14 Best Foods That Reduce Stress
Stress robs your body of the very vitamins and minerals that can help you cope. Next time you’re in a pressure cooker, refuel with these proven tension tamers.
Make friends with the fishmonger because salmon can counteract the effects of the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol, which is why it is one of the best foods that reduce stress. “The anti-inflammatory properties of omega-3 fatty acids found in salmon may offset the effects of these hormones,” says Shahzadi Devje, a registered dietitian in Toronto, Canada. “This helps reduce anxiety and improve your response to stress.”
This green veggie contains folate, a B vitamin that produces dopamine, the get-happy hormone. “The effect of this hormone on the brain induces a feeling of pleasure,” Devje says. It’s no surprise that okra is one of the top foods that reduce stress. Check out 36 ways to relieve work-related stress.
Tuck into a warm bowl of oatmeal and you’ll likely feel more relaxed and calm. “Eating complex carbs increases the production of serotonin, a brain chemical that reduces stress hormones,” Devje says.
Most people would probably agree that chocolate is one of their favorite foods that reduce stress. Just unwrapping a piece of dark chocolate evokes a sense of calm by reducing stress hormones. Eating it enhances those effects. “Growing evidence suggests that the antioxidants in cocoa help relax blood vessels, helping to lower blood pressure and boost circulation,” Devje says. Don’t ignore these 8 signs your stress is making you sick.
Who doesn’t love this comfort food? Turns out it’s totally legit to crave starches like potatoes when stressed. It’s called hedonic hunger, or eating for pleasure rather than to fuel your body. “We don’t need the calories, but since we’re hardwired to be attracted to high-calorie foods because they give us energy, we tend to seek out fatty or sweet foods when we’re stressed,” explains Martica Heaner, PhD, an exercise physiologist and adjunct associate nutrition professor at Hunter College in New York City. Heaner also suggests sweet potatoes for a stress fix, but be mindful of the toppings so that they don’t veer into a fatty binge. Try a few shakes of nutritional yeast for a cheesy flavor and a sprinkle of herbs and spices.
“Mental stress can actually lower the pH of our bodies, making us more acidic,” explains Jyothi Rao, MD, coauthor of Finding Balance: Empower Yourself with Tools to Combat Stress and Illness. Our bodies perform better in a more alkaline environment. Plant-based foods such as dandelion greens are more alkaline than animal products and can help neutralize the acid pH caused by stress, making them one of the more unusual foods that reduce stress. Avoid these 10 “stress relievers” that actually backfire.
This sweet little gem of a fruit is packed with tryptophan. “Tryptophan turns into serotonin, which calms our nerves and stabilizes our mood,” Dr. Rao says. Stress can also keep us awake, and studies show that eating kiwis on a regular basis can help us nod off faster and get a restful night’s sleep.
When we’re frazzled, our muscles tighten up, we can’t think clearly, we have trouble sleeping, and our blood pressure spikes. One nutrient that can help ease those symptoms is magnesium, but when we’re stressed, our magnesium levels plummet. “Dark, leafy vegetables such as spinach are nutrient-dense foods that contain high levels of magnesium,” says David Nico, PhD, author of Diet Diagnosis: Navigating the Maze of Health and Nutrition Plans. Check out the 7 causes of stress you never knew existed.
Fire up the kettle and nestle in for a comforting cup of stress relief. “The active nutrient found primarily in the green tea plant is the amino acid L-theanine,” Nico explains. EEG studies have documented the anti-stress benefits of L-theanine, which relaxes the mind without contributing to a drowsy effect on the brain. Another bonus: Green tea isn’t likely to give you jitters the way coffee can.
Stress often results in the “flight or fight” mode, which is taxing on the adrenal glands. “Sunflower seeds are high in vitamin B5, which supports adrenal gland function, which is critical in stress management,” Nico says. Looking for options besides foods that reduce stress? Try one of these 7 ways to relieve every type of stress.
Peeling an orange is a good distraction from stress, for starters. Oranges and other citrus fruits also contain myo-inositol, a naturally occurring form of B vitamin that’s found in high levels in the brain and nervous system. “Cell membrane, muscle, and nerve function rely on myo-inositol,” Nico says. “Myo-inositol supports emotional health and a positive mood.”
Speaking of L-theanine, this superfood is full of it. “Matcha green tea contains up to five times as much L-theanine as regular green tea,” explains Molly Morgan, a registered dietitian with Nuts.com. Not only does this frothy beverage lower your stress and preserve alertness, but it’s also chock-full of anti-aging and disease-fighting antioxidants. Learn the 12 signs you’re more stressed than you realize.
When stress hits, blood pressure spikes. A 2010 study in the Journal of American College of Nutrition examined the effects of eating walnuts and walnut oil in people with elevated levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol. “Eating walnuts helped the adults reduce their blood pressure both at rest and during times of stress,” Morgan explains. Sounds like a good reason to find the old nut cracker and get crackin.’
Crunchy veggies are some of the best foods that reduce stress, according to Mandy Enright, a registered dietitian nutritionist and creator of Nutrition Nuptials. Carrots, apples, or celery will all do the trick. “The crunch not only provides a sense of relief, but chewing these crunchy foods helps relieve jaw tension, which can be a major area where stress builds up in the body,” says Enright. All that chewing can help us redirect our focus and help melt stress away. For more calming ideas, try these 37 expert ways to make managing stress much easier.