When it comes to stress, we know to exercise, get adequate sleep, and meditate, but we can also change our diet to help us relax. Certain foods contain vitamins and nutrients that can make us calm, and eating these foods can help alleviate stress. Instead of opting for the comfort of junk food, which can actually make stress worse, it's important to choose foods that have mood-boosting properties.
"There is a strong connection between food and mood," says Rachel Berman, Senior Director of Content for Verywell, an About.com brand, over email. "When we’re stressed, we have a higher level of the hormone cortisol, which makes us more likely to reach for foods that are high in fat, salt, and calories."
Eating these unhealthy foods can lead to imbalances in blood glucose and deplete us of the nutrients we need to help combat our stress. "Foods high in salt, sugar, and fat are typically not also full of the heart healthy fats, fiber, or lean protein that help stabilize our blood glucose and hunger levels," says Berman. "Spikes in blood glucoses cause cravings and irritability, leading to even more stress. It’s a vicious cycle."
In addition to other stress-busting habits, it's just as important to keep a healthy diet in times of anxiety. Next time you're stressed, try eating one the 11 below foods to help you relax and feel better.
"Salmon is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to play a role in reducing anxiety and symptoms of depression," says Jessica Fishman Levinson, MS, RDN, CDN of Nutritioulicious over email. Multiple studies show that consumption of omega-3 fatty acids improves people's ability to deal with stress.
2. Dark Chocolate
Chocolate is not only delicious, but it actually has stress-reducing properties. Research from the Journal of Proteome Research found that eating 1.4 ounces of chocolate per day can lower levels of cortisol. Just make sure you choose dark chocolate with 70 percent cocoa or higher – milk chocolate won't have the same effect.
Blueberries, raspberries, and strawberries contain a chemical that is strikingly similar to valproic acid, a prescription mood stabilizing drug. Additionally, a study from the Journal of Alternative and Complementary medicine found that goji berries can help reduce fatigue and stress.
"According to growing research, there may be a strong link between the healthy bacteria in your gut and mental health," says Berman. "Your brain send signals to your gut which is why when you are stressed, you may have stomach pains. But the opposite may be true as well." Yogurt contains healthy probiotics that helps to maintain healthy bacteria in your stomach.
Fermented foods like kimchi are other probiotic-rich options that can help encourage a healthy gut. "If kimchi isn't your thing, take a daily probiotic, like Culturelle for for a healthy gut and healthy mind," says Brooke Alpert, MS, RD, CDN over email.
Chickpeas contain 71 percent of your daily folate requirements, and folate is a B vitamin that can help lower stress hormones. "Folate helps your body produce serotonin and dopamine, which help regulate your moods," says Alpert. "Folate consumption is also shown to have an influence on lowering your rick of depression."
"We crave carbs when we're stressed because they increase serotonin levels in the brain, but it's important to choose complex carbohydrates that are high in fiber to keep blood sugar levels stable," says Levinson. "Oatmeal is also a warming comfort food, so it's a perfect combination of getting the comfort food while maintaining blood sugar levels."
Soybeans contain more tryptophan than even turkey. Trytophan is the precursor to serotonin, the neurotransmitter that promotes a healthy sleep cycle, decreases anxiety and depression, and promotes well-being and happiness, according to SFGate.
Nuts contain an assortment of nutrients such as magnesium, B vitamins, and omega-3 fatty acids, which all work to fight stress. One study from the Journal of the American College of Nutrition found that nuts such as walnuts that contain alpha-linolenic acid can help protect your heart against the effects of stress.
10. Pumpkin Seeds
Like nuts, pumpkin seeds are high in magnesium. Too much stress can deplete your magnesium levels, but upping your intake can help suppress the release of stress hormones, according to Psychology Today. "This mineral is known for being a natural relaxant in your body and in your mind as well," says Alpert.
"Green leafy vegetables like spinach are rich in magnesium," says Levinson. "It's also rich in folate." Other good leafy greens include collards and cabbage.
Maintaining a balanced diet can help keep your stress levels in check, and eating these foods consistently can also help keep you calm over time.
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