When work deadlines begin piling up and your social calendar is overbooked, who has time for healthy eating? But when it comes to combating stress levels, what you eat may actually help relieve your tension. Some foods may help stabilize blood sugar or, better yet, your emotional response.
As bizarre as it may sound, the bacteria in your gut might be contributing to stress. Research has shown that the brain and gut communicate via body chemicals, which is why stress can inflame gastrointestinal symptoms. And a UCLA study among 36 healthy women revealed that consuming probiotics in yogurt reduced brain activity in areas that handle emotion, including stress. This study was small, so more research is needed to confirm the results—but considering that yogurt is full of calcium and protein in addition to probiotics, you really can’t go wrong by adding more of it to your diet.
Egg yolks are another great source of vitamin D. Eggs are also an excellent source of protein. It is a complete protein, meaning it contains all the essential amino acids the body needs for growth and development.
Eggs also contain tryptophan, which is an amino acid that helps create serotonin. Serotonin is a chemical neurotransmitter that helps to regulate mood, sleep, memory, and behavior. Serotonin is also thought to improve brain function and relieve anxiety.
3. Pumpkin seeds
Pumpkin seeds are an excellent source of potassium, which helps regulate electrolyte balance and manage blood pressure. Eating potassium-rich foods such, as pumpkin seeds or bananas, may help reduce symptoms of stress and anxiety.
Pumpkin seeds are also a good source of the mineral zinc. One study carried out on 100 female high school students found that zinc deficiency may negatively affect mood. Zinc is essential for brain and nerve development. The largest storage sites of zinc in the body are in the brain regions involved with emotions.
4. Dark chocolate
Although it is still unclear how dark chocolate reduces stress, it is a rich source of polyphenols, especially flavonoids. One study suggested that flavonoids might reduce neuroinflammation and cell death in the brain as well as improve blood flow.
Chocolate has a high tryptophan content, which the body uses to turn into mood-enhancing neurotransmittersTrusted Source, such as serotonin in the brain.
Dark chocolate is also a good source of magnesium. Eating a diet with enough magnesium in it or taking supplements may reduce symptoms of depression. When choosing dark chocolate, aim for 70 percent or more. Dark chocolate still contains added sugars and fats, so a small serving of 1 to 3 grams is appropriate.
“The antioxidants and phytonutrients found in berries fight in your defense, helping improve your body’s response to stress.” Research has also shown that blueberry eaters experience a boost in natural killer cells, “a type of white blood cell that plays a vital role in immunity, critical for countering stress.”
When you have an ongoing loop of negative thoughts playing in your mind, doing something repetitive with your hands may help silence your inner monologue. Think knitting or kneading bread—or even shelling nuts like pistachios or peanuts. The rhythmic moves will help you relax. Plus, the added step of cracking open a shell slows down your eating, making pistachios a diet-friendly snack. What’s more, pistachios have heart-health benefits.
Slice after slice of avocado toast might not be so healthy, but consuming regular portions of this superfruit might help shut down stress eating by filling your belly and making you feel more satisfied. In a 2014 study by Loma Linda University (which, full disclosure, was sponsored by the Hass Avocado Board), researchers had participants add half an avocado to their lunches, reducing their desire to eat more by 40% for the three hours following the midday meal.
As one of the top sources of vitamin C, oranges are thought to be a great way to relax and lower stress levels. “In addition to supporting immune function, which can be weakened by stress, this key nutrient helps reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which can wreak havoc on the body,”
Sushi lovers, you’re in luck. That seaweed wrapped around your spicy tuna roll has added benefits for relieving stress.
“Seaweed is rich in iodine and one of the few sources of this important mineral,” explains Sass. “Too little iodine can trigger fatigue and depression, but just a quarter cup of seaweed salad can pack over 275% of the daily value.”
10. Green tea
Green tea is a great alternative to coffee and won’t give you those caffine-induced jitters like your cup of joe.
Dwight Schrute would be thrilled to know that an added health benefit of beets is their folate content, a vitamin that can play a role in relieving stress. According to Sass, one cup of beets supplies over 30% of the folate needed daily.
12. Green leafy vegetable
Another study from the University of Otago in New Zealand discovered that college students tended to feel calmer, happier, and more energetic on days they ate more fruits and veggies. It can be hard to tell which came first—upbeat thoughts or healthy eating—but the researchers found that healthy eating seemed to predict a positive mood the next day.
“The omega-3 fatty acids in salmon have anti-inflammatory that may help counteract the negative effects of stress hormones,” says Lisa Cimperman, RD, of the University Hospitals Case Medical Center and a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. In a study funded by the National Institutes of Health, Oregon State University medical students who took omega-3 supplements had a 20% reduction in anxiety compared to the group given placebo pills.
Fortified milk is an excellent source of Vitamin D , which is thought to boost happiness. A 50-year study by London’s UCL Institute of Child Health found an association between reduced levels of vitamin D and an increased risk of panic and depression among 5,966 men and women. People who had sufficient vitamin D levels had a reduced risk of panic disorders compared to subjects with the lowest levels of vitamin D. Other foods high in vitamin D include salmon, egg yolks, and fortified cereal.
One ounce of the packs 11% of the buttery nut daily recommended value of zinc, an essential mineral that may help reduce anxiety..