Three Ingredients in the Greek Mediterranean Diet that Help Fight Anxiety
Strange times, to say the least. Like almost everyone around me, I succumbed to the Armageddon shopping craze a few days ago. I’ll save the grocery list of canned foods for another time, for last-resort menus in uncertain times. Right now, I am cooking fresh and Greek-Mediterranean and corralling everything I know about the foods that help us keep anxiety at bay in order to make family meals that are healthy and, yes, calming. For me, these days, the C word is Cooking.
I know, I know. Naysayers will shout, text, and message me about misleading people into thinking that an avocado or a bunch of nuts can actually affect our mood. But I defer to the wise ancient doctor who said “Let food be thy medicine, and medicine be thy food.” Thank you, Hippocrates, for a message that has endured through the ages.
I noticed my own improved emotional state during a difficult time in my life, just a few years ago, by turning to food as a salve. For years, my eating habits had gone off the rail, driven by anxiety made worse by bad eating choices. Sometimes I still binge eat, but it’s to the almonds I turn, and not the potato chips.
Now, holed up with uncertainty in a small New York apartment, I am trying to do the same.
The very act of cooking is calming. And when carried on with others’ wellbeing in mind – I feed my kids and often invite my friends since no one is going out right now — calmness couples with a sense of mission, so that the preparation of food takes on even greater importance.
I’ve been focusing on cooking with ingredients that are believed to help fight anxiety. Luckily, many of them are part of the Greek-Mediterranean Diet. Here are just a few favorites and some recipes to make with them.
Spinach, and other leafy greens, are rich in magnesium, known to help fight stress and improve concentration. At least a cup is what it takes. Dishes like Greek spinach pie, spinach rice (try making it with brown rice, one of the many whole grains that boost the happiness hormone, serotonin, in our bodies), quinoa and spinach and delicious spinach salad are a few of my favorite things.
Oranges, one of my favorite ingredients, are also one of Nature’s best way to boost you body with Vitamin C, which helps your immune system and also reduces physical and mental stress. I can eat half a dozen raw oranges a day, but I also like to use them in salads and combined with greens like spinach, in traditional and contemporary Greek-Mediterranean fare.
Nuts are always a go-to food for me. Greek cooking is filled with recipes that include almonds, walnuts and pistachios, rich in healthy fats, and vitamins B12 and E, immune boosters and a good defense against depression. Some of my favorites are this saffron pilaf with almonds and pistachios and this simple taboule with walnuts, herbs and vegetables.
These aren’t by any means a complete list of foods that are part of the Greek Mediterranean Diet we can turn to in times of stress to help us feel better. The list is a long one and the diet, time-tested over millennia, is filled with great plant-based and healthy protein options for all of us to abide by in good times and hard times.
Use them to cook meals with love, for yourself and others, share if you can, and follow the wise ancient tenet for food to be our medicine, and medicine our food.