Stress-busting superfoods

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The overwhelming majority of Australians suffer from stress, with 91 percent reporting some level of stress in their lives, according to a recent Lifeline poll.

The good news is that many natural therapies exist to help reduce stress, and if you have private health insurance you may be entitled to a free consultation or a rebate on a number of therapies such as acupuncture, massage, and health management.

Reducing stress may even be a simple as eating well, says celebrity trainer and author James Duigan in his book Clean and Lean: Flat Tummy Fast. So before you reach for your favourite comfort food, try substituting some of these natural stress-busting foods:

Blueberries are loaded with antioxidants (molecules that stop free radicals damaging healthy cells), so they protect and repair the body. Packed with vitamin C, and low-GI, blueberries help to keep your blood-sugar levels steady.

In his book, Duigan writes that when it comes to stress-fighting foods, blueberries "are at the top of the list".

Green vegetables
Dark green vegies contain B-complex vitamins, essential for the production of serotonin, a mood-enhancing neurotransmitter. To reduce stress Duigan recommends eating broccoli, brussels sprouts, green peppers, green beans, kale, peas, romaine lettuce, spinach and zucchini. These green vegetables contain potassium, which studies have shown to be ideal for calming nerves. Duigan says the rule here is "the darker the better ... so dark green rocket is better than pale green iceberg lettuce".

Organic yoghurt
Yogurt's high calcium content is said to decrease muscle spasms and soothe tension in the body. Researchers from the University of Toronto also demonstrated that when Lactobacillus casei (a probiotic found in some yoghurts and supplements such as Yakult), when given to people with chronic fatigue syndrome on a daily basis for two months, significantly decreased their feelings of anxiety.

Experts recommend natural, organic, unsweetened yoghurts over low-fat varieties.

Almonds, walnuts and pistachios are all said to be stress-soothing snacks and rich in magnesium, zinc and vitamins B and E (which help to boost the immune system). Research has shown that eating roughly a handful of pistachios a day can lower blood pressure, which was also shown to be true for walnuts.

Dark chocolate
Not all comfort foods are off limits! Dark chocolate has long been understood to be a great mood elevator. That's because it contains phenylethylamine, which stimulates the production of endorphins, a feel-good chemical released in the brain that makes you feel happier.

Research shows dark chocolate is also rich in magnesium, a natural muscle relaxant. According to a 2009 study, consuming 40g of dark chocolate per day for two weeks significantly lowered cortisol levels (a hormone made in the adrenal glands). But go easy on the serving size because dark chocolate is still high in fat and sugar content, so portion control is crucial. Experts say one or two squares once or twice weekly is fine.

For more information consult a doctor or alternative therapist – many health insurance providers will rebate some of the costs for services such as exercise physiology, naturopathy, homeopathy or massage. Talk to your health insurance provider or for more information compare health insurance policies at RateCity.

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