As tempting as it is to fight stress by digging into a tub of chocolate ice-cream or ordering an extra-large pizza with double cheese, these foods are laden with unhealthy fats, sugar and salt.
Not only will these meals fail to alleviate stress, they lead to expanding waistlines, increased body fat, blood sugar crashes, worsened immune function and more…all of which serve to compound our worries and anxieties.
Thankfully, other foods choices can greatly boost our mood, especially when accompanied by regular exercise and healthy sleeping patterns. Although the very last thing you feel like doing when overwhelmed and under pressure is cooking a healthy meal, it could make all the difference to your physical and mental health.
Here are 11 foods that will quickly reduce your stress levels:
Fiber-rich and filling, a big bowl of creamy oatmeal makes a great start to the day – particularly for those prone to stress or anxiety.
Oats are complex carbohydrates, which mean they release energy slowly and steadily. Complex carbs boost levels of serotonin – the neurotransmitter which exerts influence over our brain cells, particularly those related to mood, appetite, sleep, memory, learning and social behavior.
In fact, low levels of serotonin have been linked to stress, anxiety, depression, compulsive behavior, panic, and anger!
Oatmeal is also one of the top foods to regulate blood sugar levels, helping reduce hunger, cravings, headaches, irritability and the other symptoms that accompany blood sugar highs and lows.
Avocados are not only delicious, they’re also bursting with nutrients and offer a myriad of health benefits.
Topping your salad or sandwich with avocado might help your mood thanks to their potassium and folate content, with one fruit containing 28% of the recommended daily intake of potassium, and 41% of folate.
Since the 1960s, folate has been recognized as an important vitamin to stave off low mood and signs of stress and depression.
What’s more, the impressive avocado has also been shown to regulate blood sugar levels. Participants in one study found that eating just half an avocado with lunch helped overweight people feel satisfied and full for longer after eating, while their bloodwork showed no increase in glucose levels when compared with those who ate a standard lunch without avocado.
3. Black Tea
The next time you’re feeling anxious, reach for a calming cup of tea. This ancient cure for shock or anxiety has been proven effective in recent scientific studies!
In 2006, researchers divided 75 healthy men into two groups. For six weeks, those in one group drank four cups of tea daily, while the others had a caffeinated beverage without black tea’s other ingredients.
The men were then exposed to ‘everyday stresses’ while the levels of their stress hormones, blood pressure and heart rate were tested; and their self-reported levels of stress analyzed.
The scientists discovered that those who consumed the black tea regularly recovered much quicker from the effects of stress than those in the placebo group!
4. Green Tea
One of the most healing drinks around – which has been enjoyed in Asian cultures for thousands of years – is green tea.
This delicious brew contains l-theanine, an amino acid with anti-anxiety effects. Research published in 2006 shows that l-theanine increases bodily levels of dopamine, serotonin and an acid called GABA – all of which boost mood.
Other studies have shown that the polyphenols in green tea have anti-depressant-like effects, which stave off feelings of anxiety and pressure. Green tea has also been associated with a lower overall level of psychological distress.
Although most green teas are beneficial, the Matcha variety reigns supreme. It boasts a huge antioxidant content which is said to be 17 times that of wild blueberries and 7 times that of dark chocolate. Antioxidants are vital for keeping the physiological effects of stress at bay.
Fish and other seafood, including seaweed, are rich sources of omega 3 fatty acids. High levels one particular omega 3, known as EPA, have been linked with lower levels of depression, anxiety and stress.
Several studies have shown that increasing the intake of these fats – through eating fish and sea vegetables – improves the ability to handle stress. For example, stressed-out medical students who supplemented with omega 3s enjoyed a 20% reduction in anxiety.
6. Vitamin C Rich Foods
Vitamin C has been shown to reduce both the physical and psychological effects of stress. It also helps to reduce the body’s levels of cortisol – the ‘stress hormone’ which compounds our feelings of anxiety, while increasing blood sugar levels and inhibiting the immune and digestive systems!
When German researchers asked 120 people to speak in public whilst dealing with math problems (a feat that would instill anxiety and stress in anyone!) they gave half the speakers 1,000 mg of vitamin C.
Those who took the supplement reported feeling less stressed, and they also showed lower cortisol and blood glucose levels than the speakers who weren’t given anything. Animal studies have shown similar.
Foods that provide the most Vitamin C include yellow and red bell peppers, guava, broccoli, papaya, kale, citrus fruits and strawberries.
7. Dark Chocolate
Who doesn’t get an instant mood boost when they snack on some chocolate? While not all chocolate treats are created equal (some are loaded with sugar and fat), high-quality dark chocolate is a proven remedy for stress and anxiety!
A 2013 study found that drinking an antioxidant-rich cocoa drink (equivalent to 1.5 ounces of dark chocolate) daily for 30 days led to participants feeling calmer than those who drank the placebo.
Other research demonstrates that dark chocolate with 74% cocoa solids helps highly anxious people reduce their stress responses.
8. Leafy Green Vegetables
Delicious leafy green vegetables should be a part of everyone’s daily diet (unless your doctor has specifically advised otherwise).
These stress-busting salad-fillers are high in folate, the B-vitamin which helps produce serotonin and dopamine. As we’ve already seen, folate has long been recognized as valuable in the fight against low mood.
Many of these green are rich in magnesium, another precursor for serotonin and a mineral that many of us are deficient in.
To lower your stress levels, enjoy a wide range of leafy greens such as kale, spinach, collard greens, mustard greens, Swiss chard and more.
9. Nuts and Seeds
The act of crunching on nuts and seeds can help alleviate some of that tension in your jaw! But they also contain a wealth of nutrients that fight stress, anxiety, depression and panic.
For starters, these simple snacks are rich in tryptophan – an amino acid that can boost serotonin levels in the brain. Tryptophan also makes you less confrontational, with research showing that argumentative people who consume this amino acid become much more pleasant and agreeable!
Nuts and seeds are also rich in magnesium and B vitamins, both necessary to produce several important neurotransmitters and to improve the body’s ability to withstand stress.
10. Fermented Foods
Our brain and gastrointestinal system are intimately connected, so good gut health naturally leads to a healthy mind. One of the best ways to boost gut health is to consume plenty of cultured (fermented) foods, which are loaded with beneficial bacteria known as probiotics.
When these friendly bacteria inhabit our gut, they have a direct effect on brain chemistry, transmitting signals to the brain that regulate mood and behavior. Certain probiotics have even been found to have a noticeable effect on GABA levels in the brain and to lower stress induced hormones.
What’s more, eating fermented foods has been shown to provide a significant reduction in negative and aggressive thoughts amongst healthy people.
11. Sources of Vitamin D
Considering our bodies can synthesize Vitamin D from sun exposure, it’s shocking to learn that around three-quarters of US adults are deficient!
Signs and symptoms of Vitamin D deficiency include low mood, depression and anxiety.
In fact, so strong is the link that researchers assessing healthy young adult women found that depressive symptoms were actually predicted by Vitamin D levels! A deficiency is also associated with low mood and worsened cognitive performance in older adults.
Those who don’t live in a climate with year-round sun exposure should ensure they regularly consume food sources of Vitamin D such as egg yolk, beef, seafood, cod liver oil, UV-treated mushrooms and fortified foods like orange juice, cereals, yogurt, cow milk, goat milk and plant-based milks.