Beat the stress clock
"What you eat impacts not only your brain functioning but whether you feel more sluggish or have the right get-up-and-go," says Leslie Bonci, R.D., director of sports medicine nutrition at the University of Pittsburgh.
In other words: Junk goes in, junk comes out.
"All energy enters the body through nutrition," says psychologist Jim Loehr, Ed.D. "So the quality of your nutrition plays a huge role in the energy you bring to the world." His company, LGE Performance Systems in Orlando, Fla., specializes in finding ways for elite athletes, emergency personnel and desk jockeys alike to be at their best 24/7. LGE's harried clients spend three days — and upward of $3,000 — to develop healthy habits to help them perform under stress. They start by learning to manage a day's worth of food.
According to Loehr, stressful days promote patterns of skipping meals and then overeating, which leads to a roller-coaster ride of energy peaks and valleys. "Our emotions, moods and focus all follow our glucose levels," he explains. To keep your energy up and your stress level low, you've got to eat the right foods, eat light and eat often.
rise, eat and shine
MANY BUSY PEOPLE skip breakfast, choosing instead to grab a cup of coffee and head out the door. They may well be hungry, but too focused on the day ahead to tune in to what their body needs. However, forgoing breakfast is a big mistake — one that sets them up to be held in thrall to their food cravings throughout the day. These folks are usually ravenous by 11 a.m. After overeating at lunch, they coast until 4 p.m., when they free fall into a blood-sugar crash, ordering a double espresso with a candy bar as a chaser. And then by the time they get home, they're ready to eat the handle off the fridge.
Loehr emphasizes that even people who can't stomach breakfast need to learn how and why to make it a priority within one hour of waking-and then to eat at regular intervals throughout the day, no matter how busy or stressed they might feel. When you skip breakfast and then eat (or overeat) a big lunch, "it causes a huge increase in blood sugar," Loehr explains. "Then insulin is released, and your blood sugar drops precipitously. You end up with a very low level of productivity and poor alertness; you feel drowsy and your brain is not working very effectively."
Apparently, there are a lot of drowsy people out there. "Ninety percent of my clients under-consume breakfast, and then at 4 p.m., they have sweet cravings, a sign that they are just too hungry from not eating well throughout the day," says nutritionist Nancy Clark, R.D., author of The Sports Nutrition Guidebook. Clark guides her clients toward eating regular small meals, spaced about four hours apart. Some people wind up eating breakfast the minute they pop out of bed, while others have to wait until they shower, dress and walk the dog. The exact timing "varies from person to person," Clark says. "It's something to experiment with."
Here's another reason to start your day off right: Members of the National Weight Control Registry report that eating breakfast is one of the key strategies they use to maintain their weight loss. (The registry is a monitored group of several thousand successful "losers" who have shed at least 30 pounds or more and kept the weight off for at least a year.) And they regularly refuel with small meals and snacks about every three hours until they hit the sack at night. So if you have to down a whole-grain waffle and a glass of nonfat milk while you're picking out shoes and searching for your keys, so be it.
eat with your hands
BEFORE YOU EMBARK on your round-the-clock eating plan, it helps to get a grip on portion size. Eating frequently means there are more opportunities to overeat — easy to do when stress levels rise — so paying special attention to portion control is very important. But there's no need to carry around measuring cups, monitor net carbs or obsess about grams of fat; you can find all the guidance you need literally right at hand.
Raquel Malo, R.D., is the director of nutrition and executive training at LGE Performance Systems. She teaches her clients — who range from air-traffic controllers to Fortune 500 executives — to measure their serving sizes by the handful. "It's a ballpark measure, but it's basically the right amount," says Malo. That's because it's tailored exactly to your size. Try putting some dry cereal in your hand and then pouring it into a measuring cup. Your hand should hold between 1/3 to ½ cup, depending on your body size. (Very large hands will hold 2/3 cup.) You then can gauge how much you should eat of other foods: For example, if your hand holds only 1/3 cup of Cheerios, you probably want to eat a thin slice of bread rather than a thick one.
In Malo's book, a good way to get a balanced meal is to eat one handful of protein-rich food along with two handfuls of fruits or vegetables and two handfuls of grain products. For example, a healthful breakfast could consist of a handful of scrambled eggs (about 1 to 2 eggs), a handful of chopped tomatoes, a handful of strawberries and two handfuls of cooked grains like grits or oatmeal. Lunch might be 3 to 4 ounces of salmon, a small roll, and single handfuls each of wild rice, asparagus and raspberries.
