Stressed Out? These 21 Stress-Reducing Foods Can Help

21 Stress-Busting Foods

When stress levels rise, it is a common reaction to seek comfort in high-sugar, high-fat foods that for a moment make you forget the negative emotion.

These 21 healthy food alternatives don't just momentarily suppress anxiety, but help you physically cope more effectively with the stress you experience.

The issue with seeking comfort in foods is the tendency to get them from a vending machine or fast food joint. Junk foods are high-sugar, high-fat, a killer combination in every sense of the term. They provide instantaneous sensory gratification and stress-relief that is, however, only short-lived.

Unfortunately, the high these unhealthy foods provide is as a general rule as short-lived as it was instantaneous and commonly does not solve anything, rather it tends to make matters worse. According to David Ludwig, Professor of Pediatrics and Nutrition at Harvard University:

There can be a bit of a vicious cycle. When we feel stressed we seek foods that are going to comfort us immediately, but often times those foods lead to surges and crashes in hormones and blood sugar that increase our susceptibility to new stresses.

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It’s not a secret that food impacts mood. Growing research supports that what we eat has an impact on our psyche. This is a good thing, since when you feel anxious or depressed, eating the right food may give you a little more leverage over your emotions.

However, it is important that what you consume doesn't backlash and induce even more anxiety. To help harness this ability to impact moods though foods, we have put together a science-backed list of 21 stress-busting foods that help reduce stress naturally.

21 Stress-Busting Foods

How To Reduce Stress With Complex Carbs

1. Oats

Oats are carbs, but good, complex carbs. When stress makes your blood sugar levels rise, a complex, high-fiber and slow digesting carb like steel cut oats may be just what you need.

Oats help slow down the absorption of sugar into your bloodstream, providing you with a more balanced energy level that will help you push through.

2. Sweet Potatoes

When your body makes it abundantly clear to you that it wants carbs, leave fries, white bread and pasta alone and your battle is half-won already. Full victory lies in finding a healthy and nutritious alternative, criteria which sweet potatoes meet perfectly.

Similar to oats, sweet potatoes are complex carbs that release their energy steadily, with no sugar-induced crash to be afraid of.

How To Reduce Stress With Healthy Fruits

3. Avocado

Boasting 20 different essential vitamins and minerals, avocados are a superfood in a league of their own. What makes them a great stress-busting food are:

  • Magnesium, potassium and zinc — minerals that contribute to lowering your blood pressure and restoring the balance of neurotransmitters in your brain;

  • B Vitamins: vitamin B5, which supports the adrenal glands in lowering cortisol levels and vitamin B6 and folate which balance out mood low points;

  • Healthy Omega-3 fatty acids that reduce inflammation and help regulate blood pressure.

4. Blueberries

Anxiety often coincides with a lack of essential nutrients in your body such as a deficiency in antioxidants. When your system lacks vital nutrients, the human brain, which has been trained for survival for thousands of years, sends out a message of panic to signal that something is off in the overall configuration of your system.

Blueberries are the mother of all antioxidant foods, outranking any other commonly consumed fruit and vegetable in terms of its density in these cell-defending and cell health-restoring compounds.

Blueberries are low-calorie, high-fiber, vitamin C and antioxidant-packed — and will help you pull through tough times.

21 Stress-Busting Foods

How To Reduce Stress With Dark, Leafy Greens

5. Spinach

Spinach is a nutrient-rich dark, leafy green and a game-changer when it comes to your mood.

Every bite packs essential vitamins and minerals your body needs to be its best self, including vitamin C, vitamin A, vitamin E, vitamin K, vitamin B2, vitamin B6, vitamin B9, calcium, copper, manganese, magnesium, iron and potassium.

But, what makes spinach a real stress-buster are its magnesium contents that help disperse feelings of anxiety as well as its vitamins B6, B12 and folate that will motivate and energize you to address your challenges dead on.

6. Swiss Chard

Swiss chard is packed with the essential nutrients and vitamins that a  system "under attack" needs. Just a small serving (one cup or 175g of cooked Swiss chard) provides your body with significant amounts of:

  • Vitamin C (53% of your daily needs) helping boost immunity and countering stress-induced cell damage;

  • Potassium (27% of your daily needs), magnesium (38%) and calcium (10%) helping control your blood pressure;

  • Dietary fiber (3.7g), helping prevent the blood-sugar spike related crash and burn of your energy levels.

