When you’re constantly plowing through mile-long to-do lists and putting out family fires (e.g.., the kids are fighting … again; the dog left you a “present” in the living room; you’re out of OJ), it’s easy to blame stress for whatever ails you. But consider pointing a finger at your breakfast, lunch or dinner first. Many health problems, from exhaustion to head pain, are caused by the food choices we make — even the nutritious ones. Look for your symptoms here, then follow our expert advice to eliminate some common culprits that can get your body feeling down.
Your symptom: Stomach discomfort
The trigger: Too much fiber eaten too fast
Get your recommended 21 to 25 grams a day and you can lower your cholesterol, improve digestion and increase weight loss. (Plus, your doctor would be so proud.) The new crop of high-fiber yogurts, protein bars, drinks and even ice creams may seem like a priceless convenience when it comes to hitting that number. Unfortunately, they can make you clutch your stomach in despair. They’re packed with a type of fiber called insulin. In small amounts these products are fine, but it’s all too easy to scarf down too much insulin too quickly, which can cause bloating, stomach cramping and gassiness.
The fix: Slowly increasing your consumption of fiber and getting it from whole foods like veggies, fruits, whole grains and legumes will be kinder to your digestive system than pumping up your intake through artificial sources. Try these five great natural sources of fiber:
Navy beans: 19 grams per cup
Lentils: 16 grams per cup
Artichokes: 10 grams per medium choke
Whole-wheat spaghetti: 6 grams per cup
Pears: 5.5 grams per medium fruit
Your symptom: Low energy
The trigger: A high-fat meal
“There’s a relationship between what you eat and alertness,” says registered dietitian and busy mom Cassie Dimmick. “Research shows consuming fatty foods can leave you mentally fatigued.” Your body has to work overtime to digest the food. And if you go carb crazy, your insulin levels increase, which causes drowsiness, she explains.
The fix: The ideal meal is a mix of fiber-rich carbs and moderate amounts of fat. For instance, on pizza night, eat one less slice and fill the rest of your plate with a big salad. Picking up fast food? Grab a turkey sub with a side of hummus and veggies instead of the burger and fries. Or order a salad with lean protein, like salmon or chicken, and a bean-based soup or chili.
Your symptom: PMS
The trigger: A calcium and magnesium deficiency
“Poor eating habits — like dining on the go — can put you at risk,” says gynecologist Sara Gottfried, M.D., founder of the Gottfried Center for Integrative Medicine in Berkeley, California, and author of “The Hormone Cure.” A lack of calcium leaves you more vulnerable to the unpleasant effects of premenstrual syndrome, like cramping and moodiness. Gottfried also notes that a woman in her mid-30s or 40s is more likely to have problems with bloating. Getting enough magnesium decreases that significantly, she says.
The fix: Consume 1,200 mg of calcium daily. Studies show that this amount decreases PMS symptoms by 50 percent. Skim milk, sesame seeds and dark leafy greens are all good sources of calcium. Up your magnesium intake by eating foods rich in it such as lentils and pumpkin seeds.
Another way to put a stop to PMS? Try sitting up straight, then breathe in for five seconds and exhale for five seconds. Repeat until the stress melts away.
(Family Circle offers family-friendly recipe ideas, health advice, and plenty of content for all members of the family to enjoy together. Online at www.familycircle.com.)