We are living through some very stressful times because of the coronavirus pandemic. Perhaps now, more than ever, it’s critical you do everything you can to combat stress levels and stay healthy and happy. The things you eat affect that significantly.
Some foods help relieve tension more than others, while the lack of some stress-fighting foods can make you feel worse (like anxiety, depression, and panic attacks). So maybe you think the COVID-19 situation is why you’ve got anxiety; but if you ate the right foods, you wouldn’t feel as bad.
Of course, occasional bouts of stress are usual. But chronic stress isn’t, and it can lead to severe health problems not only mentally but physically too (like heart disease). So, to help, here’s a list of some of the best things to eat that will keep your stress levels to a minimum.
Green Leafy Vegetables
Spinach and other leafy vegetables that contain a vitamin called folate (also known as folic acid or Vitamin B9) that reduces the risk of depression symptoms.
An Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics spokesperson, Heather Mangieri, RDN, told Health:
Green leafy vegetables like spinach contain folate, which produces dopamine, a pleasure-inducing brain chemical, helping you keep calm.
If your body’s magnesium levels get too low, it can cause conditions like panic attacks and anxiety.
And it’s extra essential to consume enough of this mineral when you’re stressed continuously because chronic stress may deplete your body’s magnesium stores.
Beets / Beetroot
Beets also contain a generous amount of folate. Just one cup supplies over 30% of the folate needed daily.
Folate is one of the vitamins you need to get your daily share of because of its link with the nervous system. Too little folate in the system can trigger forgetfulness, confusion, fatigue, and insomnia.
And suppose you’re taking anti-inflammatory drugs, cholesterol-lowering drugs, birth control pills, or diabetes drugs. In that case, you have to eat even more folate because those medications can deplete the body’s supply of the vitamin.
Sweet potatoes are a great source of whole, nutrient-rich carbs, vitamin C, and potassium, helping lower stress hormone cortisol levels. Chronic stress can lead to cortisol dysfunction, resulting in pain, inflammation, and other adverse effects.
An 8-week study in overweight women found that those who ate a diet rich in whole, nutrient-dense carbs had significantly lower salivary cortisol levels than those who ate a Standard American diet high in refined carbs.
Artichokes are also high in magnesium, potassium, vitamins C, and vitamin K, all of which are essential for a healthy stress response. On top of that, they’re especially rich in prebiotics, a type of fiber that feeds the good bacteria in your gut.
Artichokes contain a concentrated amount of prebiotics like fructooligosaccharides (FOSs), which have been shown to reduce stress levels in animal studies. Another study demonstrated that people who consumed five or more grams of prebiotics daily experienced improved depression and anxiety symptoms.
Eating broccoli or other cruciferous vegetables can reduce your risk of mental health disorders as well as certain cancers and heart disease. Broccoli can be considered a superfood with a concentrated amount of nutrients, including stress-fighting magnesium, folate, and vitamin C.
Another excellent thing broccoli provides is a high amount of sulforaphane – a sulfur compound with neuroprotective properties. It may offer antidepressant and calming effects – and vitamin B6, which is linked to a lower risk of depression and anxiety in women if taken in higher amounts. One cup (184 grams) of the vegetable (cooked) has more than 20% of the daily value for vitamin B6.
Mangieri told Health:
When you’re stressed, there’s a battle being fought inside you. The antioxidants and phytonutrients found in berries fight in your defense, helping improve your body’s response to stress.
Health’s contributing nutrition editor, Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD, added:
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.
Acerola cherries are another great berry. They are one of the most concentrated vitamin C sources, containing 50–100% more than citrus fruits like lemons and oranges. Eating foods high in Vitamin C may elevate your mood because it reduces the stress hormone cortisol 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. The effects of a prolonged high cortisol level can include fatigue, brain fog, increased appetite, and weight gain, particularly belly fat.
The heart, liver, and kidneys of animals are an excellent source of B vitamins – especially B6, B12, folate, and riboflavin. These vitamins are essential for stress control because they are needed to produce neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine that regulate mood.
One slice (85 grams) of beef liver contains:
- Over 2,000% of the daily value for vitamin B12.
- Over 200% of the daily value for riboflavin.
- Over 50% of the daily value for vitamin B6 and folate.
Turkey breast contains the amino acid tryptophan, which helps produce serotonin – the chemical that regulates feelings of well-being, happiness, and hunger. Other foods high in tryptophan include beans, lentils, nuts, seeds, oats, tofu, fish, and eggs.
