Best Stress-Relieving Foods
People can make a variety of lifestyle changes to help manage their anxiety. Eating a diet high in vegetables, fruit, legumes, whole grains, and lean protein can be helpful. Anxiety is a widespread condition, affecting millions of people globally. Symptoms vary, and some people only experience them now and then. However, someone who experiences symptoms for 6 months or longer may have a generalized anxiety disorder (GAD).
There are many ways to manage and even reduce stress levels when you’re feeling tense. Food can be one of your biggest allies — or enemies. It can make your stress levels go down or up, so it’s critical to pay attention to what you’re eating when you’re feeling frazzled. Not to mention, just being stressed can increase your need for certain nutrients, such as vitamin C, vitamin B, selenium, and magnesium, noted a review published in June 2016 in the Journal of Nutrition & Food Sciences.
An article published in August 2015 in the journal Stress
suggested that the amount and quality of nutrients you take in over time can impact the body’s neural circuits that control emotion, motivation, and mood. Other research, such as a study published in October 2017 in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine: Journal of Behavioral Medicine, has pointed to gut microbiota — microorganisms in the intestine comprised of good and bad bacteria — as an essential link to the relationship between what you eat and drink, and how you feel.
“Microbiome health, or gut health, affects your mood, emotions, and psychological health,” says Alice Figueroa, RDN, MPH, a nutritionist in New York City and founder of Alice in Foodieland.
Fighting stress with food is a tactic available to everyone, Figueroa says. No expensive supplements or complex methodology is required. Unhealthy eating patterns can send stress levels skyrocketing and potentially increase your risk of health problems in the future if you don’t address them. According to the June 2016 review in the Journal of Nutrition and Food Sciences, a well-balanced and nutritious diet was likely the single most important ingredient for good health.
What Is Stress?
Stress is an emotion brought on by a number of factors, which can range from everyday life to difficult situations. “I believe the best way to describe stress is when your body does not get what it needs from your mind or other physiological systems,” Natalie Raffo, director of the Anxiety and Resilience Program at the Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions in Baltimore, told WebMD.
It’s different from tension, which is a feeling of tension and often comes before the body feels anxiety. “Stress can be referred to as an emotional response to challenges or problems,” added Raffo. “Anxiety is a particular state of stress, but it is not the same as stress.”
When you’re experiencing stress, you may feel overwhelmed, anxious, or a host of other symptoms. According to the American Institute of Stress, stress can make you feel anxious, irritable, angry, tense, exhausted, and tired. Stress can cause physical symptoms, too. As stress increases, your heart beats faster and your blood pressure rises, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.
“Excessive stress can lead to increased heart rate, high blood pressure, irregular heartbeat, dilated blood vessels, and increased blood pressure,” Dr. Aimee DeBord, a clinical psychologist in Washington, D.C., told Prevention. Just remember that stress is a normal part of life, and learning to manage it can be a life-changing tool.
Foods That Reduce Stress
These foods can be great for controlling your stress levels:
- Mushrooms – Mushrooms are great for improving mood and stimulating blood flow, and one study published in the journal Biological Psychiatry in July 2016 found that eating them caused people to feel less anxious about physical symptoms they thought were stress-induced. Another study published in the same journal that same month reported that people who ate a daily supplement of mushrooms reported feeling less stress and less stiffness.
- Cherries – Cherries are also high in serotonin, which is a neurotransmitter that reduces anxiety.
- Popsicles and gummies – A July 2015 study found that both these sugary treats reduced stress levels — likely due to the anxiety-busting sensation they induce.
- Vitamin C, however, may have the strongest effect, helping reduce feelings of stress by as much as 61 percent. Other studies have found that drinking lemon water or taking the vitamin C supplement decreases stress by nearly 30 percent in adults.
- Low-sodium gummy bears – you probably won’t look like a victim in these fuzzy-eared bear-shaped gummies, but studies suggest they could actually reduce stress levels in adults. Just make sure you limit your dosage to no more than 30 grams a day or about three gummies.
