Four Staples to Improve Eye Health

Here’s a common freelancer and full-timer scenario that has happened to me time and time again: I will read some article until the end on my laptop and decide to read it again for clarity. But on that second go around, I’m squinting like this:

 

 

Eyestrain—it is the mortal enemy of many of us who work on computer screens all day, every day. Maintaining our eye health should be a huge concern for all of us. Some research indicates that a link between certain eye disorders and free radical damage. Antioxidants such as carotenoids help prevent this damage that may lead to conditions such as cataract and age-related macular degeneration, which is the leading cause of severe visual loss in people age 50 and older in the United States. Carotenoids are the pigments that give fruits and vegetables their vibrant colors. Lutein and zeaxanthin are two of the carotenoids responsible for preventing those eye disorders. And unfortunately, I hate to break it to you, but carrots are not high in either of these carotenoids ☹(still eat them because they are a good source of beta-carotene). Don’t fret though, many other fruits and vegetables provide these two powerhouse eye nutrients, here are some of the ones that I enjoy eating:

Spinach

When I started my vegan journey three years ago, my green vegetable of choice was spinach. Spinach provided all the nutrients that I was looking for such as vitamins C, E, K, and B9, magnesium and calcium. And spinach is milder in taste for me than other green veggies like kale. But spinach, like many green vegetables, is high in lutein. In fact, it has been reported that 50g of cooked spinach may be sufficient for satisfying the daily recommended requirement for these carotenoids. Please note that spinach contains oxalates and too much oxalates may lead to the development of renal calcium stones. Though I have expanded my palate to other green veggies, I still hold a special place in my heart for spinach. I prefer my raw spinach in a nice side salad.

 

Orange juice

I was raised with orange juice as a constant in my household. I think my Jamaican parents thought it was a mark of being a real American to buy a certain popular brand of orange juice. Every now and then, we would stray and pick up some other fruit juice or two but no matter what, we always picked up orange juice at the market. And now my husband and I maintain that tradition. We all know that orange juice is chock full of antioxidants vitamin C and flavonoids. The juice also contains folate and fortified juices may contain other nutrients such as vitamin D and calcium. In addition, orange juice is a great source of provitamin A carotenoids and other carotenoids such as lutein and zeaxanthin. What else is there to say about orange juice? Have it whenever the mood strikes.

 

Corn tortillas

I know, I know, it is a very odd choice for a list of natural foods to promote eye health. Corn tortillas are usually made by a process referred to as nixtamalization. During nixtamalization, corn is soaked and boiled in water and lime (calcium hydroxide) to form masa. The masa is used to make products like tortillas and tortilla chips. This process is critical in terms of making corn products because it enhances the nutritional value of corn. Nixtamalized corn reduces the phytic acid for better mineral availability and it contains significant amounts of calcium, protein, and niacin. Corn doesn’t have niacin and people who rely on a corn-heavy diet are vulnerable to the disease pellagra. But corn products such as tortillas are rich in lutein and zeaxanthin. Most of the time I like to use corn tortillas for tacos, however, vegan enchiladas are a great treat too.

 

Cilantro

Cilantro used to be synonymous with fresh guacamole for me. I honestly don’t remember having it any other time beyond that prior to my vegan days. Cilantro can be so much more than that. This herb is great for flavoring curries, noodles, and pesto dishes. Cilantro is an antioxidant herb loaded with vitamin A and vitamin C. It also has vitamin K, thiamine, zinc, and fiber. Some studies suggest that cilantro may be an effective treatment for lowering blood sugar levels and relieving gastrointestinal conditions. What’s more, it is wonderful for great eye health because it is high in lutein. Sometimes simple is best when it comes to an ingredient like cilantro and use a few sprigs to brighten up a rice dish like this one.

So those are some of the foods I use to boost my eye health. What works for you?

