Modern lifestyles have allowed us to pursue better education, achieve more goals, and have access to many different services and commodities. But along with all the positive advancements, our busy schedules and tight routines have also increased our stress levels. It can sometimes seem like there aren’t enough hours in a day to get everything done on time.
Stress may not seem like a very important issue, but it can have significant consequences on our long-term health. This is especially true for individuals who are under high levels of stress during prolonged periods of time. The consequences of stress can include:
- Lack of motivation
- Difficulty concentrating
- Digestive problems
- Changes in your libido
- Mood swings
- Social withdrawal
- Changes in your appetite
- Increased risk of heart disease
- Increased risk of alcohol or substance abuse
Despite its possible effects on our health, many of us tend to ignore stress. We try to believe that it isn’t affecting us too much, or that it will go away with time. But it’s important to learn how to manage our stress levels, and our diet can help us.
Research has found that your diet can play a big role in helping you manage your stress levels. Certain foods contain nutrients that can reduce your stress and anxiety, in addition to being healthy and beneficial for you.
There are also some foods that could worsen your stress. For example, a 2013 study found that mice that were fed a high-sugar diet were more prone to anxiety, whereas healthy fats can reduce stress. High-energy diets that were high in both sugar and fat, on the other hand, resulted in memory deficits.
Read on to discover ten foods that can help reduce your stress levels.
#1. Leafy greens contain nutrients and minerals which can help your body produce dopamine and reduce anxiety.
Dark leafy greens such as spinach, kale, and chard are full of magnesium and folate. Low levels of magnesium have been linked to anxiety-induced behaviors. Keep in mind that you’ll get more benefits from these foods if you eat them raw.
Folate, on the other hand, is essential for your body to be able to produce dopamine and serotonin. These neurotransmitters are both feel-good chemicals that can help lift your mood. Research has found that people who eat raw fruits and veggies are less likely to suffer from stress and depression.
Try including more leafy greens in your diet, such as:
- Collard greens
- Beet greens
- Romaine lettuce
- Bok choy
- Turnip greens
#2. Fatty fish is full of omega-3 fatty acids and minerals that can relieve stress and anxiety, and protect you from the consequences of stress.
A 2015 study found that high-fish consumption can reduce the risk of depression in both men and women. Fatty fish is full of omega-3 fatty acids, which can also help prevent anxiety and mood disorders. These benefits could help you manage your stress levels better.
Omega-3 fatty acids can also regulate your body’s cortisol production due to mental stress. Cortisol, commonly referred to as “the stress hormone”, can increase your heart rate, blood pressure, and energy requirements.
Include healthy portions of the following types of fatty fish to reap all these benefits:
#3. Yogurt and other foods probiotic-rich foods can help relieve stress, boost your immunity, lower social anxiety, and prevent future health problems.
A 2013 study found that women who regularly consumed yogurt experienced decreased brain activity in areas associated with stress and anxiety. These changes in brain function could show a promising link between eating probiotics and stress management. Eating fermented foods regularly can also improve symptoms of social anxiety.
Probiotics help improve your gut health, which is directly linked to your mood and immune system. A bacteria called Lactobacillus, which can be found in probiotic-rich foods has even been found to reverse depression symptoms in mice.
A combination of yogurt and exercise has been found to increase serotonin levels, which could help prevent depression and mood disorders. Other probiotic-rich foods include:
#4. Oatmeal and other sources of complex carbohydrates can help your brain produce more feel-good hormones.
Complex carbohydrates have many health benefits, including stress-relieving properties. Carbohydrates stimulate serotonin production inside your brain, which can help you feel happier and calmer.
However, simple carbohydrates are broken down and digested quickly, which can lead to an energy crash and bad mood after eating them. Simple carbohydrates, like the ones contained in white flour, sugar, sweets, and chips, amongst others, can cause significant health problems. They produce inflammation which has been linked to stress, depression, and heart disease.
Complex carbs, on the contrary, take longer to digest and can help keep you energized for longer. These types of carbohydrates also help keep your blood sugar stable. Both low and high blood sugar levels can cause mood swings and lead to stress.
Sources of complex carbohydrates include:
- Whole wheat bread
- Whole grain pasta
- Brown or wild rice
- Black beans
- Green peas
- Sweet potatoes
- Butternut squash
#5. Citrus fruits can help you fight stress and reduce its effects on your body.
Vitamin C, also known as ascorbic acid, has been found to be able to reduce subjective responses to stress. High doses of vitamin C can also reduce oxidative stress, lower blood pressure, and decrease cortisol production.
Vitamin C can also reduce mood disturbances and anxiety, and improve psychological distress. A 2018 study found that ascorbic acid is associated with an elevated mood in young males. In this study, vitamin C also reduced feelings of anger, confusion, and depression.
Individuals who consume high amounts of vitamin C not only show fewer physical and emotional signs of stress. They’re also able to recover from stressful situations much faster than those who don’t get enough vitamin C. Vitamin C can also boost your immune system, allowing you to fight off illnesses more effectively.
Foods with a high vitamin C content include:
- Brussel sprouts
#6. Dark chocolate is delicious, but it also contains flavonoids and tryptophan that will help relieve your stress.
The stress-relieving and happiness-inducing properties of dark chocolate have been known for a long time. The exact mechanisms that cause these effects haven’t been fully established yet. However, several studies have demonstrated the link between dark chocolate and lower stress levels.
