greek yogurt with 2 tablespoons mixed nuts to keep calm and carry on.
Red Bell Peppers
Researchers at the University of Alabama fed rats 200 milligrams of vitamin C twice a day and found that it nearly stopped the secretion of stress hormones. Add raw slices of red peppers to mason jar salads, sandwiches and soups; calorie for calorie, no other food gives you more vitamin C.
One study found that peppermint kept drivers on the road more alert and less anxious. One reason for this might be because it helps you breathe easier. An acid in peppermint encourages your cells to produce a substance called prostacyclin, which keeps your airways propped open. Learn more about the stress-reducing, belly-flattening powers of tea in The 7-Day Flat-Belly Tea Cleanse! Test panelists lost up to 4 inches from their waist!
Stress hormones can deplete your body's supply of magnesium, reducing your stress-coping abilities and increasing your risk of developing high blood pressure. Sesame seeds are packed with this essential mineral, are surprisingly good sources of calcium, too! In fact, one tablespoon of the crunchy, nutty-tasting seeds carry as much calcium as a half-cup of milk! For more surprising sources of the bone-building mineral, check out our exclusive report, The 20 Best Calcium-Rich Foods that Aren't Dairy.
When You're Feeling Sluggish
In Spanish culture, the siesta is a midday nap that replenishes the body's energy and prepares it for an evening of hard work and hard partying. Sadly, explaining a 3 p.m. snooze in such terms to your boss probably won't go very far. Instead, use this stash of foods to power through the midday slump.
High-Protein Salad with Vinaigrette
If you've been dragging your feet at the office all morning, make lunch a protein-packed salad with a tasty, oil-based dressing. Build your salad on a bed of romaine or spinach for an added boost in riboflavin (a nutrient that helps convert food into energy), add chicken and a hard-boiled egg for energizing protein. The oil will help slow down the digestion of protein and carbs in the salad, stabilizing blood-sugar levels and keeping energy levels high.
A small handful of raisin and nut trail mix makes for a tasty snack and is packed with nutrients that will revitalize and energize your day. What makes it such an energizing eat? The raisins provide potassium, which your body uses to convert sugar into energy. Nuts stock your body with magnesium, which is important in metabolism, nerve and muscle function. When magnesium levels are low, your body produces more lactic acid—the same fatigue-inducing substance that you feel at the end of a long workout. Blech. Oh, and speaking of breaking a sweat, boost your activity and get sexy, flat abs with the help of these 15-Minute Aerobic Abs Workout!
Whole Grain Cereal
Not a morning person? Kick off your day with a high-fiber whole grain cereal like Fiber One Original or plain ol' oatmeal. "High-fiber whole grain cereals slow the release of glucose into the bloodstream which ultimately translates to more consistent energy levels throughout the day," registered nutritionist Lisa Moskovitz says. Whichever cereal you choose should have at least 5 grams of fiber per serving. Serve with 1% organic milk or mix it into plain Greek yogurt for an extra hit of protein.
Yes, we're giving you permission to indulge in a sweet afternoon treat! Aside from the wonderful taste, dark chocolate contains caffeine and theobromine, which can help raise focus and energy. Opt for a low-sugar dark chocolate with 75-80% cacao (or even higher), so that your energy doesn't crash later in the day. If weight loss is your goal, make sure to cut yourself off after a serving. Even though it has health benefits, chocolate is still a calorie-dense food that should be eaten in moderation.
When You're Sick
The first line of defense in the war for protecting your health isn't found in the pharmacy; it's in the aisles of the supermarket. Warm up your cold, send the flu flying, and bolster your immune system with these tasty foods.
In a Canadian study, people who took 400 milligrams of ginseng a day had 25 percent fewer colds than those popping a placebo. Ginseng helps kill invading viruses by increasing the body's production of key immune cells. Since you can never be quite sure what's in a supplement (they aren't regulated by the FDA) we recommend brewing up a cup of ginseng tea. Enjoy this tea and many more with our complete guide featuring the 22 best weight loss teas.
The zinc and vitamin C in guava won't prevent the onslaught of a cold, but they might decrease the severity and duration of your symptoms. One cup of guava provides more than six days of vitamin C. For some perspective, one orange provides just over a day's worth. For more surprising foods packed with the sniffle-fighting nutrient, check out these 7 Surprising Vitamin C Rich Foods.
