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Beer and nachos. Mac 'n' cheese marathons. Late night chocolate chip ice cream eaten out of the carton. We've all been there.

But really, how did we end up with an arm full of "comfort foods"?

When the body is stressed, it halts digestion, shuts down your appetite, stops producing insulin, and starts to produce glucose instead. After all, you're in a fight-or-flight situation, and you just might need that sugar in your bloodstream for a burst of energy.

When the stressful event is over, however, your appetite reawakens and hormones flood your body, giving you signals to store calories for the next emergency. The stress hormone cortisol, still coursing through your blood, instructs your body to store energy in the form of fat. It also triggers the release of neuropeptide Y, which gives you a hankering for sweet, fatty foods. Lastly, as you are scarfing down a pepperoni pizza, the cortisol has made your brain less sensitive to leptin, the hormone that would normally detect that you're full.

Next time you expect to enter fight-or-flight mode, use these foods to manage your stress.

Complex Carbohydrates

Whole-grain breads and pastas can give you a boost of the feel-good neurotransmitter serotonin (which is what anti-depressants are designed to do) and balance blood sugar levels. To fall asleep faster, try munching on a slice of toast before bed.

Fatty Fish and Nuts

Trout, sardines, mackerel, salmon, walnuts and pistachios all contain omega-3 fatty acids, which prevent your stress hormones from surging. Aim for 3 oz. of fatty fish twice a week, or a handful of walnuts or pistachios every day.

Folic Acid and Vitamin B12

Low levels of these two B vitamins are sometimes related to depression. Folic acid is thought to be involved in producing serotonin and dopamine, a neurotransmitter that helps regulate the brain's reward and pleasure center. Vitamin B12 is also needed to make serotonin, and some research findings suggest that the vitamin may be able to prevent depression.

Folic acid is abundant in spinach, asparagus, calf's liver, lentils and beans. Vitamin B12 is readily found in calf's liver, clams, trout and beef.


Research has shown that calcium relieves anxiety and mood swings related to PMS. Low fat yogurt, milk and many hard cheeses are all high in calcium. For non-dairy sources of calcium, look to tofu, mustard greens, kale and white beans.

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