23 Stress Relieving Foods
Good nutrition and fueling your body with the right foods isn’t just important for weight loss and maintenance. Certain food and drink can help ease feelings of anxiety and stress. Which are the best to add to your diet? Let’s take a look at 23 stress relieving foods.
Foods that reduce stress
Here are some of the best foods for stress.
- Green leafy veg
- Matcha tea
- Sweet potatoes
- Swiss chard
- Fatty fish
- Chamomile tea
- Sunflower seeds
- Turkey breast
- Dark chocolate
An in-depth look at foods that calm nerves
While sometimes difficult, avoiding stress is important. Particularly if chronic, stress can take a severe toll on both mental and physical health, increasing risk of conditions like depression, insomnia, heart attack and high blood pressure.3
An erratic diet made up of unhealthy foods can be a leading cause of stress. But, in general, healthy eating improves mood. When stressed, we’re less likely to make the right choices when it comes to nutrition and more likely to give into cravings.
While more might need to be done to combat stress, eating the right foods can help stabilise blood sugar and control emotional responses, as well as relieve tension. Here’s a closer look at some of the best and how they can help.
As well as keep the vampires at bay, garlic helps increase levels of glutathione, an antioxidant that is part of your body’s defence mechanism against stress. It also reduces glucose levels in the body,4 helping to control mood swings and sugar crashes.
2) Green leafy vegetables
Leafy greens like spinach produce dopamine, a brain chemical that keeps you calm and induces pleasure. Studies show that spinach extract-supplemented diets decrease stress-associated cortisol levels and depressive-like behaviours caused by chronic stress.5
The flavonoid antioxidants and phytonutrients found in blueberries help improve your body’s response to stress and safeguard against stress-related cellular damage. What’s more, blueberries are linked to better cognitive function and have measurable effects on positive mood within 2 hours of consumption.6
4) Matcha tea
Matcha tea is jam-packed with antioxidants and boosts brain function thanks to its unique nutrient profile.7 It’s also a good way to kickstart weight loss, as it has green tea extract within it. You can even purchase diet Matcha green tea specifically for weight loss.
5) Sweet potatoes
Slow-release carbs like potatoes and sweet potatoes keep blood sugar stable and can reduce cortisol levels (the stress hormone).8 High levels of cortisol are linked to:
- Anxiety and depression
- Heart disease
- Memory and concentration problems
- Digestion problems
- Sleep problems
- Food cravings
This is why following a nutrient-dense diet and cutting back on refined carbs is recommended for managing stress.
6) Swiss chard
Even just a small amount of swiss chard will be packed full of magnesium, which helps improve your body’s response to stress. Low levels of magnesium have been linked to anxiety, depression and panic attacks,10 so it’s best to ensure you’re getting your fill. Other sources include quinoa and black beans.
Artichokes, or artichoke extract, can help lower blood sugar and therefore erratic mood swings.11 They’re also superfoods when it comes to overall health, full of nutrients and linked to improved digestion and heart health.
They also contain concentrated prebiotics like fructooligosaccharides (FOSs), which may help reduce stress levels.
This superfruit is one you should aim to eat more of. High in healthy fat, it helps to curb stress eating by keeping you fuller for longer and making you feel satiated. They’re also incredibly nutritious, loaded with potassium and fibre, while helping to lower cholesterol.12
A traditional Korean dish made from salted vegetables like cabbage, beets and bamboo shoots, kimchi is fermented food that boasts numerous probiotics.13 These probiotics promote good mental health along with heart health and can reduce inflammation. It’s also highly nutrient dense.
10) Fatty fish
High in omega 3s which improve mental ability, fatty fish has many health benefits.14 Some of the best sources include salmon, herring and anchovies. It’s important to note they’re full of good fats, not saturated ones, delivering huge benefits for your heart, lungs and circulation.
Shellfish, such as muscles, has been shown to have a number of mood boosting properties, high in the amino acid taurine. This improves the body’s production of dopamine, regulating the stress response and having antidepressant effects.15
Chickpeas are packed with stress-fighting vitamins and minerals. This includes:
- B vitamins
Together, they help regulate and improve mood, boosting brain health while increasing mental performance.
13) Chamomile tea
Chamomile tea helps promote a restful night’s sleep while reducing the symptoms of depression and anxiety. It’s long been used as a natural remedy for stress, since the ancient times in fact. It helps people relax, while reducing inflammation and lowering blood sugar.16
14) Sunflower seeds
Vitamin E is a group of powerful antioxidants that protect your cells from oxidative stress, essential for the body to function normally.17 Insufficient levels can lower your immunity and mean you suffer from muscle weakness. What’s more, a lack of vitamin E can negatively affect mood and cause depression. Sunflower seeds are a rich source of it – as well as being a source of magnesium.
Broccoli is a type of cruciferous vegetable. Cruciferous vegetables are rich in nutrients and excellent sources of fibre. They’ve also been linked to reducing the risk of cancer in some individuals, including prostate and colon cancer.18
Outside of these wider health benefits, broccoli is packed with magnesium and sulforaphane, which can calm the nerves and improve mood.19
Tahini is made from sesame seeds and is a source of L-tryptophan, an amino acid that helps the body make proteins and certain brain-signalling chemicals. Your body changes L-tryptophan into serotonin, which boosts mood and controls sleep.20 Low levels of it have been linked to depression, mood swings and stress.
Eggs are versatile and packed with protein, making them a good choice for those trying to lose weight. They’re also full of choline, an essential nutrient that impacts healthy brain development, muscle movement and your nervous system.21 It can also help ward off stress.
This unassuming herb offers more than just flavour, it’s also packed with antioxidants and can help protect against oxidative stress. Oxidative stress can lead to inflammatory conditions, high blood pressure and heart disease.22 Meanwhile, diets high in antioxidants can help prevent stress and lower anxiety.
19) Turkey breast
Turkey is not only a lean meat and excellent source of protein, it’s full of tryptophan. This amino acid is essential when it comes to creating serotonin, which provides a healthier sleep along with relief from depression and anxiety.23
When stressed, many of us reach for refined carbs (like donuts, cakes or chocolate). While these can form part of any balanced diet in moderation, they cause spikes in blood sugar and can actually contribute to higher stress levels.
You don’t have to deny your cravings completely, but slow-release carbs like oats will not only keep you fuller for longer, but also help the body produce serotonin.
Light, flavourful and easy to digest, yoghurt is rich in tyrosine which increases the serotonin level in the brain. You can opt for a flavoured kind (such as strawberry) if you prefer, but try choosing high-protein versions rather than sugary alternatives.
22) Dark chocolate
Good news – dark chocolate can take a bite out of stress. In fact, it can reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol, while also being rich in antioxidants called flavonoids. What’s more, it can improve mood, reduce blood pressure and improve insulin sensitivity too.24
Snacking on a portion of cashews can help you get your fill of zinc, an essential mineral that can help reduce anxiety. A diet rich in zinc can stabilise cortisol levels over time,25 while a deficiency can lead to higher levels of stress, anxiety and irritability.
The bigger picture
While good nutrition and eating healthily is essential for weight loss and maintenance, the effects go much deeper than that. Fueling your body with the right foods wards off stress, improves mood, and is better for mental health in general.
Everything in moderation is key, but looking after your body by ensuring you get the right nutrients and minerals is beneficial for long-term health.