"This is fun, though women usually pick it up faster than men," Malo says, "You don't have to get obsessed with grams of carbohydrates, protein or fat, and it helps get you on an even keel for meals." It also enables highly stressed people to face the challenge of eating in restaurants, on planes or hunched over their desks.
EATING HEALTHY, properly portioned foods about every three hours will help keep your blood-sugar levels steady and thwart your urge to overeat junk foods, even on your most hectic days. For most people, says Loehr, this regimen means eating "probably three meals plus two to three snacks."
Studies suggest that it takes that kind of regular eating to achieve optimal mental and physical performance, including your body's ability to stave off illness. (To boost your immune system even more, select foods with healing benefits, such as the ones listed at left.) "I've really come to believe that the body can handle an awful lot as long as you don't overdo it," Loehr says. "Small portions and regular meals allow you to be more flexible without going into this survival mode of overeating when you're stressed."
To help get you started, we've created a one-day plan — with meals and snacks scheduled strategically — along with nutrient-rich, stress-busting recipes for you to try. The three meals and three snacks in this sampler will help keep you focused and calm until bedtime. Follow the plan, and you'll get around 2,000 calories, consisting of 25 percent fat, 50 percent carbs and 25 percent protein, plus more than 30 grams of dietary fiber and upward of 1,200 milligrams of calcium. The ingredient measurements here are intended for an average-sized female, so if you're larger or smaller, adjust your serving sizes accordingly. How? It's all in the palm of your hand.
spaghetti puttanesca SERVES 4
PREP TIME: 10 minutes
COOK TIME: 11 minutes
nutrient note: Whole-wheat spaghetti is loaded with fiber and B vitamins; tomatoes are brimming with lycopene; olives are a good source of monounsaturated fat. For a protein boost, add 8 ounces shrimp or cubed halibut once you bring the tomato mixture to a simmer; cooking time remains the same.
12 ounces whole-wheat spaghetti
2 teaspoons olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 28-ounce can petite-cut diced tomatoes or
regular diced tomatoes
12 pitted Creek (kalamata or Gaeta) olives,
2 tablespoons drained capers
½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon dried oregano
¼ cup chopped fresh basil
Cook Spaghetti according to package directions. Drain and cover with foil to keep warm.
Meanwhile, heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add garlic and cook 1 minute. Add tomatoes, olives, capers, red pepper flakes, and oregano, and bring mixture to a simmer. Reduce heat to low and simmer, uncovered, 10 minutes, until mixture thickens slightly. Stir in basil and remove from heat.
Place spaghetti in four shallow bowls and spoon tomato mixture over top.
PER SERVING (2/3 cup sauce, 1 ½ cups cooked spaghetti): 386 calories, 13% fat (5 g; 0.5 g saturated), 73% carbs (70 g), 14% protein (14 g), n g fiber, 49 mg calcium, 706 mg sodium.
tofu-cherry tomato kebabs with buttermilk-blue cheese dip SERVES 4
PREP TIME: 15 MINUTES
COOK TIME: 7-10 MINUTES
nutrient note: Tofu contains cancer-fighting phytoestrogens; tomatoes boost immune function; zucchini is a good source of folate; calcium-rich buttermilk enhances healthy bacteria.
1 pound extra-firm tofu, cut into 2-inch cubes
16 cherry tomatoes
1 zucchini, quartered and cut into 2-inch cubes
½ cup reduced-sodium teriyaki sauce
½ cup low-fat buttermilk
4 tablespoons crumbled blue cheese
3 tablespoons nonfat sour cream
1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives
4 cups cooked somen or soba noodles
Place tofu, cherry tomatoes and zucchini in a large bowl. Add ¼ cup teriyaki sauce and toss to coat. Marinate 1 hour, or refrigerate up to 24 hours.
Coat a grill or grill pan with cooking spray, and heat (or coat a baking sheet and cook the skewers under the broiler).
Place pieces of tofu, cherry tomatoes and zucchini onto 4 skewers. (Soak wooden skewers before using.) Grill skewers 7 to 10 minutes, until golden brown, turning them every 2 to 3 minutes to promote even browning.
