The holidays are, for the most part, pretty fun. You see family you rarely get to see, eat foods you rarely get to eat, and party with a frequency that’s only feasible once every 12 months. But, let’s face it, the holidays also come with a lot of stress. From too much of Aunt Rita’s “special” egg nog to far too many dinner table debates and hours spent breathing recycled shopping mall air, they can be mentally, emotionally, and physically taxing. The good news is that there are a few key nutrients that can help support your body and your mind while riding this runaway sleigh ride.
Here are 6 nutrients to help combat the bittersweet stressors of the holiday season:
If minerals were celebrities, magnesium would be the actress you’ve never heard of, that comes out of nowhere and steals the Oscar from J. Law. In other words, magnesium is very talented, but hasn’t gotten a ton of press.
Magnesium is needed for over 350 enzymatic reactions. It’s crucial to our energy levels, as it helps create ATP (adenosine triphosphate) – the molecule that stores the energy we need to do just about everything – and it helps us relax. Magnesium is known as the “anti-stress” mineral thanks to its calming effects on the nervous system. Unfortunately, adrenaline, our body’s primary stress hormone, requires a large supply of magnesium. It’s a catch-22:
Stress depletes us of the nutrient that helps us de-stress.
To get more magnesium, add spinach, pumpkin seeds, almonds, black beans, and avocado to your diet. Magnesium is also easily absorbed through the skin, so, for a truly relaxing experience, try adding Epsom salts to a nighttime bath or #treatyoself to a massage with magnesium-infused body oil or lotion.
Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that helps support our immune system and is critical during times of stress. When we’re stressed or confronted with danger, our adrenal glands secrete vitamin C as part of our “fight or flight” response – the process that prepares our bodies for action by increasing heart rate, blood pressure, and the amount of oxygen to the brain. But it’s not just last-minute deadlines or hairy Grinches coming down dark alleyways that activate this response.
Stress can be mental, environmental, and physical – even intense exercise can be a stress.
So if you’re spending the holidays traveling to different environments and climates, hitting the gym extra hard in an effort to keep those pecan pie pounds at bay, or even just spending more time on your feet battling hoards at the Apple store, be aware that you could probably use some extra vitamin C. The foods highest in vitamin C are bell peppers, guavas, dark leafy greens, kiwis, and broccoli.
Smarty Tip: Vitamin C is easily damaged by heat, so it’s best to eat foods containing vitamin C, raw or only very lightly cooked.
The omega 3 fatty acids DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) support brain health and a healthy inflammatory response – two areas that could definitely use some extra help during the holiday season. In the diet, omega 3 fatty acids work to balance omega 6 fatty acids, which come from plant oils such as corn oil, soybean oil, and sunflower oil. According to many healthcare practitioners, the ideal ratio of omega 6 to 3 should be from 1:1 to 5:1. Unfortunately, some research indicates that the balance in Western diets can be as high as 25:1, as omega 6 oils are present in almost every processed and packaged food and are the primary oils used in most restaurants.
During these times of eating, drinking, and making merry, it’s a good idea to remember the 3s. The best dietary sources of EPA and DHA are wild-caught fish such as salmon and sardines, and some types of sea algae. While you can get the omega 3 fatty acid ALA from plant sources such as flax and chia seeds, it must be converted by our bodies into DHA and EPA, and the rate of conversion for most people is less than 5%. If you don’t eat animal products, and you’re not a fan of algae, you can try supplementing with a high-quality omega 3 fish oil like the kind in SmartyPants, that comes from wild-caught, sustainable small fish. For more about the kind of fish oil we use in our gummies read here.
With the holidays come parties and with parties come booze. You’re also probably spending more time on the go, trekking through airports, grocery stores, return lines, and it’s easy to forget to hydrate. According to Dr. Fereydoon Batmanghelidj, dehydration can lead to a host of unpleasant side effects including headaches, fatigue, and irritability. Sound like the holidays anyone? Of course, some headaches can’t be avoided, but wouldn’t it be nice if a few of the aches and pains that come along with this hectic season could be alleviated with a little H2O?
Smarty Tip: If you’re guzzling water like there’s no tomorrow, and the only change you notice is the frequent need to hit the bathroom, try adding a pinch of high-quality sea salt.
Sodium is an electrolyte, or, a mineral with an electric charge. Levels of electrolytes in your body can change when the amount of water in your body changes and it’s important to maintain balance. If you want to go the extra mile and be a super smarty health all-star, you can make your own electrolyte beverage (our version of Gatorade) by mixing filtered water with sea salt, trace mineral drops, lemon juice, and a bit of honey.
Bacteria is something we generally try and avoid, especially during cold and flu season, but certain kinds of bacteria can actually help keep us healthy. Probiotics are live bacteria and yeasts that are naturally found in our bodies and have been shown to help support digestion, mood and energy balance, and immunity – all areas that are put to the test during the holidays. But probiotics, otherwise known as beneficial, or “good,” bacteria, can be killed easily by exposure to light, heat, stomach acid, as well as several aspects of modern life including stress and alcohol.
So what should you do about it? Familiarize yourself with the 5 Little-Known Things Killing Your Good Gut Bugs. Then make an effort to get more beneficial bacteria into your diet. Some of the foods highest in probiotic bacteria include fermented foods such as unpasteurized sauerkraut and kimchee, and yogurts that contain “live active cultures.” You can also try a probiotic supplement like SmartyPants Adult Probiotic Complete and Kids Probiotic Complete. For more info on probiotics, why they’re good for us, and how to pick the best ones, check out our interview with Dr. Pamela Peeke.
Fiber goes hand-in-hand with probiotics, as probiotic bacteria need food to survive and a certain kind of fiber, known as PRE-biotic fiber, is an ideal food for these good gut bugs. The foods highest in prebiotic fiber include chicory root, Jerusalem artichokes, dandelion greens, raw garlic, leeks, and onions. But, outside of onions and garlic, the holidays are typically a time when fibrous foods take a backseat to cakes, cocktails, and charcuterie.
So, this year, rather than mindlessly munching your way through December on a diet of artisanal cheese cubes, make an effort to focus (a little) on fiber. Find out what foods are highest in dietary fiber. If you need a little extra help, you can try supplementing with soluble fiber, like the kind we use in our SmartyPants Adult Complete and Fiber.
Now more than at any other time of year, our sleep is under attack – from the weekly onslaught of rich food and naughty drink to the nights spent tossing and turning, racking your brain for what to get the boss who has everything, the sister who returns everything, and the cousin whose birthday you repeatedly forget. While you may not be able to avoid these affronts, you can give yourself a little extra support in the sleep department.
Research shows that magnesium may help relieve insomnia. It also helps muscles relax, to give you that calm, sleepy feeling and help you unwind after a long day – two more reasons to make friends with this mineral.
And while you’re massaging in your magnesium oil, don’t do it in front of the TV. Screens, including phones, computers, digital watches, e-readers, and televisions emit blue light, or, light with blue wavelengths that can be disruptive at night. According to research, exposure to blue light causes the brain to stop producing melatonin, a hormone that gives your body the “time to sleep” cue.
Our advice is to minimize exposure to blue light at least an hour before bed. But since we know that the best deals are always found trolling the interwebs in the midnight hour, there are several apps for phones and computers that help block the blue.
If you absolutely cannot do without your Elf, Christmas Vacation, or Bad Santa in bed, you could get a pair of blue light-blocking goggles. You’ll look super cool (not creepy AT ALL), and they make great stocking stuffers for the whole family!
Posted on December 5, 2016