Foods That Help Relax You and Reduce Stress

What an amazing, charmed life I have. I’ve had the privilege of being friends and working with three of the most respected and revered living spiritual guides in the Western Hemisphere. Ram Dass, Zen Master Roshi Bernie Glassman and Deepak Chopra M.D.  Since Ram Dass’ stroke, I have not had much contact with him as he is now living in Hawaii, but my relationship with Bernie and Deepak is ongoing and intense. Both of these great teachers have, among the other zillion things they have done, written ‘cookbooks’.  Deepak, who has written over 70 books, with over 21 NYTimes best sellers, wrote The Chopra Center Cookbook: Nourishing Body and Soul. And Zen Master Bernie Glassman wrote Instructions to the Cook: A Zen Master’s Lessons in Living a Life That Matters.

It is a truism that you are what you eat and I am happy to report to you that you can eat your way to reduced stress and anxiety, to a more relaxed state of being and to sleep.

Most have heard of the 7 Chakras or 7 energy centers of the human body described in eastern spiritual philosophy. Well each of those Chakras are associated with a color of the rainbow – red for the root chakra, orange for the sacral chakra, yellow for the solar plexus chakra, green for the heart charka, blue for the throat chakra, indigo for the forehead chakra and violet for the crown chakra at the top of the head.

One of the things Deepak says about food, is that the wide variety of foods found in nature are different colors for a reason. He advises that you should try to incorporate each color into our diets as animals do.

“Do you think that a wild animal living in the forest cares what the U.S. Surgeon General says about our diet,” Chopra asked. “Yet that animal does not have any problem with its diet or its nutritional intake. It knows what to eat.”

Animals do not get vitamin deficiencies because they listen to their “inner receptors” and know that plants and fruits have the colors of their particular phytochemical. Here are the seven color categories of fruits that we should incorporate into our diets.

Red: raspberries, apples, cherries, strawberry

Orange: oranges, melons, papaya, mango, apricots

Yellow: lemon, banana, pineapple, peaches

Green: kiwi, apples, lime, green grapes

Blue: blueberries

Indigo: figs, pomegranate, blackberries

Purple: grapes

White: pears, coconut

There is also a rainbow of colors in vegetables that should be eaten and enjoyed.

Also, Deepak explains, we have several types of food taste receptors that make up the 2,000 – 8,000 taste buds on each tongue. These receptors are for Sweet, Sour, Salty, Bitter and Umami or Savory

The last one may not seem familiar to you. Umami in it’s pure synthetic form is MSG. In nature it comes from the amino acid L-Glutamine. The best way to describe its taste as a pleasant ‘brothy’ or ‘meaty’ taste with a long lasting, mouthwatering and tongue coating sensation. Many common foods are rich in umami. Naturally occurring glutamate can be found in meats and certain vegetables such as fish, shellfish, cured meats, mushrooms, vegetables such as ripe tomatoes, Chinese cabbage, spinach, celery, or green tea and fermented and aged product such as cheese and soy sauce.

Your first encounter with umami was probably in breast milk.  It contains roughly the same amount of umami as broths. I don’t have to convince you too hard on the fact that if you eat foods with the same amount of umami in it as breast milk, it’s going to help relax you.

So, in addition to eating as many of the 7 colors as you can each day, eat as many taste sensations are you can each day.
Deepak’s brother  Sanjiv is also a medical doctor. He is head of continuing education at Harvard Medical School and author of the book Live Better, Live Longer: The New Studies That Reveal What’s Really Good—and Bad—for Your Health . Among the things he recommends most is Coffee as one of the best disease preventive substances you can consume. It is especially good for cleaning the liver. It turns out that it is also pretty good at causing one’s opioid receptors to produce ‘endorphins’ which actually means naturally occurring morphines produced inside the body acting as pain inhibitors.

Other foods that are good to help you relax are:

Milk The best food to relax your nerves is milk. It  produces a calming effect largely because it contains tryptophan which helps to produce serotonin, which is a sleep inducing hormone. It’s no accident that healers have long recommended a glass of milk before bed, to help you get a good night’s rest. So if you are feeling a little bit anxious or you need to relax your nerves, just grab a glass of cold milk and wait to see effects.