When you’re stressed out and on edge, you’re craving foods that are both quick and satisfying, the authors of the study said. At the same time, stress makes your body crave sweet and salty foods, even while you’re trying to avoid them.
Think about it: All you want is chocolate, ice cream, or whatever cheesy treat your brain is telling you to have. While these foods are tasty, they can wreak havoc on your body when they are consumed when you’re feeling more stressed, the researchers explained.
Foods That Cause Stress
According to Gail Valenti, a registered dietitian nutritionist and certified integrative medical nutrition therapy practitioner, certain foods can cause stress and contribute to your overall emotions. “Often, foods or food types will incite feelings of comfort or stress when eating them in excess,” she told INSIDER.
Specifically, foods like pizza and pastries are associated with stress and can make you feel lethargic and sluggish. On the other hand, pastries or bread can make you hungry, so you end up eating more unhealthy foods to compensate, Valenti said. “In other words, you will overeat those foods or items that may be high in carbohydrates or have high levels of fat or sodium because you feel stressed,” she added.
There are foods that may make you feel more stressed out than you actually are, according to research, although it's important to keep in mind that these effects aren’t permanent. As with most things, moderation is key when it comes to choosing foods that help you stay calm. For example, you can have too much caffeine, but plenty of green tea won’t cause you to gain 10 pounds. If you’re feeling stressed and your diet is out of control, talk to your doctor about which foods you need to cut back on.
Although your food choices can affect your anxiety, your emotional state can also be impacted by the food you eat. These foods, called psychobiotics, or “stress-relieving bacteria”, are usually found in some variations of yogurt, seaweed, and certain kinds of beans and leafy greens, according to Slate.
The positive effect of psychobiotics comes from their ability to produce proteins that are important for brain health and physical coordination, according to The Guardian. But, you should be cautious about choosing these foods if you are battling anxiety as they can cause bloating and make you feel irritable. While these foods sound like a dream for dealing with stress, it’s important to remember that you are what you eat, too.
Stress-Relieving Foods (Healthy)
Nuts and seeds – Nuts and seeds contain essential fatty acids that could have a positive impact on your stress levels. These fatty acids may help reduce your blood pressure, help reduce your blood triglyceride levels, and boost your mood. Plus, studies have linked moderate consumption of nuts to lower levels of the amino acid homocysteine, which is considered to be a precursor to potentially harmful lipids (fats).
Watson advised sticking to about ½ ounce of almonds (which has 100 mg of vitamin E, magnesium, zinc, copper, potassium, and folate) daily. If you prefer pecans or walnuts, opt for about ¼ cup each daily. “Chia seeds, pumpkin seeds, and sesame seeds are great sources of magnesium, which is known to have a calming effect on the nervous system,” she added.
There are many foods that help us feel less stressed out, including healthy whole grains, fruits, veggies, lean proteins, and healthy fats, according to U.S. News & World Report. Some fruits and veggies that can help reduce stress include berries, carrots, apples, celery, avocados, tomatoes, and leafy greens, such as spinach and lettuce.
Eggs, nuts, legumes, fish, and chicken can help with stress because they’re rich in omega-3 fatty acids and protein. Healthy fats like flaxseed and hemp seed are also great for stress relief. To make this easy, consume an egg with some sautéed veggies. Opt for lean protein sources when eating out at restaurants to reduce stress levels.
- Coconut oil: this is what I reach for when I am feeling particularly stressed. It has a fair amount of healthy fats in it, which help boost levels of the stress-fighting hormone serotonin, which can help your mood. It’s also high in lauric acid, which has a mild anti-inflammatory effect on your body. You can use it in cooking, salad dressing, and just in your body.
- Ranch Dressing: my other go-to when I’m feeling stressed and I love my Parmesan-crusted chicken sandwich (which is not stressed-inducing at all).
- Greek Yogurt: this is another key ingredient in my kombucha.
- Blueberries are high in antioxidants, which can help lower blood sugar levels, decrease your stress level, and help keep your brain in a relaxed state.
