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Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Column: Meals for sanity

Considering all the stress we get from recessions to tuition, it is safe to say that college is the insane asylum for the academically gifted. Unfortunately, when it comes to stress, keeping a buckle on your waist line can be just as difficult as holding onto your marbles.

All too often, nutritional health is forgotten in the midst of stress. You forget breakfast, snack on fast food and even succumb to emotional eating. It’s difficult to care when you’re upset. But what if the food you eat actually determines your stress level?

Foods are nutritional drugs. When you eat them, they alter mood chemicals in your body. The fact is, if you don’t eat the right ones, your ability to make happy hormones and energy for your brain will be low. As a result, you can have a difficult time being happy and thinking your way out of stressful situations.

Only certain types of protein, for example, effectively boost your mood. These are proteins high in tryptophan, tyrosine and phenylalanine (TTP), which are needed to make your behavioral chemicals, serotonin and dopamine. Serotonin controls sleep, memory and mood, while dopamine regulates decision-making, attention and ability to experience pleasure.

Deficiencies in TTP contribute to anxiety and depression, while increasing your consumption through food can better your sense of wellbeing. TTP is best absorbed from dairy and soy, rather than meat sources, along with fibrous grains. While high fiber carbohydrates are not highest in protein, they increase TTP absorption and are rich in vitamins.

Whole grains are also typically higher in B vitamins, which along with iron are crucial to feeling upbeat. Unfortunately, these are also common deficiencies, which can lead to increased stress. B vitamins can prevent anxiety in many ways, from making hormones to letting your brain use sugar to think. Iron is also essential for mood improvement because it allows your body to use oxygen, preventing irritability and exhaustion. Vitamin C helps with the absorption of iron.

While the above nutrients work to enhance your mood and energy, keeping your brain cells healthy with omega 3 fats will make all of this possible. So include these oils in your diet to improve all of your brain’s processes.

As you can see, these nutrients work in symphony for stress-prevention, which is why eating them instead of popping pills is your best solution. Better yet, combine all of these into easy meals for every part of the day.

I recommend starting the morning with yogurt, topped with fruit, granola and walnuts. It’s as easy to make as it is uplifting. In minutes you have put together a breakfast with omega 3-rich nuts, dairy protein and fibrous oats for TTP absorption and B vitamins and iron for energy. Not to mention, the vitamin C and extra fiber from fruit will further boost your ability to use these happy-nutrients.

For lunch, I suggest a whole grain tuna salad sandwich with a little mayonnaise, celery, parsley and a tiny bit of lemon juice for vitamin C, black pepper and salt. If you are a strict vegetarian, have a soy patty with spinach instead, which are still high in omega 3s.

In the evening, grill some salmon in soybean oil with iron-rich dill weed. This will provide you with loads of TTP and omega 3s, and adding steamed broccoli and potatoes will add the vitamin C, fiber and B vitamins.

Last but not least, I recommend all-natural ice cream or soy ice cream with raspberries, mint and wheat germ. This dessert is high in fiber, vitamin C and B vitamins. And believe it or not, both raspberries and mint are high in iron, too.

While we would all like to think that a B.S or B.A. in [insert major here] is a sign of mental clarity, reality proves otherwise. As students, remember that we are complex machines. Put crappy oil in a car, and it won’t function. Put the wrong nutrients in our bodies, and we won’t either. How you eat is vital, but it never has to be a difficult feat. So eat these nutrients for stress, and quit worrying about your health — it will go away at some point anyway.

For more meals that prevent your academic mental breakdowns, contact THERESA RICHARDSON at terichardson@ucdavis.edu.

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