In a medium bowl, combine buttermilk, blue cheese, sour cream and chives. Mix well.
Toss noodles with remaining teriyaki. Serve skewers over noodles with dip on the side.
PER SERVING (1 skewer, 1 cup noodles, 3 tablespoons dip): 409 calories, 12% fat (5 g; 1.7 g saturated), 66% carbs (67 g), 22% protein (22 g), 3 g fiber, 117 mg calcium, 1359 mg sodium.
oven-roasted halibut with grapefruit-orange chutney SERVES 4
PREP TIME: 10 MINUTES
COOK TIME: 20-25 MINUTES
nutrient note: Halibut has omega-3 fatty acids; citrus is loaded with vitamin C; and red onion contains cancer-fighting sulfur compounds.
1 cup grapefruit sections
1 cup orange sections
½ cup diced red onion
1/3 cup golden raisins
2 tablespoons white-wine vinegar
2 tablespoons brown sugar
4 5-ounce halibut fillets salt and freshly ground
4 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary
3 cups cooked brown rice (regular or instant)
2 cups steamed broccoli
Preheat the oven to 400°F. Coat a shallow baking pan with cooking spray.
In a medium saucepan, mix grapefruit and orange sections (set aside a few for garnish), red onion, raisins, vinegar and brown sugar. Set pan over medium-high heat and bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to medium and simmer 20 to 25 minutes, until sauce thickens.
Meanwhile, season both sides of halibut fillets with salt and pepper. Place in prepared pan and top each fillet with teaspoon rosemary. Bake 15 minutes, until fish is fork-tender.
Arrange halibut on plates and spoon chutney over top. Serve with rice and broccoli on the side. Garnish with a few sections of grapefruit and orange.
PER SERVING (1 fillet, 1/3 cup chutney, ¾ cup rice, ½ cup broccoli): 413 calories, 9% fat (4 g; 0.8 g saturated), 61% carbs (63 g), 30% protein (31 g), 8 g fiber, 152 mg calcium, 87 mg sodium.
edam wrap with sliced pears, baby spinach and walnut dip SERVES 4
PREP TIME: 10 MINUTES
nutrient note: Whole-wheat tortillas provide more B vitamins and fiber than their white-flour counterparts; pears are rich in soluble fiber; cheese is a good source of calcium; spinach has lots of antioxidants and folate; walnuts are rich in monounsaturated fat and omega-3s.
4 8-inch whole-wheat tortillas
8 teaspoons honey mustard
6 ounces Edam cheese, thinly sliced
1 cup baby spinach leaves
2 ripe pears, cored and thinly sliced
½ cup low-fat cottage cheese
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons finely chopped walnuts
Arrange tortillas on a flat surface and spread 2 teaspoons honey mustard over each tortilla, to within 1/8 inch of the edges. Top each tortilla with 1 ½ ounces cheese, ¼ cup spinach leaves, and pear slices. Roll up tightly and set aside.
In a small bowl, combine cottage cheese and Dijon mustard. Mix well.
Serve wraps with cottage-cheese mixture and walnuts on the side. Dip ends in the mix, then in the walnuts.
PER SERVING (1 wrap, 2 tablespoons cheese mixture, 1½ teaspoons walnuts): 380 calories, 44% fat (18 g; 10 g saturated), 33% carbs (31 g), 23% protein (21 g), 12 g fiber, 479 mg calcium, 980 mg sodium.
PHOTO (COLOR): OVEN-ROASTED HALIBUT WITH GRAPEFRUIT-ORANGE CHUTNEY. bursting with healthful nutrients; triumphs over stress on taste alone. (Recipe on page 87.)
PHOTO (COLOR): TOFU-CHERRY TOMATO KEBABS WITH BUTTERMILK BLUE CHEESE PIP mixes two food traditions to boost the immune system and case the digestion. (Recipe on page 87.)
PHOTO (COLOR): SPAGHETTI PUTTANESCA, originally created as a quick-fix pick-me-up for the working class, is a terrific blend of fruit and fiber.
