Are your stress levels through the roof? Pair calming activities and positive thinking with the best foods that reduce stress according to nutritionist Carrie Gabriel, MS, RDN.
We can all get overwhelmed by the stress and uncertainty of daily life. To cope, many of us tend to reach for unhealthy foods for stress relief. But super sugary or high-calorie foods only trick us into thinking we feel better. Those happy highs are most often followed by intense lows. On the other hand, making a conscious choice to eat healthy food can actually provide noticeable stress relief.
Now’s the time to end the cycle of turning to these less healthy options. Instead, eat more of these foods that reduce stress to achieve calm and ease through nutrition.
Top 8 Foods That Reduce Stress
Curious as to what foods are good for stress? The best options fall into three categories: proteins, healthy fats, and complex carbohydrates. Better yet, they’re also satiating and contribute to a healthy, well-rounded diet overall. More healthful diets are associated with better mental health outcomes than unhealthy eating, such as a traditional Western diet, research has found.
1. Fatty Fish
Adrenaline and cortisol are two hormones that kick into high gear under stress. Yet studies show that the omega-3 fatty acids in salmon have anti-inflammatory properties that may help counteract the negative effects of these hormones. Even further, omega-3 fatty acids may also help alleviate other symptoms related to mental health. For more fish varieties rich in omega fatty acids, look to tuna, herring, halibut, and lake trout.
2. Greek Yogurt
Research suggests that eating probiotic yogurt is beneficial for a person’s stress levels. A 2016 study found that workers who ate 100 grams of probiotic yogurt daily—or took a daily probiotic capsule—experienced less stress than those who did not.
This anti-stress effect is likely due to the gut-brain axis, and the gut’s ability to create neurotransmitters that impact mental health, such as serotonin and dopamine. These neurotransmitters play a crucial role in maintaining equilibrium in the body. In essence, when the gut thrives with probiotics, your brain gets signals that can lead to less stress.
These green powerhouses are one of the best foods to eat for stress relief. Avocados are great sliced up in a salad, piled onto toast, or mashed up into guacamole. They offer omega fatty acids, one of the best nutrients to reduce stress.
Getting the right amount of omega fatty acids in your diet provides anti-inflammatory benefits, helps lower stress, and boosts overall health. The daily adequate intake of ALA (alpha-linolenic acid, a form of omega-3 fats) is 1.6 grams for adult men and 1.1 grams for adult women.
Pistachios are one of the best foods that reduce stress by lowering blood pressure and heart rate. They have high contents of healthy fat, fiber, and antioxidants to keep blood vessels open and relaxed during stressful moments. One serving consists of 40 pistachios, which makes for a great afternoon snack. They’re delicious plain, on top of yogurt, or even baked into cookies.
5. Dark Chocolate
Dark chocolate can reduce stress in two ways: chemically and emotionally. It has a rich flavor profile that can feel indulgent and satisfy cravings while still offering health benefits. It can be a treat to simply savor a piece of it, and that feeling alone can help reduce stress.
Next, dark chocolate is rich in antioxidants, which may also relieve stress by lowering levels of stress hormones in the body. Ideally, you’ll enjoy high-quality dark chocolate in moderation. Look at the label for two or three primary ingredients only, such as cacao beans, cane sugar, and cocoa butter.
6. Spinach + Leafy Greens
Need an easy, habitual way to eat food for stress management? Build a salad packed with leafy greens for lunch. Leafy green vegetables such as spinach and kale (as well as many other raw fruits and veggies) are stress-fighting powerhouses. As a powerful source of magnesium, leafy greens can help regulate cortisol and blood pressure levels. Plus, green leafy veggies contain folate, which aids in the production of dopamine, our body’s feel-good chemical.
7. Citrus Fruits
Several studies have found that high levels of vitamin C may help provide stress relief. One double-blind 2015 study reported that vitamin C reduced stress levels in participants taking 500 milligrams per day, and also pointed to possible anxiety prevention. Another 2013 study looked at vitamin C and vitamin E, and found a significant decrease in anxiety levels in the vitamin C group compared with others. Consider eating more vitamin C-rich fruits like oranges and strawberries. You can also add more fresh-squeezed lemons or limes into your daily meals or beverages. Lastly, as shown above, vitamin C supplements can also lend a helping hand.
Complex carbohydrates, like those found in oats, are among the top foods that fight stress. They can make the brain increase serotonin production and help stabilize blood pressure. Additionally, oatmeal is a comfort food that can activate feelings of calmness. If you’re not a fan of hot oatmeal, overnight oats are a great option. Built-in bonus: Overnight oats can also reduce stress in the morning since you’ve prepped breakfast the night before.