Stress-Relieving Foods (Less Healthy)
If you can’t find food that increases happiness, the easiest way to cope with stress may be to turn to those that decrease it. Dr. Iyad Rahwan, an assistant professor of architecture and design at the MIT Media Lab, said in an interview with MUNCHIES that stress can cause people to crave certain kinds of foods — like chocolate or cheese — when they’re feeling a little more off-kilter.
Additionally, working out, dieting, and increasing meditation can have the same positive effect as stress relievers, noted a 2005 study published in the International Journal of Health Behavior. While food is important for fueling your body, it’s just as important for improving your mood.
Caffeine, chocolate, and sugary desserts are typically the go-to foods when you’re stressed, but according to a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, you can save yourself some time and headaches if you substitute these foods with whole foods that are low in fat and calories, but high in heart-healthy nutrients. Vegetables, apples, yogurt, and pumpkin seeds are a few healthy snacks that contain a variety of antioxidants that help fight the stress of our hectic days, noted the study.
Coffee, diet soda, wine, ice cream — all foods that contain caffeine and are high in sugar and carbs that raise blood sugar levels, which can make you feel more anxious and even produce stress hormones in the body, noted the June 2016 review.
When eating meals, cut back on processed and prepared foods and eat food with plenty of fiber, such as beans, nuts, and whole grains. This will help you stay full and satiated. However, avoid overeating. While not good for everyone, overeating — particularly in highly stressful situations — can cause blood sugar levels to drop and can make you feel more tense and uncomfortable.
How Much Should You Eat When Stressed?
Stressors can cause spikes in the stress hormone cortisol. You can offset this stress hormone spike by eating foods that help increase your levels of serotonin, which helps you feel relaxed and calm. Research suggests that serotonin plays a critical role in your ability to manage stress and feel better overall.
Foods that help release serotonin include walnuts, chia seeds, pomegranate seeds, Brazil nuts, flaxseed, dark chocolate, apricots, and bananas, according to a review published in June 2016 in the Journal of Nutrition & Food Sciences. Some of these foods can help to relieve stress without boosting your cortisol levels. Other foods can increase cortisol levels, including dairy, red meat, caffeine, alcohol, and extra-fatty foods like butter.
The American Institute of Stress recommends eating a sensible amount of protein, which is about 1 to 1.2 grams a pound of body weight each day. To get all those amino acids and carbs your body needs, you need about 100 to 150 grams of protein daily. Not sure how many grams you should be eating each day?
That is okay as long as you eat at least 5 ounces (147 to 200 grams) of protein a day, you’re eating enough, suggested by a study in the Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics. “Spicy foods help relieve stress by changing your mind and your taste perception,” said Mark Sisson, M.S., R.D., founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, and author of The Paleo Diet for Athletes and The Fat Burning Superfoods Cookbook. “There’s actually some scientific research to back that up, as well.
A good rule of thumb is to eat a bit more when you’re feeling a bit more stressed out. “The amount that’s OK to have is based on your body mass, your health conditions, your meal plan, and your comfort level,” explains Gina Keatley, MS, RD, CSCS, of BistroMD in Philadelphia. “I advise eating between one and three servings, rather than six so that you can control your portions and still feel satisfied.”
Keatley also recommends cutting out refined carbs, sugary treats, and foods high in fat and carbs when you’re feeling anxious. Instead, focus on vegetables, meat, and fish, foods that are higher in nutrients such as antioxidants, vitamins C and E, folate, and choline, she explains.
Why Is It Important To Eat?
Stress can cause your body to become short-circuited. “Most often it is triggered by everyday stresses such as an ongoing health issue, relationship issues, or not getting the results you want from your workout routine,” Beck said. “What we have found is that people who are chronically stressed have trouble repairing and growing cells in the body.
Our cells need time to repair and grow, but we constantly tend to either over-rest or under-rest. When we are constantly over-resting, we’re creating a physiological stress response which drives the body to become more and more immune system.” “Your nervous system works a bit like a car,” Beck continued. “If you put the car in a safe mode, it will never go anywhere or do anything unless you put it into drive.
