I often get asked if there are any foods that can relieve stress and anxiety. Stress is a physiological reaction to a real or perceived situation. Some stress could be good for us but chronic stress could lead to serious health problems. The good news is that there are plenty of things that can be done to relieve stress such as exercise and meditation. While eating the right food might be the least thing on your mind when you’re battling a tough situation, you would be surprised how certain food can help you deal better with stress.
Most of us when we are stressed we tend to reach for «our comfort foods» such as sweets. What we don’t realize is that these food choices might worsen our stress level. In fact, binging on a cookie box or a pint of ice cream will cause a quick and temporary rise of blood sugar level followed by a rapid drop. This will lead to poor blood sugar balance and eventually cause fatigue and mood swings. Moreover, the more you eat sugar, the more your brain will crave for sugar and the cycle will never end.
The right foods can help fight stress by:
- Boosting levels of serotonin, a feel good neurotransmitter
- Reducing levels of cortisol and adrenaline which are stress hormones
- Increasing immunity
- Helping in maintaining a normal blood pressure
Here is a list of the best known anti-stress foods:
Carbohydrate foods tend to increase serotonin’s availability to the brain. These include wholegrain cereal products, oats, barley and brown rice. These complex carbs are slowly digested which will offer a steady supply of this feel-good transmitter. Moreover, there high content in fiber will help stabilize blood sugar levels.
Vitamin C rich foods
Research suggests that vitamin C supplements might reduce cortisol levels. Cortisol is a steroid hormone secreted by the adrenal glands in response to stress. Oranges and other citrus fruits, like lemons, limes and grapefruit are excellent sources of vitamin C. Adding them to your daily diet would offer a lot of advantages to the health. It’s always best to take our nutrients from the foods we eat. Make sure to consult with your healthcare provider before taking any supplements.
Magnesium rich foods
Evidence suggest that there is an association between magnesium and anxiety. It appears that it helps in moderating the stress response. In fact, during period of stress, magnesium tends to get depleted. The best sources are legumes, nuts, seeds (pumpkin, sesame, flaxseed…), fish, whole grains and green vegetables such as spinach and broccoli.
Omega 3 rich foods
Omega-3 are essential fatty acids that promote heart and brain health. Several studies have investigated the relationship between omega 3 intake and mood disorders such as anxiety and depression. The hypothesis is that omega 3 intake increases serotonin release and decreases inflammation. Hence optimizing your intake of omega 3 especially the one coming from marine sources will not only benefit your heart health but also your well-being. Best sources are found in fatty fish such as salmon, tuna and trout.
Tea is a common household item. We drink it when we have people over, on a cold day, during a work break or even when we feel sick. Tea contains L-theanine, a natural substance which has been shown to have anti-stress effect. The content of L-theanine varies in different kinds of teas. If you need more information on that, I invite you to check this table.
Potassium rich food
Potassium is an essential nutrient, helping to control blood pressure. In fact, one of the best ways to reduce high blood pressure besides limiting sodium intake is is to get enough potassium. This was confirmed by a very recent review of 70 studies published in the American Journal of Physiology – Endocrinology And Metabolism. Good sources of potassium include avocados, bananas, sweet and regular potato. Pistachios which are also rich in potassium were investigated in a study conducted by Penn State. Results showed that including a handful of pistachios every day relaxed the blood vessels during stress which reduces the load on the heart.
To conclude, in our modern world there is no doubt that stress is highly present in our lives. Too much stress can have damaging effect on our body and mental health. Eating healthy foods and being conscious of food choices when we are stressed can actually offer some stress relief. However, it should be noted that food alone will not have the same impact as some well-known anti stress techniques such as yoga and meditation. In the end it’s the sum of our lifestyle habits that will keep us healthy physically and mentally!
- Dietitians of Canada : Food sources of potassium
- Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Depression: Scientific Evidence and Biological Mechanisms-Volume 2014 (2014), Article ID 313570, 16 pages
- Science News – Omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin D may control brain serotonin, affecting behavior and psychiatric disorders
- Biol Psychol. L-Theanine reduces psychological and physiological stress responses 2007 Jan;74(1):39-45. Epub 2006 Aug 22.
- Science daily Alicia A et al. Cardiovascular benefits associated with higher dietary K versus lower dietary Na Evidence from population and mechanistic studies. American Journal of Physiology – Endocrinology And Metabolism, 2017