Five Ways to Handle Headaches

Last Sunday, I woke up with a bothersome sinus headache. I knew that it was connected to the pollen floating around from the previous day. In fact, as my family and I were driving back and forth for our errands, my son looked out the car window and pointed to the small white wisps and said, “Look at all the pollen blowing in the wind!” I rarely get headaches at all, thank goodness, but unfortunately headaches are all too common for many people that we know and love. Common triggers for headaches may include:

  • Foods such as ripened cheeses, chocolate, vinegar, and fermented foods
  • Caffeine
  • Hunger
  • Dehydration
  • Drug-related reactions
  • Hormonal factors such as menstruation and pregnancy
  • Visual stimuli such as glare, eyestrain, and flicker
  • Odors and smells such as paint and exhaust fumes
  • Seasonal factors such as sudden changes in weather, humidity, heat, and cold
  • Allergens such as pollen
  • Head trauma
  • Neck pain
  • Sexual intercourse

Chronic headaches can result in lost peace of mind and income. It is estimated that 156 full-time work days were lost because of headaches, at a possible cost of $25 billion in lost productivity. So it is absolutely important to identify these triggers and to prevent these headaches from occurring if possible. And most importantly, seek professional medical attention if you are a chronic sufferer.

On the rare occasions that I do have a headache, there are certain foods that I like to indulge in for relief. Here are some of them:

Green Tea

Green tea leaves contain caffeine (I know, I know, I just said caffeine may be a trigger—I’ll explain), theophylline, essential oils, and polyphenols. Okay, caffeine influences the central nervous system by decreasing fatigue, increasing wakefulness, and facilitating idea association. That’s why we like it now and again, but moderation is the key. In addition, theophylline causes a relaxation of the bronchial smooth muscle and stimulates on a respiratory level. This is beneficial for those of us who are suffering from allergy-related headaches. Also, those polyphenols are powerful antioxidants that have anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties that boost our immune system, definitely a plus when healing your body. Green tea is my beverage of choice for most mornings. I have it plain without an ounce of sweetener (it took me a while to get used to that!) with a dash of amla powder and lemon or ginger juice.

 

Cayenne Pepper

Cayenne Pepper contains the compound capsaicin that stimulates circulation and aids digestion.  Some evidence suggests that capsaicin has strong anti-inflammatory properties that may be useful in treating conditions such as neuropathic pain. And some clinical studies have found that capsaicin may be effective in relieving and preventing sinus headaches, cluster headaches, and migraine headaches. Cayenne peppers also contain vitamins and minerals such as vitamins A, C, and E, calcium, magnesium, iron, and potassium. I like to sprinkle cayenne pepper on my morning avocado toast on when I need it.

Garlic

I grew up with a Jamaican mother who wouldn’t hesitate to put fresh garlic or garlic powder on any meal she was preparing for dinner that night. And when I say garlic, I don’t mean a dash. I mean a full-blown massive attack where you are walking away with some halitosis. I am proud and, a little bit scared to admit, that I inherited a little of her sensibilities when it comes to this plant. I don’t think I put as much garlic in my dishes as she did, but just enough for my husband to yell that he can smell it from the living room 😊. Garlic is a stimulant, antiseptic, antihypertensive, and carminative. This plant has vitamin A, C, sulfur, iron, calcium, selenium, magnesium and manganese. But most importantly, garlic contains compounds such as allicin that have antioxidant properties for scavenging the body for those damaging free radicals, which is definitely helpful when combating pain. I like to have raw garlic cloves with my dinner for that extra boost of flavor.

 

Ginger

One major rule in my household is that we use garlic and ginger in treating a lot of common illnesses like colds and coughs. Again, it’s the Jamaican background, my friend. Ginger, like garlic, is a potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory. This plant has been studied as a treatment for conditions such as post-operative nausea and vomiting. But some studies indicate that ginger may be as effective as medications like sumatriptan for treating acute* migraines. I like to have a spoonful of fresh minced ginger first thing in the morning before eating any meal. Lately, I’ve been enjoying this brand below.

 

Magnesium-Rich Food

I have spoken about why it is important to have magnesium as a staple in your diet here. Magnesium deficiency may be associated with headaches. For example, some studies have shown that low magnesium levels have been found in patients with cluster headaches. And it has been reported that magnesium may be an effective complementary treatment for migraines. I like to take the preventive route and have a high magnesium food like chickpeas with rice when I feel the slightest bit of pressure coming on.

 

So these are some of the ways I ward off headache woes. How do you do it?

*Again, please note that I am not a medical professional, so it is absolutely important to consult one before using any method to treat a serious condition.

