The past twenty-two months have profoundly affected all of us. Worries about Covid-19 and its impact on our health and jobs, social distancing and masking can all be overwhelming and stress, anxiety, depression and insomnia have become epidemic. So, what strategies can we put into place to benefit our mental health and resilience?
Resilience is the ability to overcome challenges including trauma, tragedy and personal disappointment and bounce back. In other words, it can be the reservoir of strength, mentally and physically, that we can call on in times of need and get back in the fight and continue on with our lives. As Jose N. Harris put it, ” Falling down is part of life, getting back up is living.”
Self-care strategies like sleep hygiene, regular physical exercise, meditation and limiting screen time are all helpful for building up resilience. But food is paramount as it forms the basis of our health. When we are stressed we can stress-eat comfort food for a quick, comforting fix. However, just as chronic stress is a pro-inflammatory state that can increase the risk of chronic disease, highly processed foods also contribute to inflammation. So, can we eat better to build up our resilience reserve? The answer is YES!
Diet and nutrition are critical not only for physiology but also have significant effects on our mood and mental health. (2). In a two year randomized control trial, adult female macaques were randomly assigned a Western vs a Mediterranean diet. The researchers found that the monkeys who ate the Mediterranean diet had lower cortisol responses to acute psychological stress, had decreased sympathetic activity and showed delayed age related increases in sympathetic activity and cortisol responses to stress. In essence, they showed strong evidence for a dietary strategy to increase stress resilience. (1).
The Mediterranean diet contains many vegetables and proteins that contain Magnesium that has beneficial effects on stress, sleep disorders and anxiety and even mild cognitive decline. It is involved in over six hundred enzymatic reactions in the body. Magnesium works by suppressing C reactive protein, IL-6 and other endocrine disruptors. It reduces cortisol that contributes to anxiety, brain fog, depression, mood swings, memory loss and insomnia. Additionally, it restricts release of stress hormones and is needed to release and bind serotonin, helps with adrenal function, gut health and helps control blood glucose levels.
Magnesium is found in leafy greens-kale, spinach, collard greens, mustard greens, and a one cup serving of cooked spinach is equivalent to 157 mg of Magnesium. The recommended daily intake of Magnesium is 400 mg/day. You can keep your levels up by eating bananas, fatty fish like salmon, quinoa, flax and chia seeds, tofu, legumes like chickpeas, almonds, avocados and dark chocolate. The recipe that follows highlights dark chocolate (1 ounce contains 64mg of magnesium)-a treat, no doubt-best enjoyed with close companions for celebration days ahead.
Kitchen-Prescription Recipe: Dark Chocolate Covered Strawberries
2 cups dark chocolate chips
21 organic strawberries
1 teaspoon butter
- Pour 2 cups of dark chocolate pieces or chips and 1 tsp butter into microwaveable bowl.
- Place in microwave and set timer for 30 seconds.
- Stir chocolate with spoon and repeat until chocolate is smooth.
- Cut strawberries in half, dip in chocolate and place on wax paper.
- Refrigerate chocolate covered strawberries for an hour and a half or until solid.
- Mediterranean Diet, Stress Resilience and Aging in Nonhuman Primates. Neurobiology of Stress, vol 13, Nov 2020, 100254. Cawl A Shively, Susan E Appt.
- The Impact of Nutrients on Mental Health and Wellbeing: Insights from the Literature. Front Nutr. 2021 Mar8, 8:656290 Maurizio Muscaritoli.
- Combating Covid-19 and Building Immune Resilience: A Potential Role for Magnesium Nutrition. AMA Coll Nutri. Nov-Dec 2020;39(8):685-693. Taylor C. Wallace.