There are many important practices for reducing stress, like meditation, exercise, working less, and even adult coloring books. While such practices can be powerful, we sometimes give them far too much credit. Turning to stress reducing food can be just as effective, if not more so.
After all, our diet is the foundation for everything else. It gives our bodies the chemicals that it needs to work with. If our diet is unbalanced in some areas, then the way our body reacts can easily be unbalanced too.
Besides, let’s be honest, most of us don’t eat that well when we’re stressed. Reaching for junk food is much easier than cooking a healthy meal. The junk food might be more immediately satisfying too. Still, it doesn’t do us much good in the long run.
Healthy food, on the other hand, has short-term and long-term benefits. Don’t worry if your energy levels are low. There are plenty of easy ways to eat well, such as by relying on meal kits or getting healthy meals delivered straight to you.
Best Foods For Reducing Your Stress
- Dark Chocolate
- Fatty Fish
- Dark Leafy Greens
- Milk Chocolate
- Carrots and Celery
- Sweet Potatoes
- Fermented Foods
- Sesame Seeds
- Nuts and Seeds
- Cruciferous Vegetables
- Organ Meats
- Some Herbs and Spices
- Whole Grains
- Bell Peppers
Avocados have many advantages. They’re naturally low in carbs and a fantastic source of healthy fats. These features are why avocados are so popular among keto dieters. Still, you don’t need to follow a keto diet to enjoy avocados.
As for stress, the potassium in avocados is what we’re looking at. Potassium helps to keep your blood pressure in check. This is crucial, as high blood pressure is often associated with stress and certainly isn’t good for you.
You can get potassium from plenty of other foods, including bananas. Still, avocados are often a better choice than bananas, as bananas contain a decent amount of sugar.
Avocados contain some plant-based omega-3 fatty acids too, the benefits of which are well-known. Let’s not forget about all the other nutrients and phytochemicals in avocados too.
Dark chocolate has many advantages. It is packed with flavonols and other antioxidants, which have all been linked to a variety of health benefits.
For one thing, the compounds may increase blood flow to the brain, making it easier to adapt in times of stress. This effect can mean that you become more resilient to challenges and difficult situations feel less stressful and overwhelming.
There’s also the expectation factor. Many of us already see chocolate as comforting. This expectation on its own can be enough to turn chocolate into a stress-reducing food.
Of course, dark chocolate isn’t all created equal. Some brands have a much higher concentration of beneficial chemicals than others. The difference is partly linked to the amount of cocoa used in the chocolate. Products with a higher cocoa content and less sugar tend to be healthier than those with less cocoa.
Pay attention to the processing too. The cocoa in chocolate is sometimes processed with alkali. This approach could decrease the antioxidant power of the dark chocolate. Looking for brands that don’t use alkaline processing is a much safer bet.
We’ve written about healthy foods many times now, including good foods for anxiety, depression, and memory. Fatty fish has featured on all of those lists, which should tell you just how powerful fish is.
There are plenty of reasons to eat fish. After all, fish is a good source of nutrients and provides plenty of protein. Still, the main reason is the omega-3 fatty acids. This is a healthy type of fat that can influence your health in many ways.
As for stress, the omega-3 fats can help to keep your adrenaline levels in check.
Dark Leafy Greens
Dark leafy greens are another ingredient that you’ll see on many healthy food lists. This is hardly surprising, as the greens are rich in nutrients and low in calories.
One advantage is their folate content. Folate is linked to dopamine and serotonin production. Those brain chemicals play a role in your mood and they’re certainly helpful in times of stress.
Some leafy greens are high in magnesium too. Swiss chard is one of the best examples. Magnesium is relevant for balancing out cortisol, which is the body’s stress hormone. Keeping cortisol levels in check can help you respond to stress better.
In fact, low magnesium levels have been linked to a variety of problems, including increased anxiety.
While you can enjoy dark leafy greens cooked or raw, they may offer more benefits when raw. After all, cooking changes the chemical composition of foods. Try using them in a sandwich or a salad.
Milk chocolate has a lower cocoa percentage than dark chocolate, often around 33%. It also tends to be higher in sugar. While these features make milk chocolate less powerful than dark chocolate, milk chocolate still has its place.
The sugar content is actually one reason, as sugar does help with your serotonin production. This, in turn, helps improve your mood.