Four Tips to Allay Anxiety

Memorial day weekend is finally here! That means cookouts, family gatherings, and late-night fiestas with friends and long-lost acquaintances. But for some of us more introverted folks, that means a potential case of anxiety. Don’t get me wrong—I love to socialize with my peeps when I get the opportunity, which is far and few between these days. But as a WAHM, I’m used to spending hours alone during the week with random social media breaks then afternoons/evenings with my husband and son. So I look at opportunities for social events with lots of excitement and nervousness. Let me be clear: I am referring to mild anxiety that a person may experience with specific events like starting a new job, meeting a potential bae, or speaking in front a group of people. This differs from social phobia that can prevent you from functioning and meeting basic needs. Please seek the help a physician if you suffer from the latter.

Anywho, one of the first things that I like to indulge in foods that are rich in magnesium, calcium, and potassium since those nutrients tend to get depleted during high anxiety times. Some studies suggest that magnesium deficiency may be linked to anxiety. Magnesium works together with calcium and potassium for optimal health. Fortified orange juice and plant-based milk, spinach, and almonds are some great choices. In addition, some research indicates an association between vitamin C and cognitive performance, particularly in older adults, so definitely boost your intake of those foods such as strawberries, citrus fruits, leafy green veggies, and potatoes. Here are some other things that I include in my diet during those anxious moments:

Vitamin B12

Among the vitamins and nutrients that are decreased during times of stress are B complex vitamins. This is bad, very bad. For example, low levels of folate are linked to depression. And deficiency of vitamin B12 has been associated with age-related cognitive impairment. This is particularly crucial for vegans because most vegan sources of B12 only contain trace amounts or are inactive. You can read this article for further details. And while many fortified foods do contain this vitamin, supplementation is the key. I take a B12 supplement in addition to my multivitamin throughout the week.

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Chickpeas

Chickpeas (garbanzo) are a good source of carbohydrates and protein. This pulse contains dietary fiber, zinc, magnesium, and calcium. Chickpeas are also a high folate food. But more importantly, chickpeas have tryptophan, a precursor to serotonin, the good-mood neurotransmitter. Foods with high levels of tryptophan also contain amino acids that all compete for access into your brain so very little of tryptophan gets beyond that blood-brain barrier. Chickpeas are the exception to this crappy scenario. I like chickpeas salads during the warmer weather but I love falafels all day, any day. I enjoy them in salads, tacos, with rice in my own Buddha bowl, whatever floats my boat.

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Walnuts

Walnuts are high in omega 3 polyunsaturated fatty acids. For more on that information, please read here. Some studies have shown links between low levels of omega 3 fatty acids with mood disorders and social anxiety disorder. These nuts contain vitamin E, folate, and fiber. Walnuts also have the antioxidant melatonin, which facilitates sleep. My husband is a real walnut aficionado and he puts them on his morning yogurt. I tend to like them chopped in my baked goods like muffins or other desserts.

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Flaxseeds

Flaxseeds are probably one of the top sources of omega 3 polyunsaturated fatty acids. What’s more, these seeds contain B vitamins, vitamin E, magnesium, iron, and manganese. Some studies have shown that flaxseeds are an anti-inflammatory beneficial in combating cardiovascular diseases and an antioxidant with some anti-cancerous properties. Also, some research indicates that flaxseeds may be effective in conditions such as blood clotting and regulating reproductive function and insomnia. I’m really feeling this flax cracker brand as a snack during my hectic anxiety-provoking afternoons.

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Special note: I absolutely believe in the concept of self-care and highly encourage others to engage in it. So if you need to, take a break from whatever you are doing, breathe, and do what you need to do when you need to do it. Enjoy a safe, happy, and healthy holiday!

Six Suggestions for Soothing an Upset Stomach

As I mentioned before, I have suffered from many allergies and chronic inflammation MY…ENTIRE…LIFE. As a result, sometimes I can experience lots of moments of embarrassing and uncomfortable indigestion. You know the kind where you’re sitting at your laptop and you have to tighten your abs—not because you’re pretending to be Vin Diesel—but because you want to prevent your stomach from making a horrible gurgling sound. Okay, maybe it’s just me 😊. Stress, diet, and side effects from medication can also cause an upset stomach. One of the first things I like to do is practice an elimination diet. Too much sugar or gluten are common culprits for me. Maybe I’ll try a yoga asana like a standing forward bend or seated spinal twist to stimulate those digestive juices. You can learn more about what yoga poses help with indigestion here. There are wonderful time-tested natural solutions such as fennel seeds, ginger, dill, and turmeric that are effective with mild indigestion (BTW: please see a physician if this is a chronic condition). But there are some remedies that I return to again and again. Here are a few of them:

Basil

I grew up eating dried basil. I never knew the wonderful aroma and taste of freaking fresh basil until I was an adult. And child!

