We all know that tension can wreak havoc on our eating patterns. But the right (healthy!) foods can often help tame mindless munching and cravings and, better yet, actually lower overall anxiety and its symptoms. It’s no surprise that when you eat well, you feel well.
While eating a healthy and well-balanced diet is essential, your diet can also be modified to help target physical and emotional states. Stress management can be powerful for wellness, since too much stress is bad for you. There are many strategies, and one of them includes what you eat. Read on to learn the foods that relieve stress.
These creamy fruits stress-proof your body. Rich in glutathione, a substance that specifically blocks intestinal absorption of certain fats that cause oxidative damage, avocados also contain lutein, beta-carotene, vitamin E, and more folate than any other fruit. A single serving (about one-quarter of an avocado) has plenty of B vitamins, too.
Blueberries have some of the highest levels of an antioxidant known as anthocyanin, and they’ve been linked to all kinds of positive health outcomes, including sharper cognition. But all berries, including strawberries, raspberries, and blackberries, are rich in vitamin C, which has been shown to be helpful in combating stress. German researchers tested this by asking 120 people to give a speech, then do hard math problems. Those who had been given vitamin C had lower blood pressure and lower levels of cortisol after the stressfest. Substitute berries for any other fruits on the plan whenever you want.
Depression has been linked to low levels of folic acid, and one vegetable that boosts this mood-enhancing nutrient is asparagus. A single cup provides two-thirds of your daily value, and it’s easy to fit asparagus into almost any meal. Some ideas: Sauté some asparagus tips for a tasty omelet. Go with steamed or grilled spears as a side vegetable for meat, fish or poultry. Snack on some steamed spears by dipping in some dressing.
4. Dark Chocolate
High in flavonoids, which are lauded for their relaxing properties (chamomile tea is another great source), chocolate also contains phenethylamine, a chemical that enhances your mood. The darker the chocolate, the more healthy substances.
Oranges make the list for their wealth of vitamin C. Studies suggest this vitamin can curb levels of stress hormones while strengthening the immune system. In one study of people with high blood pressure, blood pressure and levels of cortisol (a stress hormone) returned to normal more quickly when people took vitamin C before a stressful task.
Too little magnesium may trigger headaches and fatigue, compounding the effects of stress. One cup of spinach helps you stock back up on magnesium. Don’t like spinach? Other green, leafy vegetables are good magnesium sources. Or try some cooked soybeans or a fillet of salmon, also high in magnesium.
7. Fatty Fish
To keep stress in check, make friends with naturally fatty fish. Omega-3 fatty acids, found in fish such as salmon and tuna, can prevent surges in stress hormones and may help protect against heart disease, depression, and premenstrual syndrome (PMS). For a steady supply of feel-good omega-3s, aim to eat 3 ounces of fatty fish at least twice a week.
Pistachios, as well as other nuts and seeds, are good sources of healthy fats. Eating a handful of pistachios, walnuts, or almonds every day may help lower your cholesterol, ease inflammation in your heart’s arteries, make diabetes less likely, and protect you against the effects of stress. Don’t overdo it, though: Nuts are rich in calories.
9. Sweet Potatoes
Sweet potatoes can be particularly stress-reducing because they can satisfy the urge you get for carbohydrates and sweets when you are under a great deal of stress. They are packed full of beta-carotene and other vitamins, and the fiber helps your body to process the carbohydrates in a slow and steady manner.
Turkey contains an amino acid called L-tryptophan. This amino acid triggers the release of serotonin, which is a feel-good brain chemical. This is the reason why many people who eat turkey feel relaxed, or even tired, after eating it. L-Tryptophan has a documented calming effect.
Yet another food that is chock-full of stress-relieving B vitamins, broccoli has the added benefit of containing folic acid, which is also part of the B vitamin family. Folic acid helps relieve stress, anxiety, panic, and even depression. Try broccoli as a simple accompaniment to fish or chicken, or toss it into a stir-fry along with a few other vegetables and some beef or shrimp.
Oats are a complex carb that helps boost serotonin levels in the brain. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter responsible for boosting mood and relaxation. Antidepressants such as Prozac work by increasing serotonin levels. While all carbs will have this effect, a whole-grain cereal, bread or pasta takes longer to digest and will have longer lasting effects.
13. Low-Fat Cottage Cheese
Low-fat cottage cheese is loaded with protein and calcium and is low in fat and sugar. The calcium helps strengthen and relax the nervous system and can help you manage stress. Make sure to pick a brand of cottage cheese that doesn’t compensate for the low fat level by adding starches, fillers and sugars, as these can be bad for your stress and your waistline.
Recent research has shown that ginger can aid in pain relief, including stress headaches. Ginger contains the antioxidant gingerol, which fights bad chemicals in our bodies that lead to psychological and physical stress. Ginger has also been found to help relieve motion sickness, an upset stomach, respiratory problems and menstrual discomfort. Don’t like the taste? Try diffusing it in tea, or even aromatherapy.
15. Sunflower Seeds
A good source of folate, which helps your body produce a pleasure-inducing brain chemical called dopamine.
Strawberries are surprisingly high in vitamin C, which has been proven to have a significant effect on stress levels. Increased vitamin C consumption has been proven to help people cope with stressful situations. Levels of cortisol (one of the stress hormones) decreased rapidly in subjects given vitamin C supplement, and the blood pressure of the study participants returned to normal more quickly in the vitamin C group than in the control group.
17. Black Tea
Once you go black, you never—I’m talking about tea, I just want to be clear. A 2007 study published in the journal Psychopharmacology found that black tea drinkers are better able to manage stress than their herbal-sipping counterparts. Not only were black tea drinkers generally less stressed out, they also were able to return their body to homeostasis more quickly after a stressful situation than non-black tea drinkers.
Nuts are crunchy, so there’s a stress relieving activity for you. More importantly, nuts are high in magnesium, a vital nutrient when in it comes to our body’s natural stress coping mechanism. The majority of us are magnesium deficient, the RDA for adults is between 320 and 420mg daily and the average American gets about 250mg daily. A common sign of magnesium deficiency is an inability to manage stress, and the physical ramifications of that like high blood pressure, insomnia, fatigue, or loss of appetite.