By: Anne L’Heureux RD, LD
Hannaford Online Dietitian, part of Hannaford’s team of 36 Dietitians
It’s March and you can feel the excitement of Spring and warmer weather just around the corner. Hiking, biking, or simply relaxing by the water are just a few fun outdoor activities that you can enjoy during the warmest months of the year. March is National Nutrition Month and although the pleasure of these activities is obvious, could there be more benefits from them than we realize?
Fresh air, vitamin D from the sun and getting the blood flowing are all benefits of being active outdoors and contribute to our wellness by adding a sense of balance to an otherwise hectic world.
Why is balance so important? The verb definition of balance is “to keep or put (something) in a steady position so that it does not fall.” Now imagine we are applying that to ourselves. Putting healthy habits and practices in place to steady our lives so that we do not fall. Sounds great to me!
As a Dietitian, my primary role is helping people make nutritious food choices that fit their lifestyle. As I’ve gained experience, it has become more apparent to me one’s ability to make nutritious food choices goes much deeper than basic “eat this, not that.” In fact, it’s the day-to-day stress levels and poor sleeping habits that can take down even the most ambitious goals. I now focus part of my conversation around the components that balance our lives, knowing that a good night’s sleep and a quieter mind leaves more room for planning meals and focusing on foods to feel at our best.
Putting it into Practice
Can you use nutrition to promote balance? Can food help us alleviate stress and anxiety? Improve sleep habits? Promote a clearer thought process?
The answers? Yes, yes, yes and yes! Let’s check out some easy suggestions.
Foods for Stress Reduction
Reducing stress plays a key role in improving or preventing high blood pressure, reducing feelings of anxiety and promoting a sense of calm. When stress levels are low, our brains can process thoughts more efficiently for better daily outcomes. Try incorporating these foods to help:
- Potassium sources help dilate blood vessels for improved blood pressure. These can be found in foods like avocados and bananas.
- The “feel good” hormone Serotonin, found in whole grains, can have a calming effect on the brain. Foods like whole grain wraps are an easy source.
- B vitamins help regulate the brain functions that influence our emotions while Heart Healthy Omega-3s can help decrease inflammation in the brain, allowing us to process thoughts easier for more positive outcomes. Incorporate a variety of nuts and seeds to get B vitamins and try to incorporate fatty fish like salmon twice a week for omega-3.
Foods to Promote Sleep
Sleep is an important factor in your lifestyle. By choosing foods that promote sleep you’ll find it easier to fall asleep and wake feeling rested. As a Dietitian, I like to incorporate the following foods throughout the week.
- Cherries are a natural source of the sleep hormone melatonin. Try drinking a small glass of tart cherry juice an hour before bedtime or having a small bowl of cherries as a snack. Buy a bag of frozen sweet cherries and thaw a ½ cup portion by heating in the microwave for 30 seconds. Add a dash of cinnamon for a boost of flavor.
- Spinach and other leafy greens contain tryptophan. Tryptophan helps the body produce melatonin, a hormone which helps signal the body that it is time for sleep.
- Garbanzo beans contain vitamin B6, which helps convert tryptophan and serotonin in the body to promote sleep.
- Magnesium in yogurt relaxes muscle contractions, helping reduce nighttime muscle cramps. Insomnia can be a side effect of long-term low magnesium intake.
- Sipping on tea has a calming effect that helps reduce cortisol, the stress hormone. Lower stress levels help us relax and fall asleep easier.
Using nutritious foods to promote sleep and stress reduction means that you are accomplishing multiple goals through the healing powers of food. With better sleep and a fueled body, you’ll have more time and energy to fit in the final component of a balanced healthy lifestyle: activity and movement.
Let’s wrap up with some key takeaways.
- A balanced approach helps provide a steady foundation, supporting us so that we are less likely to fall from our goals.
- Simple food choices can help us reduce stress and promote better sleep.
- The variety of foods that support these benefits will also fuel the body with more energy, leading to more chances for an active lifestyle.
- The balance of stress, sleep, nutrition, and activity create a balance for a healthier you, mind, body, and spirit!
Hannaford Supermarkets is a proud supporter of the New Hampshire Heart Walk. To learn more please visit: nhheartwalk.org.