Soup is also among the best foods that relax your nerves. There is actually a written record of chicken soup being prescribed as a curative in the 12th century by Dr. Moses Maimonides. Chicken soup has natural chemicals in it which resembles N-Acetylcysteine (NAC). This compound controls the body’s pain relieving opioid receptor switches preventing them from going from the pain reducing mode to the pain causing mode.   Also many soups contain umami. Soup preparation is a way of extracting the nutrients, vitamins and minerals out of foods (except for the vitamins which degrade at elevated temperature). Soup is also a comfort food. Every culture has one. Chicken soup is often referred to as Jewish Penicillin because it is prescribed for what ever ails you and frequency works (or seems to work) to eliminate the symptoms.

From Soup to Nuts. Increased anxiety, depression and fatigue has been correlated with low levels of selenium, the mineral used to make copy machine and printer drums. Brazil nuts are particularly high in this mineral but most nuts have a good amount of selenium so that you can take a handful of mixed nuts, or just two Brazil nuts, a day to keep you from being irritable. For those with allergies to nuts, Shitake mushrooms, tuna, cod, and salmon also contain selenium, though a bit less than half as much as nuts.

Magnesium helps to keep our nerves and muscles relaxed. We also depend on magnesium to prevent our nerves from becoming overexcited; a deficiency of which can lead to muscle tension, cramps and fatigue. Spinach happens to be an amazing source for  magnesium. There had been concerns about eating too much spinach can cause gout because of the purines in the spinach, but gout comes from the purines in meat. There is no scientific evidence that spinach contributes to gout. Try to eat one cup of fresh spinach or half a cup of cooked spinach a day but use organic spinach as conventionally grown spinach is relatively high in pesticides. Other foods high in magnesium include halibut, pumpkin seeds and peppermint.

Another green leafy relaxant is basil. Basil is a good source of magnesium, which helps muscles and blood vessels to relax. It also contains anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory properties that are helpful to those with rheumatoid arthritis or irritable bowel syndrome. Irritable bowel syndrome makes anyone irritable. Best to add it to the food after cooking and just before eating. Lots of folks have little herb gardens where they grow basil. You can even buy live basil plants in the produce section of the supermarket. Lemon balm and chamomile are also popular herbs that can melt stress and reduce anxiety.

Fruits high in vitamin C are the most stress relieving foods that relax your nerves as the Vitamin C helps convert tryptophan into serotonin, which are the main hormones that aid mind relaxation. Fruits that are high in vitamin C include, oranges, kiwis, banana, berries, guava, papaya, grape fruits.

Zen Master Bernie Glassman’s book, Instructions to the Cook is largely about his experiences in socially engaged Buddhism particularly in launching the Greyston Foundation and Bakery in Yonkers NY. They made the chocolate brownies that went into Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. As he says it, their missions wasn’t to hire people to bake brownies but to bake brownies to hire people. This operation transformed the economy of Yonkers and has become a successful business model promoted by Harvard Business School. Among the many counter-intuitive procedures that they employed was hiring people without a resume or an interview but having very rigorous requirements to keep the job. This way they were able to hire homeless people and ex-Cons and for many it became a very transformative process. Many subsequently rose in the ranks of management and went on to work at other companies in senior roles. Where is all this leading to? Chocolate, as in chocolate brownies.

Chocolate helps to reduce stress levels in the brain. It contains the alkaloids theobromine, phenethylamine and caffeine. These have physiological effects on the body and are linked to serotonin levels in the brain. Some research has found that chocolate, eaten in moderation, can lower blood pressure, with high blood pressure associated with stress. Caffeine and theobromine play a role in endorphin production. Finally theobromine is found in people when they are in love and has long been associated with aphrodisiacal properties. Dark chocolate has more theobromine that milk chocolate and the higher the cacao content of your chocolate the more of these compounds are present whereas they are largely absent from the cocoa butter portion. There’s three times as much theobromine in dark chocolate as there is in milk chocolate and none in cocoa butter.

Tea L-theanine is an amino acid mainly found in tea leaves and is found to reduce stress, promote relaxation and enhance mood by stimulating the production of alpha brain waves. Our usual awaken state is associated with beta brain waves, while the calmer and more relaxed state is alpha. Green tea is rich in L-theanine and a host of other helpful compounds. It lowers risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer, reduces blood pressure and prevents hypertension, and promotes weight loss. Black tea and oolong tea have these compounds too, but in lower quantity.  They all have the ability to produce relaxing hormones that will help your brain to relax. Green tea is known to contain flavonoids : apigenin and chrysin which act as sedatives in the body of its subjects.

Eat these foods to relax your soul, mind and body.

You can also reduce your stress and get your brainwaves to instantly and effortlessly go from normal work awake-state beta brainwaves to relaxed alpha brainwaves using the Deepak Chopra Dream Weaver.

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