Stressed? Next time you’re feeling pressure build look to your plate. The foods we eat play a powerful role in how we manage stress (or don’t). We’ve rounded up the best stress relief food to add to your diet to promote calm and help you relax.
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When we’re stressed out, our bodies produce the stress hormone cortisol. While stress is a healthy response in certain situations and cortisol is even helpful in warding off inflammation when necessary, it’s when we’re chronically stressed that cortisol becomes an issue.
How do our bodies become chronically stressed? Often, it’s from the foods we eat. The Standard American Diet is chock full of inflammatory foods that are highly processed, fried, and composed of refined flours and sugars.
The good news? The foods we eat use food to reduce stress, too! Wondering which stress reduction food to your diet? We’ve rounded up our top picks to help you find the calm.
It turns out, this powerful antioxidant doesn’t just boost your immune system -- studies show Vitamin C can lower stress and anxiety levels, too. But before you reach for supplements, consider eating more Vitamin C rich foods, like strawberries. (Did you know strawberries actually have more Vitamin C than an orange? Although citrus fruits are still excellent whole food sources of Vitamin C.)
Carbs get a bad rap! The truth is, eating whole carbohydrates is good for your body and your brain. When we eat whole carbs, our levels of serotonin — a hormone that regulates mood and stress — go up. So when those carb cravings strike, make a bowl of oats! Oatmeal is a great food to reduce stress because it’s packed with fiber, which means slower digestion and stabilized blood sugar, AKA no low blood sugar irritability to exacerbate stress. Plus, high fiber diets are linked with lower blood pressure.
And once you prepare your oats, add a cherry on top. Munching on melatonin-rich cherries can lead to a good night’s sleep and adequate rest is essential for stress management.
A delicious plant-based source of Omega-3s fatty acids, which can reduce stress and anxiety, avocados are a great mood booster.
Almonds aren’t just great for your immune system (thanks to Vitamin E!), they’ve also got loads of B vitamins and magnesium, which help your body make serotonin and can reduce feelings of stress and depression.
"Good bacteria” reduces inflammation in the gut; and a balanced biome reduces your risk for serious illness, including heart disease, colon cancer, IBS and Crohn’s Disease, even depression and stress (your gut is often referred to as your “second brain” after all). This is why eating prebiotics and probiotics, foods with the “good bacteria,” is so important for your overall health. Made from fermented cooked soybeans, Tempeh is one of our favorite plant-based sources of prebiotics and is a great meat alternative to add to your stir-fries, skewers, pasta sauce, you name it.
Filled to the brim with antioxidants, lentils also rich in potassium, magnesium, and B vitamins to help stabilize your mood. Plus, they’re fiber powerhouses, which is good for your gut.
It’s no secret that greens are good for you. Leafy greens like spinach are loaded with immunity-boosting Vitamin C, which helps you absorb iron (which they’ve also got in spades!). Plus, spinach has the power tri: Potassium, calcium and magnesium work, which all work together to lower blood pressure and reduce stress. Not a big fan of spinach? That’s OK! Here are our best hacks for sneaking more leafy greens in your diet.
Did you know that munching on raw veggies can help you relax? It’s truly mechanical! All that crunching and munching reduces tension in the jaw, which in turn, helps you to manage stress levels. Our favorite way to enjoy raw veggies? Dipped in dairy-free MamaSezz Ranch Dressing, of course!
This is classic stress relief food (or beverage!) is well-known for a reason: it works! Sipping in chamomile tea can help reduce stress. It’s naturally caffeine-free and helps to increase serotonin and melatonin levels in the body, leading to a restful slumber and a feeling of calm.
Always reach for comfort foods when you're feeling stressed? It turns out, sometimes these comforting choices end up making us feel even more frazzled. If you’re feeling particularly overwhelmed, avoid these 5 foods that can actually make stress worse.
Too much salt raises the amount of sodium in your bloodstream and makes it harder for your kidneys to regulate fluid. All this extra fluid leads to higher blood pressure and puts quite a strain on the blood vessels leading to the kidneys. This is a big deal because high blood pressure can lead to all sorts of life-threatening complications, including coronary artery disease, stroke, heart failure, kidney disease, sexual dysfunction, and even neurological issues like increased stress, moodiness, or dementia.
Not sure how to reduce your salt intake? Here are 5 easy ways to cut back on sodium today.
Speaking of salt, processed meat is loaded with it, in addition to preservatives -- both of which do you no favors on the stress front. Love your breakfast sandwich in the morning? Swap the processed bacon or sausage or a whole food alternative, like plant-based MamaSezz Breakfast Sausage. It's got the familiar flavors you love, without the cholesterol or the additives. (Bonus: MamaSezz Breakfast Sausage is loaded with stress relief foods like oats, beans, peppers, spinach, and nuts!)
It’s easy to reach for a treat after a long stressful day but it will likely end up making your mood and anxiety worse! Blood sugar levels and mood are linked and when we snack on refined sugars, our blood sugars spike and drop in a short amount of time, leaving us feeling irritable and panicked.
Not ready to give up dessert? Here's how to sweeten your food without refined sugar.
Coffee can increase stress in the body because it increases catecholamines (stress hormones) so if you drink too much, or if you’re over-sensitive to caffeine, it can lead to overstimulation, stress, and anxiety. Love your morning routine? You can still enjoy a warm beverage, even if you give up coffee, with these 5 healthy vegan coffee alternatives.
Cooking with oil can add unwanted calories and fat to your diet and leave you feeling sluggish and stressed. The alternative: learn to cook without oil! Don’t worry, you can still caramelize onions -- we promise! Love fried foods? Try an air fryer instead to get “fried” food without the oil.
Yep, food's a biggie when it comes to mental health and stress management. But it's not the only piece of the puzzle. Once you’ve stocked up on stress relief food, it’s time to stock up on emotional resilience. Here are some practical tips for managing stress and building emotional resilience.
By Ali Brown
Ali is a mom, wife, and nutrition and lifestyle writer and editor. She has her Plant-Based Nutrition Certificate from the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies.