3 comfort foods – and 3 healthier swaps that actually help your mental health

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DISCLAIMER: This is a real holiday prep list and internal dialogue from this past holiday season that may or may not come from yours truly…

  • Shop for Christmas gifts
  • Buy a Christmas tree and pray that my husband and I don’t kill it or die from allergies
  • Decorate said tree
  • Pick the most perfect poinsettias
  • Start a Christmas grocery shopping list
  • Bake cookies

Holy crap, there are so many cookies – how am I going to deal?

  • Decorate interior of house
  • Hang stockings – but don’t fill them, because the weight of the goodies might stretch the knit stockings … plus, Santa doesn’t come until Christmas morning!
  • Wrap Christmas gifts – but don’t place them under the tree yet, because the tree will drop needles and I don’t want to vacuum around them

Why did I get glittery wrapping paper?

  • Decorate exterior of house

Wait, before we hang the lights, let’s power wash the exterior of the house.

Wait, before we power wash the exterior of the house, let’s blow the remaining leaves that have fallen off the trees since my husband blew them a few weeks ago.

  • Mow the lawn
  • Trim the bushes
  • Clean the house

Isn’t this supposed to be a list of things to do for Christmas?

Why am I still finding glitter everywhere?!


I’ve struggled with high-functioning anxiety all my life. I’ve always opted to manage my anxiety with a combination of exercise and therapy – but what about food? I’m not talking about eating our feelings; I’m talking about using food as medicine.

I hadn’t put much thought to this until recently, when I asked one of my health care providers how else I can manage my anxiety – aside from medications – and she recommended vitamins B complex and C.

In addition to taking a supplement, eating foods that are rich in B vitamins can be beneficial. B vitamins are necessary for healthy nerves and brain cells. For some, not having enough B vitamins can lead to anxiety and depression.

As for vitamin C, its role as it relates to mental health is two-fold. It reduces anxiety but also boosts our immune system, which is compromised when we’re under stress. Healthy eating becomes even more important when our bodies are under stress, making it even more critical to eat foods that contribute to our mental health.

Yet, somehow our bodies confuse what we need for what would taste and feel good in that moment. When we’re feeling anxious, especially those who struggle with emotional eating, we reach for certain comfort foods. A few common ones are ice cream, cereal and salty snack foods. So I’m sharing some healthy swaps that actually help your mental health and correspond to those common comfort foods.

Sweet swaps

Swap ice cream for Greek yogurt blueberry parfait

Greek yogurt is a great source of protein, in addition to the usual suspects like meat and fish. Others are beans, cheese, eggs, lentils, nuts and soy. Protein helps to increase the production of brain chemicals norepinephrine and dopamine, which regulate mood.

Blueberries are a great source of antioxidants and vitamin C.

Healthier swap: Greek yogurt blueberry parfait

Serves 1

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup nonfat plain Greek yogurt
  • 1 cup blueberries
  • 1 graham cracker, crushed

Instructions:

  1. Place yogurt into a small bowl.
  2. Top with blueberries and graham cracker.

Swap cereal for overnight oats

Oats are a carbohydrate, which increase production of serotonin, which regulates appetite, sleep and aggression and enhances memory and learning abilities. Carbohydrates are the body’s primary fuel source. I opt for old fashioned-oats instead of instant oatmeal, because old-fashioned oats are higher in fiber. I add blueberries for vitamin C.

Healthier swap: Blueberry overnight oats

Serves 1

Ingredients:

  • ½ cup old fashioned oats
  • Splash of vanilla or original unsweetened almond milk or nonfat milk, enough to cover the oats
  • 1 cup of blueberries
  • 1 packet stevia

Instructions:

  1. Place oats into a two-cup container or slightly larger. (I use a round two-cup Pyrex container. Others use mason jars.)
  2. Cover oats with milk.
  3. Place blueberries on top.
  4. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
  5. The next morning, take them out of the fridge and microwaved slightly covered for 1½ minutes.
  6. Mix up milk-soaked oats and blueberries.
  7. Mix in stevia.

Savory swaps

Swap potato chips for kale chips

Leafy greens are rich in magnesium, the mineral that helps to regulate cortisol levels and promote feelings of wellbeing.

Healthier swap: Oven-baked kale chips

Ingredients:

  • 1 bunch kale
  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil
  • Seasoning optional and to taste:
    • Sea salt
    • Black ground pepper, to taste
    • Chili powder
    • Garlic powder
    • Onion powder
    • Paprika
  • Cooking spray

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit, and lightly coat two large baking sheets with cooking spray.
  2. Wash and thoroughly dry kale. Remove stems with knife or kitchen scissors, and cut into 1½-inch or so pieces.
  3. Mix olive oil and seasonings in large bowl. Add kale pieces, and combine so each kale piece is coated with olive oil and seasoning mixture.
  4. Arrange kale pieces on baking sheets, and bake for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes, check on the kale chips. Edges should be brown but not charred. If the edges aren’t brown yet, bake for 5 more minutes.

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