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It makes such a difference when it comes to flavoring your favorite meals. Basil is loaded with calcium, phosphorus, iron, and magnesium. This plant is an antioxidant but it is also antifungal and antibacterial. In addition, some studies have shown that it is anti-dyspepsia. That means basil contains compounds that work to alleviate indigestion. I like to put fresh basil on pretty much anything like quinoa, sandwiches, and pasta.

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Miso

If you have any kind of gastrointestinal issues, I highly recommend fermented foods like sauerkraut, tempeh, and miso. Miso is made from soybean bean paste fermented with yeast, mold, and bacteria and then it’s combined with salt and water (Note: miso can also be made from rice, barley, and chickpeas). It can be aged from one month to three years. Younger misos are lighter colored than the older ones. Miso contains vitamins and minerals such as vitamin B2, vitamin E, choline, lecithin, and vitamin B12 . The real magic happens during the fermentation process. Soy contains carbohydrates that are difficult to break down for digestion. But the fermentation process degrades complex carbohydrates and proteins to make soy much easier to digest. When I have an upset stomach that won’t quit, I love to have a cup of miso soup. Just a scoop of my favorite miso with some warm water and I’m good to go!

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Chamomile

Chamomile is probably one of the best herbs for nervous tension and anxiety. As a child of West Indian parents, peppermint was a huge staple in my household. So I didn’t discover chamomile until I was a teenager. I honestly don’t remember why I decided to try it but I’m so glad I did. If you are a chamomile fan, you know that it provides serenity and calm in this chaotic world and sometimes we all need that. Numerous studies have shown that chamomile is anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, and antispasmodic.  This antioxidant herb has also been used to treat sluggish digestion, diarrhea, and nausea. Recently, I found this yummy tea with plum overtones that has chamomile as a primary ingredient along other herbs such as licorice and gotu kola.

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Thyme

Growing up, I remember my father putting handfuls of fresh thyme in dishes like rice and peas. That oregano-type taste was always comforting and warming to the tongue. It wasn’t my mind playing tricks on me. In fact, carvacrol and thymol, two major components of thyme, create that warming sensation. Also, these constituents work to ease flatulence and soothe the digestive system. What’s more, thyme is antimicrobial and antifungal. It is great for relieving congestion associated with colds because it stimulates the lungs and expels mucus. If my stomach has been flip-flopping during the day, I will sprinkle dried thyme on my evening meal.

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Millet

Millet is high in protein and dietary fiber, and it contains essential amino acids such as methionine and cysteine. This antifungal grain is rich in phytochemicals like phytic acid that lower cholesterol. But millet is also a prebiotic that stimulates the growth of bacteria that is beneficial to the colon. And it is gluten-free, which is helpful for those of us who suffer from certain digestive disorders or chronic indigestion. I really love this veggie burger that is made with millet (and I’ve tried countless ones over the years!). I almost always have a veggie burger for lunch with a chopped salad of broccoli, tomato, and avocado. It is simple, comforting, and of course, delicious.

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Limes

My husband recently turned me on to limes. I’m usually more of a lemon kind of gal. He started putting slices of limes in his glass of water and I was intrigued. Limes are high in vitamin C and fiber, and low in cholesterol. We all know that citrus fruits like limes are good sources of flavonoids that may protect the body against cancer and cardiovascular diseases. Some studies suggest that citrus flavonoids aid in the digestion process.

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Those are my stomach soothers—what works for you?

Five Tips for Alleviating Allergies

During the early spring and late fall, allergies can be quite grueling for me. For years, the inflammation from allergens like pollen or ragweed resulted in severe eczema. Other times, I get into coughing or sneezing fits. The first thing I like to do is make sure I have plenty of rest. It’s harder for allergies to attack your immune system if your body is operating at full speed. Then, I like to minimize or eliminate whatever stress exists in my life, which is easier said than done. But I find once I do those things, the other methods just ease your body along as it heals.

