14 Best Foods to Eat When You’re Stressed
Stress robs your body of the very vitamins and minerals that could help you cope. Next time you’re in a pressure cooker, refuel with these proven tension tamers.
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Make friends with the fishmonger because salmon can counteract the effects of the stress hormones adrenalin and cortisol. “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. “This helps reduce anxiety and improve your response to stress.”
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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. Not a fan of okra? Check out these other great sources of folate.
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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. (If you don’t have time to cook up a pot, see our speedy guide to make-ahead oatmeal.)
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Just unwrapping a piece of dark chocolate evokes a sense of calm by reducing stress hormones. Eating it enhances those effects. “Growing evidence suggest that the antioxidants in cocoa help relax blood vessels, helping to lower blood pressure and boost circulation,” Devje says. Need more reasons to indulge?
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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, 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 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. (Related: We’ve got more easy ways to make your favorite foods healthier.)
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“Mental stress can actually lower the pH of our bodies, making us more acidic,” explains Jyothi Rao, MD, author of Finding Balance: Empower Yourself with Tools to Combat Stress and Illness. Our bodies perform better flourish in a more alkaline environment. Plant-based foods such as dandelion greens contain more alkaline than animal products, and can help neutralize the acid pH caused by stress. If you find dandelion greens too bitter, check out the other dark greens that make the healthiest veggies list.
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This sweet little gem is packed with tryptophan. “Tryptophan turns into serotonin, which calms our nerves and stabilizes our mood,” 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. Try these secrets to better sleep from sleep doctors themselves.
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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, of Drhealthnut.com, and author of Diet Diagnosis. Watch out for these signs of magnesium deficiency.
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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 fine anti-stress benefits of L-theanine as it 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. Read more about the amazing health benefits of green tea.
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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. They’re just one of the super seeds you should be eating.
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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 our 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.” (Related: Check out these genius uses for orange peels.)
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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.
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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 LDL cholesterol oils. “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.’
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Eating crunchy foods can relieve stress, according to Mandy Enright, a registered dietitian and creator of nutritionnuptials.com. Actually, anything crunchy like apples or celery will 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. (Related: Use these 37 tips to send stress packing right now.)