And, once again, milk chocolate is already seen as a stress relief food. This association reinforces the destressing effect. Just be sure to watch the amount you eat, as too much sugar and fat isn’t going to help with stress in the long-term.
Carrots and Celery
As most people know, eating tends to help with stress. It’s a simple feel-good tool, but also a risky one, as you can easily end up eating too many calories.
This is where foods like carrot sticks and celery come in. They’re both low-calorie options that have a satisfying crunch. You can eat them on their own or dip them in something healthy, like hummus.
Carrots are particularly interesting, as they’re a potent source of beta-carotene. This pigment molecule is converted to vitamin A in the body and also acts as an antioxidant. While beta-carotene isn’t directly related to stress reduction, a diet that’s rich in plant-based nutrients is always good for your physical health, which has many benefits.
We also know that antioxidants are highly relevant for health. An antioxidant rich diet could help to reduce stress through multiple mechanisms.
Sweet potatoes are another source of beta-carotene, but that’s not why we’re featuring them on this list. Instead, the power of sweet potatoes comes from their carb content.
I know, shocking right? These days carbs are seen as nutritional villains. They’re thought to contribute to inflammation, oxidative stress, and many other health problems. But, while refined carbs are generally a bad idea, nutrient-dense high carb foods can be very good for you.
Carbs are actually very relevant for stress, as they can reduce your cortisol levels. Plus, foods like sweet potatoes contain many important nutrients, including potassium.
You can even turn to regular potatoes. Surprising as it may seem, white potatoes offer a decent number of beneficial nutrients. They’re also a much healthier choice than highly processed carb-laden foods.
Potatoes and sweet potatoes are also both easy foods. Why not simply bake the potato in the oven or even in a microwave? You can then use it as the base for endless topping combinations.
You’ve probably already heard about the tryptophan in turkey. It’s often thought to be the reason that you get sleepy after eating turkey at Thanksgiving. This is also why a little turkey before bed could help you to nod off faster.
As always, the research linking turkey, tryptophan, and decreased stress isn’t that strong. It’s pretty difficult to study the effects of a single nutrient on the body. Still, there’s a good chance that tryptophan could help and there’s little risk in trying it out for yourself.
Fermented foods have become the poster child for health in recent years. The main reason is that they’re rich in probiotics, which are microbes that happen to be good for us. Probiotics are so important because our bodies rely on a host of beneficial microbes in our gut.
In fact, our gut microbiome, as it is sometimes called, can influence many aspects of our health. Having a good balance of bacteria may even decrease disease risk and improve mental health. This can mean fewer problems like anxiety and depression. It’s easy to see how such effects help with your mood and with stress levels.
Fermented foods tend to be rich in nutrients too. This makes them an even more powerful choice.
Many people begin with yogurt, as it’s already familiar and is easy to find. You’re also getting dairy nutrients, including calcium. Of course, yogurt is only useful if you can tolerate lactose.
Other foods include kimchi, sauerkraut, natto, miso, and tempeh. Don’t forget about fermented drinks either, like kefir and kombucha. The foods and drinks all vary in the specific microbes and nutrients that they offer, so it’s best to include a variety in your diet.
Pay attention to quality too.
First of all, some fermented foods won’t contain probiotics because they’ve been heat treated. So, if you’re buying fermented food in a store, look for an indication that the product contains active cultures.
If you’re focusing on a local or artisan supplier instead, make sure that you can trust them. This is crucial, as it’s surprisingly easy to grow dangerous bacteria when you’re fermenting food, rather than just healthy bacteria.
What could be more important than eggs? They’re an exceptional source of nutrients, including vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and amino acids. All of these are needed to help your body respond well to stress.
They’re a good choice for protein too. Protein provides a stable release of energy, which reduces blood sugar spikes, helping you to feel calmer and less stressed. This is one reason why a high protein breakfast sets you up for the day much better than one that’s high in carbs and low in protein.
Whole eggs also offer choline. This isn’t a common nutrient and it’s been linked to brain health and stress response, along with plenty of other important roles.
Nuts and seeds all have many advantages. They’re all relevant for stress, as they’re a source of protein and healthy fats. They can help you to feel full and satisfied too, while decreasing blood sugar spikes.