The magic weapon that I have found against allergies is to stock up on natural antioxidants and anti-inflammatory foods. Why? Antioxidants such as vitamin C protect the body from free radical damage and anti-inflammatories suppress the effects of histamines that make allergies a frigging nightmare. With that said, here are five ways that I like to attack allergies:

Kombucha

I have been drinking kombucha for years. I love, love, love GT’s Kombucha brand. Kombucha has B vitamins and vitamin C. In addition, it contains lactic acid, which makes it antimicrobial. But what makes this beverage special is gluconic acid that detoxifies the body. I usually like to drink kombucha with my dinner anyway on most weeknights but when allergy season hits, I indulge in a little extra.

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Amla Powder

Amla, amla, amla. If I could, I would have ya all day, every day. Amla is a superfruit: according to some studies, it is reported to contain 20 times more vitamin C than orange juice! It contains quercetin, which like vitamin C, is a natural antihistamine. So just taking amla alone will do wonders for allergies. Some research indicates that amla is also anti-inflammatory and anticarcinogenic. Since amla fruit is hard to get in my neck of the woods, I settle for the powder. I like to sprinkle about ¼ of a teaspoon in a cup of tea or orange juice. Please note that amla is a diuretic, so take it as needed.

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Sweet Potatoes

Sweet potatoes are bae! I love sweet potato fries, sweet potato soup, baked sweet potato, stir-fried sweet potato, sweet potato tacos—the list goes on and on. Sweet potatoes are a great source of vitamin A in the form of beta-carotene, as well as other antioxidants like vitamin C and E. This makes sweet potatoes powerful free radical fighters. In fact, some varieties of sweet potatoes may contain more than the daily recommended value of vitamin A. I like to drizzle unsulfured blackstrap molasses on thick slices of sweet potatoes for an extra boost of essential nutrients such as iron, magnesium, selenium, and potassium.

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Kale

Whenever I feel any sort of allergy symptom like a scratchy throat or congested chest, I immediately amp up my intake of kale. Kale is packed full of flavonoids, which protect the body against chronic conditions such as cardiovascular diseases and certain types of cancer. This also means that kale contains antioxidants and is anti-inflammatory. I admit: it took me a really long time to appreciate the magic of kale. I had to get used to it. So start off by enjoying a small cup of sautéed kale then work your way up to raw kale.

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Pineapple

What I absolutely love about pineapple is that it has a high-water content. I love to eat chopped pineapple right before I leave the house to run a few errands. Pineapple contains bromelain, which is another great anti-inflammatory agent. Some studies indicate that bromelain can also speed healing and reduce swelling and pain associated with certain conditions like hay fever.

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Those are my five–what are some ways that you deal with allergies?

 

 

Five Great Ways to Fight Fatigue

This past week has been really really challenging: my son was off for spring break, the neighbors were especially noisy (#livinginNY), and we experienced indiscriminate weather changes like dry heat/low humidity one minute then moist air/high pollen count the next minute. Not to mention other personal or self-employment stresses. Just make ya wanna holla. So, getting a good night’s rest can be an issue. But I know that when these situations pop up, the very first thing I need to do before I employ any sort of natural remedy is to give thanks for the things that I do have. I have a healthy family, a place to sleep, and food to eat. And believe me, that is a lot! Gratitude must be the foundation for any true healing to begin. Okay, enough preaching—here are some of the things that I use to combat fatigue:

Ashwagandha

I have recently started using this adaptogen and it is bananas how well it works. Adaptogens allow us to handle environmental stressors without further damage to our bodies. This differs from a stimulant, which can decrease brain catecholamines like dopamine, epinephrine, and norepinephrine. Various studies indicate that ashwagandha has antistress, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant properties. When I feel especially exhausted, I combine the suggested dose with a glass of water before breakfast. Please note that some studies indicate that ashwagandha may alter thyroid function and testosterone levels, so please consult a doctor if needed.