A 2014 study found that cocoa polyphenols contained in dark chocolate were able to decrease stress levels in a group of female medical students. Different compounds may also be involved in the relationship between chocolate and stress. It also contains flavonoids, which can reduce the risk of suffering depression and other mood disorders.
Chocolate also contains tryptophan, which is used by your brain to synthesize mood-boosting neurotransmitters such as serotonin. Dark chocolate also contains magnesium, another compound that can reduce symptoms of depression and stress.
Keep in mind that these findings only include dark chocolate rather than milk chocolate or white chocolate. Eating excessive amounts of chocolate candies, which contain high amounts of refined sugar, artificial additives, and other harmful ingredients could potentially cause low energy levels and mood swings. Instead, stick to a higher percentage of dark chocolate, preferably sugar-free products.
#7. Turkey, chicken, and other types of poultry contain tryptophan, an amino acid that will help you relax.
Have you ever felt sleepy and relaxed after a Thanksgiving dinner? This happens because turkey contains high levels of tryptophan, the same amino acid that can be found in dark chocolate.
As stated above, tryptophan is then converted to serotonin inside your brain. Serotonin helps regulate hunger, facilitates happiness, and induces feelings of well-being. Low tryptophan levels have been linked to mood alterations in healthy individuals with a family history of depression.
Other studies have found that individuals who consume higher levels of tryptophan are perceived as more agree by their peers. This could indicate a correlation between tryptophan intake and socialization skills.
Low levels of tryptophan have also been linked to sleep disorders, concentration problems, and impaired memory and learning. These factors can also play a role in how we respond to stress.
Good sources of tryptophan include:
- Bush birds
#8. Avocado is full of healthy fats and vitamins that can combat bad mood, depression, and stress.
In recent years, avocado has gained popularity as a healthy superfood. Among many other health benefits, this delicious fruit contains high levels of B vitamins. Feelings of anxiety have been associated with a low intake of different B vitamins. Because of this, adding avocado into your diet could help boost your mood.
Avocado also contains tryptophan, folic acid, potassium, magnesium, vitamin E, vitamin K, and oleic acid. Many of these compounds can directly affect your moods, such as magnesium and tryptophan. Others, such as potassium, can help you feel more energized during the day so that you can complete all your goals.
#9. Different seeds contain omega-3 fatty acids, minerals, and other stress-relieving compounds.
Sunflower seeds contain high amounts of folate and magnesium. These two compounds are essential for mood regulation and stress relief.
Flax and chia seeds, on the other hand, are full of omega-3 fatty acids. As stated above, omega-3 fatty acids can help improve your mood, relieve anxiety, increase concentration, and even boost your immune system.
Pumpkin seeds contain lots of potassium, which can increase your energy levels and regulate symptoms of stress and anxiety. Pumpkin seeds also contain zinc; low levels of this mineral have been linked to negative moods.
#10. Green tea and other infusions can boost your overall health, relieve stress, and induce calmness and sleep.
Green tea is an antioxidant powerhouse. A 2009 study found that drinking green tea every day can help reduce stress by up to 20 percent. Green tea contains theanine, which is currently being studied for its potential role in relieving different mood disorders.
Chamomile tea can help induce sleep, and we all know that sleep problems can play a big role in stress management. Chamomile has also been found to relieve symptoms of anxiety.
Combine stress-fighting foods to reap more benefits.
Now that you know more about the benefits that these foods can have over your mood, stress levels, anxiety, and overall health, you can create your own food combinations. Rather than eating these foods on their own, creating meals that combine several stress-relieving ingredients can help you better.
Some combinations that you could try include:
- Yogurt, oatmeal, and strawberries
- Oatmeal with pieces of dark chocolate
- Salmon, quinoa, and a leafy greens salad
- A salad with leafy greens, orange slices, and lentils
- A whole-wheat bread sandwich with pickles and chicken
- Avocado toast on whole wheat bread
- Chickpeas with wild rice
- Green tea with lemon
As you can see, the possibilities are endless! Once you understand which ingredients can help you fight stress, mood swings, and anxiety, you’ll be able to come up with new ideas to consume them. These foods can all be part of a healthy, balanced diet that will help you feel better throughout the day.
A healthy diet is also necessary for you to have enough energy to maintain your schedule. These energy-boosting foods can also help you stay motivated while pursuing other stress management techniques, such as regular exercise or yoga.
Final thoughts on food and stress
Simply changing your diet isn’t enough to completely manage your stress, but certain foods contain nutrients that can help reduce stress and anxiety. Foods such as leafy greens, fish, and chocolate can be part of a delicious diet that will help you feel calmer.
It’s important that you remember to include other stress management techniques in your life, such as:
- Learning a new hobby
- Seeking support from your loved ones
- Time management strategies
- Sleep hygiene
- Exercising regularly
- Practicing yoga or tai-chi
For better results, combine these strategies with a diet full of anti-stress foods. This can help you fight off stress so that you can lead a happier, calmer, more fulfilled everyday life.
Andrea, M.D is from Valencia, Venezuela. She is passionate about sexual health and education, and public health and global health. Additionally, she enjoys researching and learning about beauty, skincare, and cosmetic innovations. She has also volunteered in several NGOs in Venezuela. In her free time, Andrea enjoys reading, drinking copious amounts of coffee, making desserts for her family, going to the beach, and spending time with her dog, Dorito.