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Things have been pretty stressful lately and we’re all trying to cope in our own way. When you’re stressed out, chances are you’re turning to the traditional ‘comfort’ foods: fatty foods, sweet foods, junk food, alcohol…
Let’s face it – we’ve all found some comfort eating junk food with a big glass of wine. This is absolutely fine once in a while, especially during particularly stressful times.
However, you probably already know that this isn’t a good permanent solution.
When you’re turning to “unhealthy” foods you can feel better temporarily— but not in the long run. When your body isn’t getting the right nutrition, you can begin to feel less energetic, more lethargic, and in some cases less able to concentrate and focus.
Your mental health can also be affected. All of this can lead to even more stress, and the cycle goes on and on. So it’s important to turn to healthy foods that help reduce stress to break the cycle once and for all.
8 healthy foods that help reduce stress
The best way to fight stress is to have a healthy, balanced diet which includes whole foods and limits processed foods. Eating mindfully and taking care of your physical and mental health are also crucial.
We’ll primarily focus on the food aspect.
Filling up on foods such as whole grains, leafy vegetables, and healthy proteins as the basic staples of the diet is the best way to ensure that your body gets the optimum amounts of nutrients to fight both physical and mental health problems.
If you want to go the extra mile, there are some healthy foods that help reduce stress thanks to specific properties. Choosing these stress-busting foods will help to heal and calm your mind permanently, rather than providing a temporary fix.
Some of the healthy foods that help reduce stress include:
Avocados can be eaten in a range of different ways: raw, made into sauces, dressings and dips, in a salad, or in a smoothie. These nutrient-dense fruits have great health benefits . In addition, they are good for fighting stress.
Avocados contain B and C vitamins, which help improve your mood . Their magnesium and omega-3 content also gives a great boost.
Bananas are amazing snacks which keep you full while giving you a ton of great nutrients. Rich in potassium, magnesium, vitamin C, and certain B vitamins, bananas are an anti-stress gold mine. They also contain dopamine , but it doesn’t cross the blood-brain barrier .
Blueberries have some of the highest levels  of antioxidants and are also rich in vitamin C. This berry has been linked to a wide range of health benefits including sharper cognition, better focus, and a clearer mind – all of which can help you to better deal with stress. (6, 7)
There is an undeniable link between chocolate and our mood. Studies have shown that eating chocolate (both dark and milk chocolate) reduces perceived stress. Dark chocolate is especially effective . It contains more flavonols and polyphenols , two hugely important antioxidants which can help combat stress.
Chocolate is also very comforting during stressful times. Just make sure that you’re not overdoing it— eating an entire bag of Hershey’s kisses probably isn’t the best move.
5. Fermented foods:
Eating fermented foods can help keep your gut healthy, which in turn will help improve your mental health and reduce stress levels. The beneficial bacteria which are found in fermented foods affect your brain chemistry and transmit positive mood and behavior regulating signals to your brain.
6. Leafy green vegetables:
Leafy green vegetables should be an important part of your diet, even if you don’t feel stressed. They are full of nutrients and antioxidants which help to fight off disease and lower your stress levels.
Leafy greens are rich in folate, which helps your body to produce more mood-regulating neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine. Not getting enough folate can be linked to depression . Making leafy greens a part of your diet will help you feel healthier and less stressed out overall.
If you’re looking for a healthy snacking option which will help you to stay better in control of your stress levels, nuts are a great choice. They contain tryptophan, an amino acid that can be converted into serotonin, the “feel good” chemical.
Diets high in tryptophan result in less depressive symptoms, improved mood, and decreased anxiety .
As an added bonus, they also reduce the risk of some major chronic diseases !
8. Whole carbohydrates:
This feel-good chemical helps you feel calmer and less stressed. It regulates your mood and social behavior, and a lack of serotonin can be linked to depression .
What can I drink for stress?
It’s not all about what you’re eating when it comes to managing stress— what you’re drinking can also have an impact. First off, simply holding a warm beverage promotes interpersonal warmth, which can lead to reduced stress .
Chamomile tea has long been used as a natural bedtime soother, and it has amazing health properties as well . Indeed, chamomile extract may provide clinically meaningful antidepressant and anxiolytic activity .
How can I eat healthy when stressed?
Planning your meals wisely is important for staying healthy both physically and mentally and managing your levels of stress. Knowing which healthy foods reduce stress can help you lower your anxiety and get control over your emotions and fears.
When you’re feeling stressed, you may be tempted to reach for classic comfort foods which are often filled with sugar or fat all while offering very few nutrients. This is normal and ok once in a while, but it shouldn’t make up your entire coping strategy.
Having foods that help reduce stress such as the ones mentioned above can help you feel better both short and long term. Right after having these foods, you will feel happy with yourself for taking care of your body and working towards reducing the stress.
When it comes to combating and dealing with stress in the long run, eating a healthy and balanced diet filled with nutritious whole foods is the way to go.
In order to stay on track, it’s a good idea to make a meal plan for your week (at least a general one!) which includes foods that help reduce stress in every meal. Make sure to stock up on enough of them so that you always have an option on hand.
Finally, if your stress levels are just way too high and you can’t stop thinking about a warm chocolate cake, go ahead and indulge. This moment should be enjoyable and guilt-free.
There’s no point in eating comfort foods if you are going to beat yourself up about it later on. As long as you carry on with your healthy eating habits afterward, you will be completely fine.
- Exercise: it’s an excellent stress reliever and reduces anxiety .
- Laugh: they say laughing is the best medicine! Put on your favorite funny movie, one-man show, or hang out with funny people. Looking at internet memes also works great for me.
- Spend time with loved ones: social support from people you love and trust can help you during stressful times. It’s actually associated with lower rates of mental and physical disorders . Calling and seeing your friends or family through video can be an alternative if you’re unable to visit them.
- Practice meditation: it has a lot of proven health benefits. Meditation will help you lower your stress levels, improve your peace of mind, and care for your mental health.
- Eat mindfully: this is more about how you eat your food than what you eat. Mindful eating can help you regain control over your eating habits. It’s based on mindfulness, which is a form of meditation. Mindfulness-based interventions have been shown to improve eating behaviors. Mindful eating means eating consciously in a healthy and balanced way in order to rediscover taste, flavor, and pleasure. It involves listening to your hunger cues and completely focusing on your food.
- Listen to soothing music: this can be very relaxing for your body and can help can your breathing and heart rate. Slow-paced instrumental music or nature sounds can work wonders.
The bottom line:
Feeling stressed out is not a great feeling but thankfully there are some easy ways to cope.
First of all, it’s crucial to eat a balanced diet containing healthy foods that help reduce stress. Stock up on the foods from the above list and include them in healthy, tasty meals that you enjoy.
To complement this, exercising, listening to music, meditating, and spending time with your loved ones are all great for reducing stress.
If you’re interested in nutrition, its impact on our health, and the science behind it, you should definitely read How Not to Die. In this book, Doctor Michael Greger, founder of Nutrition Facts, examines the top causes of death in America and explains how your diet can prevent— and in some cases even reverse— them. His advice is all backed by science and he writes in a very clear and entertaining way. This book isn’t a list of what you already know. It will teach you the keys to living a long healthy life, in a simple and practical way, and without spending fortunes on supplements and pills!
PLUS if you want to take it a step further, you can check out the How Not to Die Cookbook to implement the advice easily!