Sesame seeds also contain l-tryptophan. This amino acid is the precursor to multiple neurotransmitters, such as serotonin and dopamine. Increasing your intake of l-tryptophan could improve levels of those neurotransmitters, which then has flow on effects for your stress levels.
There are plenty of other useful nutrients present too.
It’s easy to get sesame seeds into your diet. They’re small and don’t have a strong flavor, so you can scatter them across meals. You could also use them to make tahini. This is basically sesame seed butter. You can use it in the same way as any other type of nut or seed butter.
Just make sure to get some omega-3 fatty acids in your diet too, like those in fatty fish, chia seeds, and flaxseeds. Those options are all high in omega-3, while sesame seeds are high in omega-6 fatty acids instead. Omega-6 fatty acids aren’t bad for you per se. However, most people need to increase their omega-3 intake and decrease omega-6 intake for optimal health.
Nuts and Seeds
While we’re on the topic of sesame seeds, we should spare a thought for all the other nuts and seeds out there. We already mentioned some of their advantages.
Another is that most nuts and seeds contain magnesium. This nutrient plays an important role in how we respond to stress. While you can find magnesium in many foods, it’s easy to be deficient in it.
Almonds and pumpkin seeds are both fantastic choices for magnesium. You can also look for Brazil nuts. These are notable for their selenium content. You only need a few Brazil nuts to hit your daily intake of selenium. Just avoid having large servings of Brazil nuts regularly, as overdoing it with selenium isn’t wise.
We can’t forget zinc either. Zinc levels can influence mood, which has an impact on stress. Cashews are a good way to increase your zinc intake.
The dark leafy greens we mentioned earlier fall into the general category of cruciferous vegetables. These vegetables are often highlighted for their health benefits. Getting plenty of cruciferous vegetables in your diet could even reduce your risk of cancer, some mental health conditions, and heart disease.
If those weren’t enough reasons, don’t forget that cruciferous vegetables are also filled with beneficial nutrients. Some of these may directly help to combat stress and mental health symptoms, including nutrients like folate and magnesium.
Broccoli is an excellent option to begin with, as it contains sulforaphane. This sulfur compound can help to calm you, while also reducing your stress levels.
Don’t forget about cauliflower either. It has plenty of nutrients and plant-based compounds too. Plus, cauliflower is versatile. You can even make cauliflower rice with it and use this as the base for countless meals.
Many people don’t eat organ meat at all or they do so rarely. This isn’t surprising, as organ meat can sound unappealing and even a little scary. Besides, many types of organ meats look gross and can have a distinct iron-like flavor.
Still, organ meats can taste good and, more importantly, they can be an amazing source of some nutrients. Take the B vitamins for example, including vitamin B12. Getting enough B vitamins in your diet can make you less stressed. It’s as simple as that. Sure, you can supplement them, but you’ll always get more benefits from whole foods.
Many organ meats are fantastic for B vitamins. For example, you get more than 3,500% of your daily B12 requirements from 100 grams of beef liver, so you only need a tiny amount to hit your daily targets. You’re getting plenty of other nutrients too, including vitamin B6, folate, riboflavin, and choline.
It’s easy to overlook chickpeas, as there are so many other nutritious legumes to choose from. Still, chickpeas have their own advantages. For one thing, they’re rich in l-tryptophan. That’s the same amino acid that we mentioned earlier and it’s highly significant in your stress response.
Chickpeas are also one of many plant-based sources of protein. Diets with plenty of plant protein have been linked to many benefits, like improved mental health and cognitive performance. You’re likely to feel less stressed too.
Plant-based options like chickpeas are fantastic for your bank balance too. Plant protein tends to be much cheaper than meat and fish and can be just as satisfying.
Chickpeas are most famous for their role in hummus. However, you can use them in other ways. Why not try roasted seasoned chickpeas? These can be eaten exactly like nuts, but are lower in fat and calories.
Artichokes mightn’t be the most popular type of vegetable, but they do have a few different advantages. One is that they’re a rich source of prebiotics. It’s easy to overlook prebiotics, as they aren’t as trendy as probiotics. Still, prebiotics are just as important, as they’re the food for the healthy bacteria in your body. You need prebiotics and probiotics for optimum health.
There are also some important nutrients in artichokes, including vitamin K, vitamin C, magnesium, and potassium. Not surprisingly, a good balance of nutrients is essential for a healthy stress response.
