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HOW TO CALM DOWN WITH HEALTHY COMFORT FOOD

Stress and fatigue can cause even the most resilient to seek out "comfort" food, but there are healthy options that can soothe you without the guilt.

Everyone experiences those stressful moments in life that cause you to run to the store and grab your favorite candy treat for consolation.   You may even experience a few moments of euphoria after you've downed that Snickers bar.   The problem is sweets are insidious: After the initial rush, the body's insulin response kicks in, causing a sudden blood sugar drop that triggers the release of stress hormones. Soon you're feeling more jangled than you were before you inhaled that whole container of Chunky Monkey. If you choose beer or wine for relief, you should be aware that alcohol is a "wolfish stimulant in calm sheep's clothing".

But true comfort foods do exist.   Here are some great healthy ones that can boost your mood without the harmful repercussions.

•  Any kind of berries
Eat them one by one instead of M&Ms when the pressure's on. For those tough times when tension tightens your jaw, try rolling a frozen berry around in your mouth.   Since the carbs in berries turn to sugar very slowly, you won't have a blood sugar crash. The bonus: They're a good source of vitamin C, which helps fight a jump in the stress hormone cortisol.

•  Guacamole
If you're craving something creamy, look no further. Avocados are loaded with B vitamins, which stress quickly depletes and which your body needs to maintain nerves and brain cells. Plus their creaminess comes from healthy fat. Scoop up the stuff with whole-grain baked chips.

•  Mixed nuts
Just an ounce will help replace those stress-depleted Bs (walnuts), give you a whopping amount of zinc (Brazil nuts), and boost your E (almonds), which helps fight cellular damage linked to chronic stress. Buy nuts in the shell and think of it as multi-tasking: With every squeeze of the nutcracker, you're releasing a little bit of tension.

•  Dark chocolate
Okay, there's nothing in it that relieves stress, but when only chocolate will do, reach for the dark, sultry kind that's at least 70% cocoa. If the antioxidant flavonoids in it are potent enough to fight cancer and heart disease, they've got to be able to temper tension's effects.

Now that you know what to look for in comfort foods, you can probably create a few of your own.   If you do find yourself giving into an unhealthy craving- don't be too hard on yourself.   Post your list of healthy choices on the fridge and promise to do better next time.

For more ideas on healthy snacks, check out this article.