Eating certain foods helps you keep your immune system healthy and keep inflammation at bay, noted a study published in the British Journal of Nutrition in October 2017. The study, which looked at nearly 3,000 adults from Spain, found that eating lemons and citrus fruits reduced the risk of heart disease while eating onion and garlic was linked to a slight increase in cardiovascular disease risk. The only foods with a significantly negative impact were trans fats, sugar and red meat.
Good nutrition is an important part of our overall health. Not only does it provide the structure for a healthy brain, but it also helps the body function optimally, reduce inflammation and boost your immune system. “Stress can cause a spike in hormones, which can lead to a decrease in appetite, and cause us to eat more because we’re in a fight-or-flight state of mind,” said Langkilde.
How can you feel better? You need to eat a balanced meal. Bold, fatty meats (chicken and fish) and eggs have been shown to provide a combination of satiety, protein and energy, and help you feel fuller longer. When preparing your meals, opt for organic produce and products, as pesticides may be harmful to your nervous system and contribute to stress.
What Foods Are Good For Stress?
Tomatoes. A vegetable, rich in beta-carotene and vitamin C, tomatoes are also high in lycopene, an antioxidant that helps slow down oxidative stress and inflammation, according to University of Maryland Medical Center nutrition professor Emily Waggoner in an article in Psychology Today.
“These compounds have also been linked to improved blood vessel function and enhanced lung function,” Waggoner said. Sea salt. A byproduct of seawater, sea salt, a nutrient-dense food, can provide electrolytes and minerals such as magnesium and zinc, and can also support the absorption of other vitamins, according to Healthline.com.
Stress is tied to cravings, so it can be a good idea to pay attention to what you’re craving when you’re feeling stressed. Some common cravings, according to Healthline, include foods with sugary, salty, or sour flavours.
However, cravings for protein — either from animal sources or plant sources — are tied to high-intensity workouts, an article published in February 2016 in the Journal of Health Psychology noted. So it’s possible that some of your cravings may simply be because you’re exercising more. In addition to foods, you may also want to pay attention to what kind of environment you’re in when you’re feeling stressed.
What Foods Are Bad For Stress?
Foods that contain a lot of fat, sugar, and processed ingredients will only exacerbate your stress levels, explained the report. It might be best to cut down on processed foods — especially red meat, added sugar, and foods high in saturated fats — for a couple of days to give your body time to detox. Some food items that might be better for stress:
- Greek yogurt,
- Omega-3 fatty acids, found in salmon, wild-caught tuna, walnuts, and walnut oil,
- Red wine,
- Coconut oil, and
- Green tea.
What foods are good for stress? And healthy foods that might help with stress? They include foods that are rich in magnesium, Broccoli which contains vitamins C and K. It’s also high in folate, an important B vitamin.
While there are several different components that affect how your body reacts to stress, which foods you eat can impact your ability to cope. Eating too many high-fat and high-sugar foods could contribute to higher stress levels, while having poor dietary habits, such as skipping meals, can make stress worse, according to researchers.
Stress in general can decrease a person’s appetite, which could mean less food for a hungry body. A nutritionist or nutritionist-certified dietitian can help you determine which foods will help with your stress levels and, when you need them, suggest you eat more.
Stress, like high blood pressure, often is a part of life. However, if you feel you’re at risk for it or have a tendency toward it, it’s important to find ways to minimize it or prevent it altogether. As long as you take responsibility for your actions and reactions, it’s also important to find ways to release stress to be more productive, creative, and compassionate.
Emotional eating is the first thing to mention when talking about people who suffer from food addictions. In my professional opinion, it is important to acknowledge that emotional eating can often lead to other types of food addictions, such as when people become overly reliant on sweet, sugary, or high-fat foods or use food to cope with the feelings associated with negative emotions, noted the Mayo Clinic.
Now that you’ve learned a bit more about what different food addictions look like, the next time you think about eating something you know will not make you feel better, just ask yourself whether you truly need it at that moment.
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