Besides, like many vegetables, artichokes are low in fat and calories. This makes them an easy choice when you’re trying to keep your calorie intake in check.
Don’t worry if artichokes look confusing at first glance. They’re surprisingly easy to cook and can be used in plenty of ways.
Nutritionists often recommend that we eat at least two servings of fish a week. That recommendation has become so common that we often forget that some other foods offer the same nutrients.
In fact, shellfish offer most of the same benefits as fish. They’re packed with omega-3 fatty acids and are also sources of vitamin B12, zinc, selenium, and many other nutrients.
We can’t forget about the protein either. Protein isn’t just essential for building and maintaining muscle. It also helps to keep us satisfied, so we’re less unlikely to reach for junk food.
Crabs, oysters, and mussels are some of the best choices for stress levels, as they contain more omega-3 fatty acids per hundred grams than tuna. Other types of seafood aren’t as formidable, but are still worth eating.
Besides, it’s always best to focus on foods that you enjoy and can eat regularly without a problem. If you prefer shellfish to fatty fish, then focusing on shellfish just makes sense.
Some Herbs and Spices
While you generally don’t eat herbs and spices on their own, they can be easy additions to many meals. They’re often concentrated sources of plant-based compounds. So, it shouldn’t be surprising that some can help with stress as well.
Parsley, for example, is rich in antioxidants (which is also true of many other stress reducing foods). These antioxidants influence your levels of oxidative stress. By doing so they may reduce your sense of being stressed and lower your risk of disease.
Garlic is another important choice. It is a useful source of sulfur compounds, which influence glutathione levels in your body. Garlic itself has also been directly linked to decreased stress and lower symptoms of mental illness.
Try turmeric as well. This spice has potent anti-inflammatory properties. It may help to increase levels of feel-good hormones too.
The best approach is to look for recipes that heavily rely on herbs and spices. Why not try recipes from a different culture, like Indian recipes? Doing so may give you the chance to use spices and other ingredients that you’re not very familiar with.
We can’t finish this list without talking about blueberries. After all, they’re one of the most famous sources of antioxidants. They’re also easy to find and add to your diet.
In fact, antioxidant supplements are one of the few more potent sources of antioxidants than blueberries. Even so, blueberries are a better choice, as antioxidant supplements aren’t nearly as beneficial as you might expect. You’ll get many more advantages from whole foods like blueberries.
Okra is an unusual vegetable and it certainly isn’t for everyone. Still, if you’re willing to hunt around for it and prepare it well, then okra is worth trying.
One reason is the folate content. Folate is an important B vitamin. It’s the precursor to dopamine, which could mean that it decreases symptoms of depression and similar conditions. This effect could easily have an impact on your stress levels too. Of course, there are plenty of other nutrients too, like magnesium, fiber, and vitamin C.
Whole grains are another important group to mention. We’re talking about the grains themselves and products that rely on whole grains, like whole wheat bread.
The claim might sound odd, as carbs don’t have a great reputation these days. They’ve even been linked to many health problems.
Still, many of the issues aren’t with carbs themselves, but with diets that are rich in simple carbs and processed foods. Relying on whole food sources and complex carbs instead gives you many more benefits and fewer problems.
Complex carbs have multiple advantages. For one thing, they provide you with a sustained energy release. They can also help with serotonin levels, which keeps your stress at bay. Many complex carb foods are rich in fiber too. Fiber is a crucial food for the beneficial bacteria in your gut, making it a key player in your health.
We often think of oranges as the go-to choice for vitamin C, but they’re not even your best option. Bell peppers are much more powerful, often giving you around three times the amount of vitamin C that you get with an orange. How’s that for impressive?
Peppers can be a better dietary addition than oranges too, as they’re lower in sugar. You can even eat them raw with barely any prep work and they’re ideal when you want something savory.
Red peppers can be the easiest type to eat raw, as they’re sweeter than other varieties. However, yellow peppers are the most powerful for vitamin C – by a surprising amount. Each type has a different combination of nutrients and phytochemicals, so the best approach is to include a selection of them in your diet.
The peppers are also useful because they’re a low calorie crunchy snack. These features are surprisingly potent for stress relief. After all, the desire to snack tends to increase when you’re stressed. Sating it with something healthy is the best way to take care of yourself.
Why not dip red pepper strips into hummus? This gives you two delicious stress-reducing foods in a single snack.