15 Foods To Relieve Stress
What you eat can actually help relieve your tension. Certain foods can help stabilize blood sugar or, better yet, your emotional response
Green leafy vegetables
It's tempting to reach for a cheeseburger when you're stressed, but go green for lunch instead. 'Green leafy vegetables like spinach contain folate, which produces dopamine, a pleasure-inducing brain chemical that helps you stay calm,' Heather Mangieri, RDN, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, tells Health. A study published in the Journal of Affective Disorders involving 2,800 middle-aged and elderly people found that those who consumed the most folic acid had a lower risk of depressive symptoms than those who consumed the least. Another study from the University of Otago in New Zealand found that students tended to feel calmer, happier and more energetic on days when they ate more fruit and vegetables. It can be hard to tell which positive thoughts or healthy eating came first, but the researchers found that healthy eating seemed to predict a positive mood the next day.
You've probably heard that the tryptophan in turkey is responsible for that Thanksgiving food coma. This amino acid helps produce serotonin, 'the chemical that regulates hunger and feelings of happiness and well-being,' Mangieri says. On its own, tryptophan can have a calming effect. In a 2006 study published in the Journal of Psychiatry Neuroscience, men and women who were argumentative (based on personality tests) took either tryptophan supplements or a placebo for 15 days. Those who took tryptophan were perceived as more agreeable by their study partners at the end of the two weeks compared to when they did not take it. Other tryptophan-rich foods included nuts, seeds, tofu, fish, lentils, oats, beans and eggs.
If you already love carbs, chances are there's nothing that can come between you and a donut when stress hits. First rule of thumb: Don't completely deny the craving. According to research from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology,carbs can help the brain make serotonin, the same brain chemical that's regulated by some antidepressants. But instead of reaching for the sugary bear claw, look for complex carbs. 'Stress can cause your blood sugar to spike,' says Mangieri, 'so a complex carbohydrate like bear claw won't contribute to your already potential blood sugar spike.
As weird as it sounds, the bacteria in your gut can contribute to stress. Research has shown that the brain and gut communicate through body chemicals, which is why stress can cause gastrointestinal symptoms. And a UCLA study of 36 healthy women found thatconsuming probiotics in yogurt reduced brain activity in areas that manage emotions, including stress. This study was small, so more research is needed to confirm the results. But since yogurt is full of calcium and protein in addition to probiotics, you can't go wrong adding more to your diet.
Stress can spike levels of anxiety hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol. 'Omega-3 fatty acids in salmon have anti-inflammatory properties that may help counteract the negative effects of stress hormones,' says Lisa Cimperman, RD, of University Hospitals Case Medical Center and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. In a study funded by the National Institutes of Health, medical students at Oregon State University who took omega-3 supplements saw a 20 percent reduction in anxiety compared to the group that received placebo pills.
'When you're stressed, there's a battle going on inside you,' Mangieri says. 'The antioxidants and phytonutrients in berries are fighting your defense, helping to improve your body's response to stress.' Research has also shown that blueberry eaters benefit from an enhancement in natural killer cells, 'a type of white blood cell that plays a vital role in immunity, essential for countering stress,' says Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD, Health's nutrition editor.
When you have a continuous loop of negative thoughts playing in your mind, doing something repetitive with your hands can help silence your inner monologue. Think about knitting or kneading bread - or even shelling nuts like pistachios or peanuts. The rhythmic movements will help you relax. Plus, the extra step of cracking open a shell slows down your eating, making pistachios a suitable snack for your diet. Plus,pistachios are heart-healthy. 'Eating pistachios can reduce acute stress by lowering blood pressure and heart rate,' Mangieri says. 'Pistachios contain key phytonutrients that can provide antioxidant support for cardiovascular health.'
Regular, healthy consumption (just a few pieces, not a whole bar!) of dark chocolate may have the power to regulate your stress levels. 'Research has shown that it can reduce your stress hormones, including cortisol,' says Sass. 'In addition, the antioxidants in cocoa relax the walls of your blood vessels, which reduces blood pressure and improves circulation. Finally, dark chocolate contains unique natural substances that create a euphoric feeling similar to that of love.' Opt for varieties that containat least 70% cocoa.
Fortified milk is an excellent source ofvitamin D, which is thought to promote happiness. A 50-year study by the Institute of Child Health at UCL in London linked reduced levels of vitamin D to an increased risk of panic and depression in 5,966 men and women. Those with adequate vitamin D levels had a reduced risk of panic disorder compared to those with the lowest vitamin D levels. Other vitamin D-rich foods include salmon, egg yolks and fortified cereals.
Flaxseeds, pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds are all excellent sources of magnesium (as are green leafy vegetables, yogurt, nuts and fish). Loading up on minerals can help regulate emotions. 'Magnesium has been shown to help relieve depression, fatigue and irritability,' says Sass. 'Bonus: when you're feeling particularly irritable during that time of the month, the mineral also helps combat PMS symptoms, including cramps and fluid retention.
Avocado toast pieces may not be all that healthy, but regular consumption of this superfruit can help fight stress by filling your belly and making you feel more satisfied. In a 2014 study from Loma Linda University (which, for all intents and purposes, was sponsored by the Hass Avocado board), researchers asked participants to add half an avocado to their lunches, reducing their cravings for more food by 40 percent during the three hours after lunch. This feeling full will make you less likely to reach for unhealthy snacks when stress sets in... increasing your stress levels accordingly.
One serving of cashew butter contains 11% of the recommended daily value of zinc, an essential mineral that can help reduce anxiety. When researchers gave zinc supplements to people with both anxiety symptoms (irritability, lack of ability to concentrate) and insufficient zinc levels for eight weeks, the patients saw a31% decrease in anxiety, according to Nutrition and Metabolic Insights. This is likely because zinc affects levels of a nerve chemical that influences mood. If you're already getting enough zinc, your mood may not be better if you eat cashews (or other zinc-rich foods like oysters, beef, chicken, and yogurt). But cashews are alsorich in omega-3 and protein, making them a smart snack no matter what.
Oranges are one of the main sources of vitamin C and are considered a great way to relax and reduce stress levels. 'In addition to supporting immune function, which can be weakened by stress, this key nutrient helps reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which can wreak havoc on the body,' says Sass. 'The effects of prolonged high levels of cortisol can include fatigue, brain fog, increased appetite and weight gain, especially belly fat.
Eggs aren't just a great brunch staple. 'Whole eggs are one of the few natural sources of vitamin D,' says Sass. 'This nutrient is linked to several important health benefits, including better immune function, an anti-inflammatory effect, and mood regulation, including reducing symptoms of depression.
Nutritionist Keri Gans, RD, tells Health that eggs also contain acetylcholine, a chemical that functions as a neurotransmitter in the brain and may impact your ability to regulate your mood, which could make it easier to manage stress levels.
Sushi lovers, you are in luck. The seaweed that wraps around your spicy tuna roll has additional stress-reducing benefits.
'Seaweed is rich in iodine and is one of the few sources of this important mineral,' says Sass. 'Too little iodine can trigger fatigue and depression, but a quarter cup of seaweed salad can account for more than 275% of the daily value.