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Sunlight and Vitamin D supplementation

Soak up as much sun as possible when you can. Consistent fatigue may be a sign of vitamin D deficiency. Older adults, those with increased skin pigmentation (e.g. African Americans like me), those that are obese, and those on medication are especially at risk for deficiency. When possible, I try to work sitting near an open window but this can be difficult during the colder months. So, I supplement with a multivitamin that contains 1,000 IU of vitamin D. The daily recommended dose is 600 IU for those age 1 to 70 years and pregnant or breastfeeding women. You can find out more about it here. In addition, many fortified foods like milk and orange juice contain vitamin D. Again, please consult your doctor if needed.

Shiitake Mushrooms

Shiitake mushrooms are an excellent source of vitamin D, vitamin B, fiber, selenium, zinc, and iron. They are also antimicrobial. What’s more, some research suggests that these mushrooms may boost energy, which is a godsend for us tired folks. I like to drizzle olive oil on shiitake mushrooms and scallions and bake them in an oven for about 8 to 9 minutes. You can toss in a nervine herb like rosemary to ward off any issues associated with fatigue like sadness. (BTW, this is a pic of some random fungi that I took while I was walking but it looks similar to shiitake so enjoy😉)

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Tomatoes

Sometimes, I’ll indulge in a small plate of chopped tomatoes on a veggie burger sans bun for lunch to prevent that midday slump around 3:00 or 4:00 pm. Tomatoes are one of many vegetables that contain tyramine, an amino acid that encourages the release of norepinephrine, a brain stimulant. Enjoy some tomato salsa with fresh cilantro when you need that extra boost of energy.

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Ginger

Ginger is an absolute staple in our home. We use it for colds and digestion issues and, unfortunately, there are plenty of that in our household! Ginger is a circulatory stimulant that can increase blood flow to extremities like hands and feet—a definite plus when you’re fatigued. I like to have a cup of green tea with a splash of ginger juice first thing in the morning. I also like to have a few ginger slices with my avocado toast.

These are some of the tips I use to fight fatigue. What are some ways that you handle it?

How I Manage Stress–And You Can Too!

Confession time: I am not always great at managing stress. In fact, there are times when I get angry and just like most people and say the wrong thing or slam a door or two. But there are times when I’m aces at handling stress. I’ve found that when unexpected situations pop up I can usually deal with them just fine. The situations that are difficult involve times when I go against my personality or nature. For example, I am an introvert, so I energize by being alone in quiet settings. So a challenge might be dealing with a person who is the opposite (i.e. an extrovert) in a confined setting. Or another stressor might be when I push myself in a decision to do something that I honestly don’t believe in. The lesson here is be as authentic as humanly possible in everything that you do.

But I digress, here are a few of the stress-relieving tips that have helped me:

Pumpkin Seeds

Okay, let’s just pause for a second so I can just explain how much I love pumpkin seeds!

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Pumpkins seeds are just crunchy and satisfying and wonderful! One cup of pumpkin seeds equals a whopping 168 mg of magnesium. Magnesium deficiency is tied to stress. I like to sprinkle some in my morning chia seed pudding of coconut milk yogurt and oatmeal. Occasionally, I’ll put a small amount in my homemade protein balls made from shredded coconut, almond flour, and carob powder. It is simple and delicious just the way I like it.

 

Coconut oil

Yes, I know, I know, *cue yawn*. What can’t coconut oil do? Coconut oil is a MCFA (a medium-chain fatty acid). Some of you may know that this MCFA promotes better calorie burn in the body because it goes to the liver instead of the muscles or fat like other saturated fats. But did you know that coconut oil can also be an antistress oil too? A 2014 study on showed mice treated with virgin coconut oil exhibited increased levels of brain antioxidants, which may prevent further neuronal damage. I like to put at least a teaspoon or so of coconut oil on my morning avocado toast. Talk about starting the day off right!

 

Lavender essential oil

This oil has been a godsend for myself and my family. Lavender oil has antifungal and antibacterial properties. Whenever a cold is about to hit one of us, we sprinkle a few drops in a steaming shower and we are good to go! But studies have also shown that lavender oil can also induce sleep and relieve anxiety. I also use lavender oil in my homemade hair leave-in spray of amla powder and aloe vera gel.

 

There you have it. These are just some of the ways that I manage stress—what are a few ways that work for you?