EGCG, a chemical flab-incinerating compound that is potent in green tea, has been shown to stop the adenovirus (one of the bugs responsible for colds) from replicating. Start pumping green tea into your system at the first sign of a cold and you should be able to stave off worse symptoms.
Foods rich in healthy fats, such as olive oil and avocados, help reduce inflammation, a catalyst for migraines. One study found that the anti-inflammatory compounds in olive oil suppress the same pain pathway as ibuprofen.
When You're Feeling Paunchy
Whether you're trying to revert to prom-era size for your high school reunion or recovering from a season of holiday bingeing, you want to get rid of the extra pounds (and that sluggish feeling) in a hurry. So don't tailor your clothes; tailor your meals.
A University of Oxford study found that eating salmon and tuna can speed up the movement of food from your stomach to your intestines, which leaves your stomach calmer and quells bloating. Credit the omega-3 fatty acids found in the fish, which stimulate hormones that regulate food intake, body weight, and metabolism. (And speaking of metabolism, rev yours up with the help of these 55 Best-Ever Ways to Boost Your Metabolism.) No idea how to prepare fish? Pick up a box of salmon burgers (we like SeaPak's variety) and serve them on a thin whole-wheat bun with olive oil mayo, arugula and a slice of low-fat Swiss.
If sluggish bowels are the reason behind your bloat, researchers say high-fiber kiwifruit may be the kick you're looking for. A study by researchers in Pacific Asia found that Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) sufferers who ate two kiwis a day for four weeks had less constipation and a general lessening of IBS symptoms than those who didn't. Chop it up and add it to a fruit salad or use it as an oatmeal topper along with some unsweetened coconut flakes and chopped walnuts.
Bloated? Go bananas. Researchers say the fruit is a good source prebiotic fiber, which helps to feed good gut bacteria and improve digestion. A study in the journal Anaerobe found women who ate a bananas twice daily as a pre-meal snack for 60 days experienced an increase in good bacteria levels and a 50 percent reduction in bloating.
If you're holding onto water, snacking on a wedge of honeydew melon is a do, honey. Research suggests a compound found in muskmelon called cucumis melo boasts significant diuretic properties and can be used to treat edema (the fancy name for water retention). And while the fruit helps flush excess H20 from your system, it also acts as a natural electrolyte replacement due to its high potassium levels.
When You'reFeeling Moody
Watch enough TV advertising and you begin to think the only answer to a bad mood is a bottle of pills. Wrong! Your next meal can have as dramatic an impact on your mood as your next prescription refill. So the next time you have a gnawing feeling that something's amiss, try gnawing on one of these superfoods.
This dairy pick is packed with more calcium than you'll find in milk or regular yogurt, which is good news for your mood. Calcium gives your body the "Go!" command, alerting your brain to release feel-good neurotransmitters. As a result, inadequate calcium intake can lead to anxiety, depression, irritability, impaired memory, and slow thinking. Greek yogurt also contains more protein than regular yogurt, making it a terrific stay-slim snack.
Canola oil is one of the cheapest sources of omega-3 fats and one of the easiest to incorporate into your diet. When consumed, these fats concentrate in your brain and help elevate your mood. Make a canola oil vinaigrette or use a little to sauté vegetables.
Leafy greens—arugula, chard, spinach—are rich sources of B vitamins, which are part of the assembly line that manufactures feel-good hormones such as serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine. In fact, according to a study published in the Journal of Neuroscience Nursing, a lack of B6 can cause nervousness, irritability, and even depression. Add leafy greens to sandwiches, salads, omelets, stir-fries and healthy crock pot recipes to reap the benefits.
Feeling a bit gloomy and aggressive after a fall out with a friend or significant other? Take out your angst by cracking some eggs and whipping up an omelet. Breaking eggs far better than putting your fist through drywall and, thanks to their rich vitamin D content, eggs can help you cheer up, too. (A three-egg omelet will fulfill over a third of the day's recommended intake of the nutrient.) Exactly how vitamin D works to improve mood isn't yet fully understood. However, one theory is that the nutrient increases serotonin and dopamine in the brain, which is how many antidepressants work as well. Pair your omelet—or one of these 25 Best Egg Recipes for Weight Loss—with a piece of whole-grain bread to increase levels of serotonin further.