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chill out

Chill Out with Chicken

When you’re super busy, having someone tell you to “just chill out” can be extremely frustrating. It’s easier said than done, right?

By: Kelly Atyeo, B.A.Sc., M.H.Sc., P.H.Ec.

With all that there is to do – how are you possibly going to be able to relax and handle the stressful events that come your way?

One great place to start is in the kitchen – cooking and eating foods that are healthy and can help balance your mood.

Cooking Therapy 

Have you ever heard the phrase – I was so stressed I needed some “retail therapy”?  What about replacing that with some cooking therapy! Although some people view cooking as a daily task that just needs to “get done”, it can be a therapeutic activity to help relieve stress and focus your energy.  

You may want to be alone in the kitchen, playing your favourite music and testing out new recipes for your family to enjoy. Combining simple ingredients to create flavourful wholesome meals can bring a great sense of accomplishment.

Alternatively – you may choose to have your family involved in the process. Choose a simple meal to prepare together (something that won’t cause more stress!). Cooking is like a team sport and you can all work together to build something that you are proud to share. Recent research suggests a relationship between food preparation/cooking skills and healthy eating in children, adolescents and possibly adults. Children are more likely to eat something that they helped create and prepare.

Foods to Use

What you eat can have an effect on your brain chemistry – so when you’re cooking – use ingredients that can have a positive effect on your mood.

Healthy Fats 

Sometimes the thought of eating “healthy” translates to eating “low fat”. It is true that watching your intake of saturated and trans fats is important for health – however, you must not ignore the healthy fats you may be missing in your diet. Research suggests that eating healthy fats like Omega-3 fatty acids may play a role in improving mood, including reducing stress, anxiety and depression.2,3  

Choose foods that are high in omega-3 fatty acids like: flax seeds, hemp, chia, walnuts, salmon and soybeans.4  

Eating Well with Canada’s Food Guide suggests we choose leaner meats more often. That’s where chicken comes in. A skinless chicken breast is lower in fat than most other meats. Most of the saturated fat is in the skin. The good news is that you can leave the skin on while cooking and remove it afterwards, as the meat will have more moisture and less fat and calories than a skinless breast. 

Healthy Carbs

Sometimes stress makes people gravitate to foods that are higher in refined, processed carbohydrates. We’re talking about the muffins, cakes and cookies! These foods don’t offer many nutrients to help you fight your stress…so when possible, choose healthy carbohydrates!

Whole grains and vegetables contain healthy carbohydrates, fibre, vitamins and minerals. Research shows that carbohydrates may promote the release of serotonin that can help improve mood.5,6  Also – the fibre found in these foods can help make you feel full longer and slowly release sugar into your bloodstream so your energy levels are maintained.7

Here’s a delicious whole grain rotini chicken pasta recipe with a balance of carbohydrates, protein and 8 grams of fibre per serving. It’s also bursting with B-vitamins!  

Corsican Chicken & Whole-grain Rotini

Balance your B’s!

Don’t forget about eating your B-Vitamins – which are necessary for breaking down carbohydrates, protein and fat to give you energy!7 They are also crucial for brain function – helping with the production of chemicals that affect your mood.9,10 

Eat a variety of meat & alternatives, milk products, grains, fruits and vegetables to get your B-vitamins.11

Chill out with chicken and cook (calmly) with these recipes that are loaded with vitamins B12, B6 and folate:  

Teriyaki Chicken Garden Salad

Chicken and Sweet Potato Stew

Spinach Stuffed Chicken

Balanced Mood – Balanced Diet

By balancing your diet throughout the day, you may also find that this helps your overall mood.  Keeping yourself fuelled provides the necessary energy for your brain and body to handle the stress that life may bring.12 Use Eating Well with Canada’s Food Guide as a pathway to identifying what foods your diet may be missing. If you want to take a deeper look at your diet, consult a Registered Dietitian for a nutritional assessment.


  1. Chenhall, C. (2010). Improving Cooking and Food Preparation Skills: A Synthesis of the Evidence to Inform Program and Policy Development. (Catalogue No. H164-123/1-2010E-PDF). Ottawa, ON: Minister of Health. Retrieved October 1, 2012, from www.hc-sc.gc.ca/fn-an/nutrition/child-enfant/cfps-acc-synthes-eng.php
  2. Bradbury, J., Myers, S., & Oliver, C. (2004). An Adaptogenic Role for Omega-3 Fatty Acids in Stress: A Randomised Placebo Controlled Double Blind Intervention Study (pilot). Nutrition Journal, 3(20).
  3. Barclay, L. (2007). Fighting Depression and Improving Cognition with Omega-3 Fatty Acids. Retrieved March 10, 2015, from www.lef.org/Magazine/2007/10/report_depression/Page-02
  4. Dietitians of Canada. (2010). Food Sources of Omega-3 Fats. Retrieved March 10, 2015, from www.dietitians.ca/Nutrition-Resources-A-Z/Factsheets/Fats/Food-Sources-of-Omega-3-Fats.aspx
  5. Go Ask Alice. (2009). Serotonin and Foods? Retrieved December 9, 2012
  6. Magee, E. (2005). 7 Ways to De-Stress Your Diet. Retrieved December 9, 2012 
  7. Low dog, T. (2010). The Role of Nutrition in Mental Health. Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine, 16(2), 42-46.
  8. Better Health Channel. (2012). Vitamin B. Retrieved March 10, 2015, from www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/bhcv2/bhcarticles.nsf/pages/Vitamin_B
  9. Hall-Flavin, D. (2015). What’s the relationship between vitamin B-12 and depression? Retrieved March 10, 2015, from www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/depression/expert-answers/vitamin-b12-and-depression/faq-20058077
  10. Life Extension. (2015). Health Concerns: Anxiety. Retrieved March 10, 2015, from www.lef.org/Protocols/Emotional-Health/Anxiety/Page-01
  11. Dietitians of Canada. (2015). B-Vitamins. Retrieved March 10, 2015, from www.dietitians.ca/Your-Health/Nutrition-A-Z/B-Vitamins.aspx
  12. Western University. (2015). Stress in University. Retrieved March 10, 2015, from www.health.uwo.ca/services/students/encyclopedia/stress_university.html

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