It’s probably not the first food that comes to mind when things get hectic, but it is certainly among the most effective healthy, stress-busting foods out there.

How To Reduce Stress With Nuts

That's right, things go crazy in the office and at home, go "nuts", please.

7. Almonds

Almonds are super rich in healthy fats, fiber, protein and super important nutrients, especially vitamin E, iron and magnesium.

Magnesium is a major mood food and studies have shown that lacking magnesium heightens the probability of depression.

Also, almonds contain vitamins B6 and B12 which are great in helping balance out anxiety and depressive moods.

8. Walnuts

Walnuts are great sources of the brain-boosting mineral magnesium, which researchers believe has a positive effect on brain plasticity, which is the brain’s innate ability to adapt and learn from experience.

Walnuts feature a unique combination of antioxidants and specific healthy fats, called omega-3 fatty acids, which hugely contribute to a well functioning nervous system and a brain that better copes with stress.

9. Cashews

Cashews are high in protein, iron, omega-3 fatty acids and brain-healthy magnesium, with just a quarter cup (30g) of cashew nuts covering your daily magnesium needs.

Another incredibly mood-influencing mineral contained in cashews is zinc. Zinc is a trace mineral essential for brain and nerve development.

Our brain needs it to produce a balance among important nerve chemicals that affect mood like serotonin, dopamine or Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). A zinc deficiency can cause anxiety and depression.

10. Brazil Nuts

Brazil nuts can be mood-changers, too. Like other nuts, they are naturally high in dietary fiber, which is instrumental in balancing out stress-related peaks in blood sugar.

What makes Brazil nuts stand out is their copious amounts of selenium, an essential mineral and potent antioxidant which helps relieve inflammation that often goes hand in hand with mood disorders and anxiety.

Do not eat more than 3-4 Brazil nuts a day though, as too much selenium may cause side effects.

11. Pistachios

Pistachios interestingly may help you calm down as the mere act of cracking them may provide a little manual outlet for the nervous energy that may have accumulated on a hectic day.

Sometimes engaging in a somewhat mindless, manual activity allows your mind to relax. Cracking pistachios can be such an activity (so long as it is not unnerving your colleague one cubicle down;).

But more importantly, during periods of high anxiety pistachios help regulate blood pressure and support your heart in supplying the increased oxygen and nutrient needs of an immune system under stress.

21 Stress-Busting Foods

How To Reduce Stress With Seeds

12. Pumpkin Seeds

Pumpkin seeds need a little getting used to as they are bitter in taste at first. But, that little bitterness is nothing compared to the benefits pumpkin seeds hold.

As little as a quarter cup (or 16g of pumpkin seeds) cover 46% of your daily magnesium needs, making pumpkin seeds the best food source of magnesium, period.

Studies also show that magnesium can dramatically improve the quality of your deep sleep while reducing levels of the stress hormone cortisol. On top of that, pumpkin seeds are loaded with potassium, which is associated with a well-functioning nervous system.

Finally, pumpkin seeds are a good source of zinc, believed to be essential for a healthy brain and stable mood.

13. Sunflower Seeds

Some foods are more than what they appear. Sunflowers are one of them. What looks like bird food is a powerful source of vitamin E (good for your nerves and muscles) and inflammation-reducing selenium and tryptophan, an essential amino acid that boosts the production of the happy hormone serotonin.

14. Flax Seeds

Flax seeds are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, fiber and proteins. What you probably don't know about omega-3s is that they help produce melatonin, the hormone regulating sleep.

A good night's sleep, in turn, will better equip you to cope with the stresses of the day, making you less irritable and more in control of your emotions.

15. Chia Seeds

More than 3,000 years ago, the Mayans gave these tiny black seeds their name. In Mayan language chia meant "strength", so they chose well.

Chia seeds are an undisputed power food: extremely low-calorie (137 calories per ounce), high-fiber (11g per ounce), and filled with high-quality protein (4g per ounce).

But, what makes chia seeds the go-to food for stress-relief is their potent magnesium contents. Two tablespoons of chia seeds provide 30% of your daily magnesium needs.