Eggs are like nature’s multivitamin because they’re loaded with antioxidants, amino acids, vitamins, and minerals needed for a healthy stress response. They’re also rich in Vitamin D and choline, which plays a vital role in brain health.
Whole eggs are one of the few natural sources of vitamin D. This nutrient is linked to several important health benefits, including better immune function, anti-inflammation, and mood regulation, including reducing symptoms of depression.
Shellfish, which include clams, mussels, and oysters, are high in amino acids like taurine – necessary for producing neurotransmitters like dopamine, which are essential for regulating the stress response. They’re also high in vitamin B12, copper, manganese, selenium, and zinc – all of which may help boost mood. Oysters contain an incredible 400% of your recommended dietary allowance of zinc in just six raw oysters.
Nutritionist Keri Gans, RD, explains to Health
Zinc may lower the body’s response to stress. It’s an antioxidant, which can strengthen the immune system, have anti-inflammatory properties, and in zinc specifically, it may lower the body’s response to stress and anxiety.
Fatty fish like herring, mackerel, salmon, and sardines are high in mood-enhancing omega-3 fats, and vitamin D. Omega-3s are so essential for brain health that low omega-3 intake may cause increased anxiety and depression. Similarly, low levels of Vitamin D can result in an increased risk of anxiety and depression.
Lisa Cimperman, RD, from the University Hospitals Case Medical Center and an Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics spokesperson, said:
The omega-3 fatty acids in salmon have anti-inflammatory properties that may help counteract the negative effects of stress hormones.
Fermented foods like kimchi are packed with probiotics (beneficial bacteria) and high in antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals. Having a happy gut full of beneficial bacteria directly affects your mood.
Seaweed farming helps fight climate change, and eating it can keep you happy – it’s a win for the planet and your health!
Seaweed is rich in iodine and one of the few sources of this important mineral. Too little iodine can trigger fatigue and depression, but just a quarter cup of seaweed salad can pack over 275% of the daily value.
Parsley is a nutritious herb rich in antioxidants, including flavonoids, carotenoids, and volatile oils. Antioxidants are compounds that offset free radicals (unstable molecules) and protect against oxidative stress, which can cause mental health disorders. They can also help reduce inflammation, something that’s often higher in people with chronic stress.
Garlic has an abundance of sulfur compounds called glutathione that help increase antioxidant levels. Glutathione is your body’s first line of defense against stress.
Sunflower seeds are a fantastic vitamin E source – a fat-soluble vitamin essential for mental health and acts as a powerful antioxidant. Not getting enough vitamin E in your diet can lead to altered mood and depression. The little seeds are also loaded with other stress-reducing nutrients, including B vitamins, copper, magnesium, manganese, selenium, and zinc.
Chickpeas are also packed with B vitamins, copper, magnesium, manganese, potassium, selenium, and zinc. They’re also rich in L-tryptophan, which your body needs to produce mood-regulating neurotransmitters.
Fortified milk is an excellent vitamin D source, which your body needs enough to keep panic disorders at bay. Other foods with lots of vitamin D include egg yolks, fortified cereal, and salmon.
A small indulgence of dark chocolate (70% cocoa or more) may have the power to regulate your stress levels because it can reduce stress hormones like cortisol.
Research has shown that it can reduce your stress hormones, including cortisol. Also, the antioxidants in cocoa trigger the walls of your blood vessels to relax, lowering blood pressure, and improving circulation. Finally, dark chocolate contains unique natural substances that create a sense of euphoria, similar to the feeling of being in love.
Matcha is made with the green tea leaves that grew in the shade. The process increases the plant’s content of certain compounds, like the stress-relieving amino acid L-theanine. Matcha is a better source of L-theanine than other types of green tea.
Several human and animal studies have found this to be true. For example, a 15-day study with 36 people revealed significantly reduced salivary alpha-amylase activity (a stress marker) compared with a placebo group.
However, green tea is still a great stress-reliever and alternative to coffee since it’s low in caffeine. A Japanese study with 40,000 people found that psychological stress levels in people who drank at least five cups per day were 20% lower than those who drank less than one cup per day.
Chamomile has been shown to enhance sleep, including promoting relaxation and sleepiness, and improving sleep quality. Adequate sleep is an important stress reliever and helps to optimize immune function, which can be weakened by stress.
Those are but a few of the foods containing nutrients that can promote stress relief. Incorporating them into your diet is a natural and healthy way to stay calm. It’s easy too because they’re all so delicious!