Being the parent or caregiver of a child with special needs (or any child, for that matter!) can be rewarding and amazing, but also stressful and tiring at times.

For those times when the scales seem to be tipped toward stressful, choosing healthy foods can help you to keep things under control. And who doesn’t want to feel less stressed?!

Unfortunately, many of us have a habit of turning to traditional “comfort” foods when we are stressed - pizza, pasta with creamy sauces, ice cream, candy bars...

They may help us to feel better in the short-term, but are likely to leave us feeling lethargic and even more stressed!

High-fat, high-sugar foods such as these can raise our cholesterol levels over time. Stress itself can also drive up our cholesterol and blood pressure.

So, if you turn to high-fat, high-sugar “comfort” foods, you have essentially dealt your heart-health and your stress level a one-two punch.

Fortunately, there are many delicious, healthy foods that can actually help to alleviate stress.

Choose the right carbs!

Carbohydrates help your brain to produce a calming hormone called serotonin. But take note – not all carbs are created equal!

Refined carbohydrates, such as those in white bread, white pasta, white rice, sugary drinks and desserts, are digested rapidly and cause spikes in our blood sugar.

This can cause us to feel a “crash,” and end up having less energy and more stress.

Complex carbohydrates, found in whole grain breads, whole grain pasta, brown rice, beans and oatmeal, are digested more slowly and provide a more even energy source.

They also help our brains to produce serotonin, so they are a great choice for calming our bodies and reducing stress.

Meal Idea:  Veggie chili made with black beans and lots of veggies, served over brown rice

Go Nuts!

When you are feeling low energy or stressed and need a snack, reach for the almonds (or pistachios, or walnuts!).

Our bodies’ stores of B vitamins go down when we are stressed. Nuts contain a lot of B vitamins and can help to build our stores of this essential vitamin back up again.

In addition, nuts such as pistachios contain a lot of potassium, which can lower your blood pressure.

Meal Idea:  Wholegrain pasta with walnut-parsley sauce

Load up on vitamin C!

When we are stressed, our bodies produce more stress hormones.

Eating foods high in vitamin C can help to lower stress hormone levels and bring us back into balance.

Next time you are feeling overwhelmed, reach for vitamin C-rich foods, including bell peppers, spinach, broccoli, berries, kiwifruit, tomatoes and papayas - all good choices to help bring your stress level down.

Meal Idea:  Spinach salad with salmon, red bell peppers and tomatoes

Magnesium-rich foods

Magnesium helps to decrease our stress hormone levels and blood pressure.

In addition, magnesium-rich foods can help by lowering the amount of a certain protein in our bodies that leads to stress and sometimes depression. 

Most of us do not get enough magnesium in our diets.

Focus on magnesium-rich foods such as dark leafy greens (spinach, kale, swiss chard), beans (black beans, kidney beans), brown rice, nuts, seeds, avocado, whole grains and banana.

Meal Idea:  Wrap made with whole grain tortilla, beans, spinach and avocado

Enjoy your tea

Next time you are feeling anxious or stressed, make yourself a cup of tea! Both black teas and herbal teas help to lower stress hormone levels.

Since the caffeine in black tea may increase stress response, however, your best bet is to stick with green, herbal or decaffeinated black teas.

Not only does drinking tea lower stress levels, just holding a warm mug in your hands can be so soothing and relaxing!

And with so many varieties of herbal teas available – chamomile, lemon balm, peppermint, ginger and green teas, just to name a few – you are sure to find one that you like.

Meal Idea:  Whole-grain muffin made with bananas and yogurt, with a mug of chamomile tea

Don’t forget the chocolate!

If you are really feeling stressed and want a little treat, go for some dark chocolate.

Like tea, dark chocolate can lower stress hormone levels.

Dark chocolate has more beneficial nutrients (and less sugar) than milk chocolate, so choose chocolate that is at least 70 percent cocoa.

Since chocolate is a high-calorie food, you will want to watch that you don’t overdo it.

But a couple squares of dark chocolate each day could be a delicious way to lower your stress level.

Dessert Idea:  Strawberries dipped in dark chocolate

Next time you feel stressed or overwhelmed, do yourself and your family a favor by choosing these healthful, stress-reducing and delicious foods!

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