Your nervous system relies on magnesium to transmit messages throughout your brain. For instance, your muscles would not contract and relax, if it weren't for magnesium.

Magnesium is a powerful natural remedy that may contribute to the better regulation of mood and the fight against depression. One study showed that as little as 450mg of magnesium per day administered to patients suffering from depression had the same effect as an antidepressant drug.

21 Stress-Busting Foods

How To Reduce Stress With Probiotics

16. Yogurt

Yogurt is a food produced by bacterial fermentation of milk. It is rich in probiotics, bacteria that are good for your gut and known for reducing the levels of the stress-hormone cortisol.

Your gut impacts your mood because your brain and your gut are closely connected, with the majority of your feelings of happiness coming straight from the gut (!) where about 95% of serotonin receptors are located.

So, yes, busting stress also means taking good care of your gut and eating yogurt is a step in the right direction.

How To Reduce Stress With Dark Chocolate

17. Dark Chocolate (70%-85% Cacao)

This may possibly be the most surprising and exciting news: raw cacao and dark chocolate (with a 70% or higher raw cacao content) are amazing stress busters, too.

Dark chocolate’s polyphenols lighten your mood and reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety, while its calcium, magnesium, iron and flavonols improve the blood flow to your brain, boosting your attention for up to two to three hours after eating it.

So, in essence, dark chocolate is a soul and mind food. Still, it remains high-calorie, so much so to be enjoyed in moderation. 

How To Reduce Stress With Tea

18. Green Tea

When your to-do list doesn’t seem to decrease despite all your efforts, green tea might provide just the right combination of anti-anxiety and focus to stay calm while getting things done.

It is green tea's moderate levels of caffeine that promote the firing of neurons and the concentration of positive neurotransmitters, including dopamine. While L-theanine, an amino acid, produces positive and relaxing alpha waves inside your brain. 

19. Chamomile

Chamomile is one of the most ancient medicinal herbs known to man. It boasts powerful anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and relaxant properties and is a 100% natural stress-relief remedy.

Compounds found in chamomile tea explicitly reduce cortisol, the hormone your body generates when under stress. As if that was not enough, chamomile also stimulates the production of serotonin and melatonin, two hormones regulating mood and sleep.

How To Reduce Stress With Medicinal Spices

20. Ginger Root

Cortisol levels normally soar during high-stress periods and then go down again. When they remain high, stress becomes chronic and causes inflammation.

While it is best to manage stress before it becomes chronic, it may be comforting to know that a superfood such as ginger root may help reduce one of the consequences of chronic stress which is inflammation.

Ginger root is a dual herb-spice rich in vitamin C, magnesium and amino acids and filled with antioxidants, including gingerols, shogaols and paradols, to name just a few.

All of these help protect your cells from stress-related cell damage and cell permutations, including cancer. Animal studies also suggest that ginger may have a positive effect on serotonin levels, acting as a mood-stabilizer.

21. Turmeric Root

Turmeric is an ancient Indian spice, derived from the curcuma longa plant, with the distinct yellow colour you know from curry. Its main active ingredient, curcumin, features both powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.

Turmeric has been found to increase the levels of a protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) which in studies has shown to have antidepressant and stress-reversing effects on the brain.

Studies also found that curcumin actually acts as an effective and well-tolerated antidepressant, with similar effects as the drug Prozac.

21 Stress-Busting Foods

Bottom Line: Foods Make Moods

The foods you eat affect the moods you have. The good news is that you have more control over the moods, stresses and anxieties you experience than you may have thought so far.

As with any dietary advice, do not expect stress-busting foods to make stress magically disappear. They should be incorporated into your regular diet, which should be a well-balanced mix of whole grains, vegetables and fruits, proteins, healthy fats and complex carbs.

Also, do not forget to drink abundant amounts of water and other healthy drinks as heightened stress levels can make you forget to drink and stay hydrated. During high stress periods, try to limit alcohol, sugary drinks and caffeine.

For a list of 7 stress-busting smoothie recipes specifically designed to sustain you during high-stress periods, check out part 2 of this post.

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Learn how healthy drinks like smoothies can be a fast and easy way to boost your energy levels, lose weight, clarify your skin and more.

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+ Stress-Busting Foods Resources