By Sally Squires
Photographs by David Prince
One-day stress-busting meal plan
7:45 a.m. Breakfast
½ to 1 cup whole-wheat cereal topped with ½ cup fresh fruit (strawberries, raspberries, blueberries), 1 teaspoon slivered almonds and ½ cup skim milk
Tea or coffee
• Smoothie made from ½ cup plain, nonfat yogurt; ½ cup strawberries or ½ banana; ½ cup ice; 2 tablespoons soy milk; dash of vanilla flavoring
10:45 a.m. Snack
• Banana with 1 tablespoon peanut butter (or any other option listed in "Great Snacks for High Energy," page 85)
12:30 p.m. Lunch
• Edam Wrap With Sliced Pears, Baby Spinach and Walnut Dip (see page 87)
Tofu-Cherry Tomato Kebabs With Buttermilk-Blue Cheese Dip (see page 87)
Class of skim milk or ½ cup yogurt
Iced tea or sparkling water
3:30 p.m. Snack
• Do-it-yourself Trail Mix (see page 85)
6:30 p.m. Dinner
• Spaghetti Puttanesca (see page 87)
Oven-Roasted Halibut With Grapefruit-Orange Chutney (see page 87)
4 ounces wine (optional)
9:30 p.m. Dessert Snack
• 1 cup sugar-free hot chocolate, made with skim milk and topped with 2 tablespoons fat-free whipped topping and ½ cup raspberries
• 1 cup sliced frozen peaches (slightly thawed) topped with ¼ cup low-fat yogurt and 1 tablespoon slivered almonds
• 1 cup low-fat frozen ice milk or frozen yogurt
11 p.m. Bedtime
Healing foods for your stressed-out immune system
When you feel overwhelmed by the pressures in your life, your body suffers, too. Here are foods that can enhance your body's inner workings when you're tense and under the gun. (For recipes that take advantage of these stress-battling ingredients, see page 87.)
salmon, haddock, halibut and other seafood
are rich in healthy fats known as omega-3 fatty acids, which most people don't get enough of. Omega-3s reduce joint inflammation and are great for heart and brain function.
are rich in zinc, one of the minerals that help maintain the integrity of the immune system.
yogurt, kefir and buttermilk
contain active cultures of lactobacillus and bifidobacteria, strains of friendly bacteria that may help boost immunity against common infections, reduce the likelihood of stomach ulcers, prevent some skin disorders and maybe even cut the risk of colon cancer. There's also evidence that milk protein and its derivatives may have antibacterial and antiviral effects. Choose the low- or nonfat versions to keep saturated fat to a minimum.
blue cheese, Edam, Gouda, Roquefort, Shropshire and cottage cheese
also seem to provide nutrients for boosting levels of healthy bacteria in the body, which in turn may help improve immunity. Keep portion sizes small because cheese is calorie-dense and often high in fat, including saturated fat.
raspberries, tomatoes, oranges, tangerines and grapefruit
are among the fruits and vegetables with the highest concentrations of vitamin C, known for its ability to strengthen the immune system and fight infection.
is rich in antioxidants that help reduce the risk of cancer. Brew your tea fresh; to get the biggest antioxidant dose, just use the tea bag once and don't add milk.
Great snacks for high energy
These between-small-meal noshes will provide you with well-balanced get-up-and-go.
Each is approximately 200-250 calories.
Banana with 1 tablespoon peanut butter
Do-it-yourself Trail Mix:
½ ounce peanuts, about ¼ cup raisins or other dried fruit, plus a few chocolate-covered soy nuts
2 whole-wheat crackers with 1-ounce wedge of Laughing Cow cheese and ¼ cup grapes
Curried Yogurt Dip With Cilantro:
Whisk together in a bowl
3 cup low-fat plain yogurt,
3 cup low-fat sour cream,
¼ cup shredded Granny Smith apple,
2 teaspoons chopped fresh cilantro and 1 teaspoon curry powder;
season to taste with salt and black pepper;
serve with 15 baby carrots.
1-ounce wedge of cheddar cheese with apple slices
Garlicky Guacamole With Key Lime Juice and White Beans:
Mash together in a bowl
¼ cup cubed ripe avocado,
2 tablespoons canned white beans,
2 cloves garlic,
1 teaspoon Key lime juice or regular lime juice, and ¼ teaspoon ground cumin; serve with ½ toasted whole-wheat pita pocket, cut into wedges.
• ½ whole-wheat bagel topped with ¼ cup hummus and cucumber slices
• 1 celery stalk filled with 2 tablespoons almond butter
1 cup chocolate soy milk with two plain graham crackers