Foods That Help with Stress
If you’ve been feeling more stressed out than usual lately, it’s important to know which foods are best to choose and which to avoid when it comes to helping manage stress.
When you’re stressed out, the foods that you’re turning to are most likely going to be traditional ‘comfort’ foods – think big meals, take-out, fatty foods, sweet foods, and alcohol. Let’s face it – we’ve all found some comfort in a tasty meal and a bottle of beer or glass of wine when we’ve been stressed out or upset about something. However, this isn’t a good permanent solution.
When you’re turning to unhealthy foods you can feel better temporarily, but in the long run, you will feel worse. When your body isn’t getting the right nutrition, you can begin to feel less energetic, more lethargic, and in some cases less able to concentrate and focus. All of this can lead to even more stress. While there is nothing wrong with treat meals or comfort food once or twice a week (depending on your specific needs and preferences nd what the rest of your diet looks like), we can learn to optimize certain foods to our advantage during stressful times (if not, all the time).
While nutrient-food is not being advertised as a cure, the diet has a part to play in helping with stress symptoms.
Filling up on foods such as whole grains, leafy vegetables, and lean proteins helps to lower inflammation in the body and increase the body's ability to manage stress both physiologically and mentally (as the side effect of feeling better physically).
Some of the best stress-fighting foods include the below (this is not an exhaustive list):
• Avocado – Avocados are a creamy and versatile fruit that can be eaten in a range of different ways whether you enjoy it raw, made into sauces, dressings, and dips, or in a smoothie. These nutrient-dense fruits have high glutathione content which specifically blocks the intestinal absorption of certain fats which cause oxidative damage. Avocados also contain higher levels of vitamin E, folate, and beta-carotene than any other fruit, which boosts their stress-busting properties. However, be careful with portion control when eating avocado, as it is high in fat.
• Blueberries – If you’re feeling stressed out and reaching for snacks, swapping chocolate or chips for one of the best superfoods is a great way to help you deal with your stress levels and achieve a higher level of calm. Blueberries have some of the highest levels of antioxidants, especially anthocyanin, which means that this berry has been linked to a wide range of health benefits including sharper cognition, better focus, and a clearer mind – all of which can help you to better deal with stress.
• Chamomile Tea – Of course, it’s not all about what you’re eating when it comes to managing stress; what you’re drinking can also alleviate or worsen the stress you're feeling. Drinking liquids that are high in sugars and caffeine, such as coffee, energy drinks, or soda, can actually increase your stress levels if consumed regularly. Chamomile tea has long been used as a natural bedtime soother, and it has also been used in clinical trials, which determined that chamomile tea is effective in reducing the symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder.
• Chocolate – Although it’s usually seen as an unhealthy treat, there is an undeniable link between chocolate and our mood. Studies have shown that eating chocolate can actually make you happier. However, that doesn’t mean that you can start munching on chocolate bars every time you're stressed out – chocolate works best as a de-stressor when eaten in moderation and as part of a healthy and balanced diet. Dark chocolate in particular is best for you, as it contains more flavonols and polyphenols, two hugely important antioxidants which can help combat stress, more than many types of fruit.
• Beef – Grass-fed beef is not only kinder to the planet and to animals, but it’s also good for people, too. Grass-fed beef has a huge range of antioxidants, including beta-carotene and Vitamins C and E, which can help your body to fight stress and anxiety. If you’re looking for more reasons to spend a little more money on organic, grass-fed beef, it’s also lower in fat than grain-fed beef whilst being higher in omega-3. Omegas help with overall bodily functions but help the brain function at its best (optimizing cognitive functions). Vegan or vegetarian options that are high in similar nutrients definitely do exist and are also recommended depending on your dietary needs and preferences.
• Protein in general - Getting enough protein overall can help maintain a high metabolism and overall satiety, which helps curb cravings.
• Oatmeal – Oatmeal is great in that it can be a portion of filling comfort food, but also has a large number of healthy properties to actually make you feel better from the inside out. A complex carbohydrate, eating oatmeal can help your brain to produce higher levels of the feel-good chemical serotonin, helping you to feel calmer and less stressed. Studies have shown that kids who choose oatmeal for breakfast tend to be much sharper throughout the morning in school compared to kids who had alternative morning meals.
• Walnuts – If you’re looking for a healthy snacking option that will help you to stay better in control of your stress levels, walnuts are a great choice. There is no denying the sweet, pleasant flavor of walnuts and they can be a tasty snack for in-between meals or as part of a desert. A versatile nut, walnuts are great for salads or add them to a sweet treat such as coffee and walnut cake. All of this said, walnuts, as with any nuts are high in fat, so be aware of portions.
• Pistachios – Another food that is great for snacking on and can also help to combat stress and anxiety in the long term is pistachios. Studies have found that simply eating two small, snack-size portions of pistachios per day can lower vascular constriction when you are stressed, putting less pressure on your heart by further dilating your arteries.
• Green Leafy Vegetables – Leafy, green vegetables should be a pivotal part of anyone’s diet. Along with helping to combat stress, leafy greens are full of nutrients and antioxidants which help to fight off disease and leave your body feeling healthier and more energized. Dark leafy greens, for example, spinach, are especially good for you since they are rich in folate, which helps your body to produce more mood-regulating neurotransmitters such as serotonin, which is a ‘feel-good’ chemical.
• Fermented foods – Last but not least, eating fermented foods such as yogurt can help to keep your gut healthy, which actually in turn will help to improve your mental health and reduce stress levels. The beneficial bacteria which are found in fermented foods such as yogurt may have a direct effect on your brain chemistry and transmit positive mood and behavior regulating signals to your brain via the vagus nerve.