When you think about reducing your stress levels, it’s likely you don’t think about nutrition and food as a way to combat that stress — unless you’re all about digging into a bowl of ice cream or enjoying a glass of wine after a long day. But these habits aren’t the best way to handle your stress. There are many healthy foods that reduce stress that won’t leave you with an awful hangover or a tummy ache the next day.
Because April is Stress Awareness Month, we’re taking the time to talk about all the stress relieving foods that exist, because you’d be surprised at how things like asparagus, blueberries, and, yes, chocolate have an effect on your mental health. The good news is, you’re probably eating some of these foods already without even knowing it. It’s common sense if you really think about it. The more natural foods you eat, the more likely you are to boost your physical and mental health.
If you’re looking for an easy (and delicious!) way to naturally reduce stress and anxiety in your life, check out these 14 foods to eat when you’re stressed out — make that grocery list ASAP!
1. Dark leafy greens
Surely as a kid, you heard adults lament about how important it is to eat your greens, but it probably wasn’t touted as a stress-reliever back then. Whether you’re the queen of kale smoothies or consider spinach a curse word, you’re going to want to become best friends with smoothie staples like spinach, kale, chard, and broccoli, because they can all help calm you down.
These greens are rich in all kinds of important nutrients, such as magnesium, folate, and iron. The benefits to adding a few servings a day? Fewer headaches, increased energy, a boosted mood, and less stress. We can get behind that.
Sure, turkey is the star of the show on Thanksgiving, but it turns out there really is something behind the much-maligned “turkey coma.” Research shows that the chemical called tryptophan, which is found in turkey in spades, can reduce stress and give your brain a rush of happy hormones, like serotonin. Say hello to a better mood and a more steady mindset. Gobble gobble!
You’ve probably heard about the omega-3 fatty acids in wild-caught salmon and wondered what the heck it was all about, so here’s the scoop: these fatty acids are often linked to lower levels of depression in people who consume them regularly. Your body can’t produce omega-3s on its own, so you have to eat them or take supplements to get enough. Fish oil supplements often smell, well, fishy, so, if you’re not into that, add salmon to your weekly meal prep and you’ll get to reap the delicious benefits of reduced stress.
Fruit generally has a health halo surrounding it, but the truth is that not all fruit is created equal. Berries are ripe with antioxidants without too much sugar, and they’re good for your mental health, too. Strawberries, blackberries, blueberries, and raspberries are packed with vitamin C, which will help you fight stress from day to night. Throw ’em in a smoothie or eat them by the handful as a snack — the possibilities are endless.
5. Dark chocolate
If you were starting to get frustrated by all the “healthy” foods on this list, you’re going to love this news. In moderation, dark chocolate is really, really good for you. In fact, dark chocolate is said to make you feel cool as a cucumber because it lowers your blood pressure. All the antioxidants found in dark chocolate — polyphenols and flavonols — will help kick your stress to the curb as well. Best news EVER.
6. Fermented foods
You’ve probably heard a lot about fermented foods but aren’t really sure what they are. Fear not. Here’s the deal: Fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, keffir, and natto are loaded with beneficial bacteria (probiotics) that regulate your gastrointestinal system. And surprisingly enough, a happy gut equals a happy mind, sending those feel-good neurotransmitters more effectively to your brain, relieving anxiety and boosting your mood. At least, that’s what Harvard researchers say. Who knew?!
Avocado is definitely one of the trendiest foods out there right now (an Instagram search yields nearly 6 million results!) but there’s a darn good reason why you’re still seeing avocado toast all over your feed. It’s seriously good for you.
There’s a whole heap of vitamin Bs in avocados, which are nutrients that keep our nerves and brain cells in good shape, reduce anxiety, and quell stress. all the monounsaturated fat and potassium in avocados also lower your blood pressure. Oh avo, we love you so.
A diet rich in veggies is always a good thing, but there’s something extra special about asparagus. Just like its fellow leafy greens, asparagus is loaded with folate, which has a calming effect on your stressful thoughts. They may make your pee smell a little funny, but the benefits are more than worth it. Grill it, steam it, broil it — no matter how you enjoy it, asparagus is great for ya.
There’s nothing more soothing than a warm bowl of oatmeal on a chilly winter morning, but there are definitely reasons to make it for breakfast on the regular. Oatmeal is chock-full of complex carbohydrates (the carbs that fill you up and keep you satiated), which boost your serotonin levels and keep you feeling more relaxed and happy overall.
Oatmeal is also incredibly versatile, so whether you’re into overnight oats or the instant kind, it’s all good. You can add berries, spices like cinnamon, brown sugar, nut butter, or just eat it straight. No matter how you like it, a good bowl of oatmeal will have you dreaming of breakfast each night — and watching the stress fade away.
10. Nuts and seeds
Nuts and seeds of all kinds, from cashews to chia seeds, are great for you in so many ways. They provide healthy fats, protein, and those all-important omega-3s, and are a great source of zinc. Zinc may not be the most glamorous nutrient, but it’s been shown that low levels of zinc can lead to exacerbated stress or anxiety.
Your body can’t store zinc, so in order to keep stress at bay, be sure to enjoy a handful of almonds, walnuts, or cashews, and sprinkle some pumpkin seeds into your salad on a regular basis. Besides, you’ll love the satisfying crunch.
11. Herbal tea
It makes sense why coffee is often not recommended for those suffering with anxiety, because too much coffee can heighten the effects of caffeine and leave you feeling even more stressed than before. But what about when you need to take a break and enjoy a hot beverage? That’s where herbal tea comes in.
Caffeine-free versions, like chamomile and peppermint, are great at any time of day, but especially before bed. Herbal teas help to relax your muscles, leading to an overall calming feeling that will hopefully have you wondering, “Stress? What stress?” Plus, who doesn’t feel better after a comforting cup of tea?
Yogurt gets a bad rap for having lots of added sugar, but certain kinds are really great for you. Plain Greek yogurt, for example, has plenty of those good-for-your-gut probiotics and proteins that help regulate your blood pressure, keeping your heart healthy and stress at bay. Plus, it’s another super-versatile breakfast option, either on its own with healthy mixers like berries and nuts or added into a smoothie. Yum!
Fruits like oranges and kiwis have high levels of vitamin C, which is crucial to keep your immune system in check. Not only are they an excellent snack, they can help lower your blood pressure and the levels of the stress hormone cortisol, keeping you happier and healthier overall. So keep one in your bag at all times, and you’re good to go.
The final word
Of course, it goes without saying that eating any of these foods just one time won’t lower your stress levels significantly, but incorporating them into a diverse diet will have a cumulative effect, which comes in handy when you’re feeling frantic and uneasy. It’s an easy way to make a difference and lead a lower-stress life overall — and we’re here for that.