8 Stress-Reducing Foods to Nourish Your Body
When times get rough and stress levels skyrocket, it’s almost second nature to reach for an ice cream pint for some much-needed comfort. And whilst that sweet treat nourishes the soul, there are plenty of nutritious and delicious choices we can make every day to reduce our stress levels and nourish our bodies as well. Read on to learn more about stress-busting foods!
Stress-Reducing Foods: How do They Work?
There are many ways in which food can reduce stress. A comfort dish from our childhood, or something warm and hearty, can boost feel-good hormones like serotonin which in turn calms us down. Other foods act as a deterrent for stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline that take a toll on our bodies over time.
A healthy and balanced diet—that does include indulgence here and there—can help us counter the impact of anxiety by lowering blood pressure and boosting our immune system. High fibre foods such as legumes, nuts, seeds, veggies and fruit slow down our metabolic rate which means our bodies release hormones at a steadier rate and keeps our moods balanced and more relaxed.
Which Foods Fuel Stress?
Before completely cutting any foods out of your diet, it is important to remember that everything in moderation is perfectly healthy. However, reducing our intake of certain foods can help lower our stress levels.
Foods loaded with sugar, processed or deep-fried as well as alcohol and caffeine, can cause spikes in certain hormones—this leads to a “high” feeling, quickly followed by a “low.” Such hormonal changes make dealing with daily stress difficult. Small changes make all the difference.
Blood oranges, grapefruits, oranges, mandarins, kumquats and clementines are all incredible sources of vitamin C and antioxidants which reduce stress levels. Furthermore, vitamin C is a natural immune system booster and lowers cortisol levels quite effectively. A calming and nourishing slice of delight!
Tip: if you aren’t a big fan of citrus, strawberries are also high in vitamin C.
Or any fatty fish will help keep stress at bay. Salmon is packed full of omega-3 fatty acids, which help reduce stress by boosting serotonin production. The omega-3s found in fatty fish are miracle workers: they reduce inflammation, protect against heart disease, lower risks of depression, lessens signs of premenstrual syndrome, promote healthy blood flow, nourish the brain and reduce the surge of those pesky stress hormones.
For a healthy dose of feel-good fish, aim to add it to the menu twice a week.
This leafy veggie is rich in magnesium—a mineral that helps promote calmness. When our magnesium levels are low, it may trigger fatigue and headaches, compounding effects of daily stress. Also a great source of fibre, spinach is an energy booster. If you aren’t the biggest fan of this vegetable, Swiss chard, collard greens, kale, and mustard greens do the trick nicely.
Tip: Swap lettuce in salads for spinach for an extra boost of wellness and goodness.
Root vegetables, like sweet potatoes and carrots, are great sources of fibre and carbohydrates—both of which can boost serotonin production. They are also packed with minerals and vitamins beneficial to heart health. Eating nutrient-rich whole carbs can also help lower levels of cortisol, the stress hormone. Sweet potatoes are packed with potassium and vitamin C which are incredibly important for stress response—and they taste pretty amazing too!
Turkey is known to lessen anxiety, improve sleep and is a general mood booster. Turkey contains a certain amino acid—tryptophan—which increases the production of serotonin which in turn promotes calm and relieve stress. Tryptophan also boosts melatonin production for a good night’s sleep.
Often eaten as deli meat, turkey is a high-quality protein source that minimized spikes in blood sugar and offers long-lasting reserves of energy.
Tip: for the vegans out there, kidney beans, edamame, peanuts, tofu and white beans are all great sources of tryptophan and protein!
Nuts & Seeds
A rich source of fatty acids and omega-3s, nuts and seeds are great stress reducers! They can also help lower cholesterol and blood pressure as well as ease inflammation. However, as nuts are quite high in calories, moderation is key.
Cashews: contain tryptophan (like turkey) which boosts serotonin production.
Sunflower seeds: like cashews, also a great source of tryptophan and are rich in B vitamins and protein.
Pistachios: a great source of healthy fats.
Walnuts: some of the best sources of omega-3s.
Almonds: full of vitamins! Vitamin E boosts the immune system whilst vitamin B can make you more resilient during bouts of stress.
Tip: make a zesty chimichurri sauce to boost your seed intake. Combine shelled sunflower sees, parsley, kale, olive oil, garlic and red pepper flakes in a food processor and blend! Simply add to meat or salad for an extra dose of goodness.
The antioxidants found in berries help improve your body’s response to stress. Blueberries are great for your health in many ways: a powerful anti-inflammatory, a mood lifter, and a great immune system booster. They also help reduce stress-induced inflammation and cellular damage. As with most stress-reducing foods, blueberries increase serotonin levels in the brain so you’ll no longer feel blue.
This one might be a bit of a cheat as tea isn’t exactly food. However, as it is stress-reducing, it deserves its place on our list. Tea drinkers are typically calmer and show lower levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) after stressful situations. How something makes you feel can be just as important as its nutrient density: sipping a warm and soothing cup of tea is thus a relaxing experience. Nonetheless, certain blends have shown to have different stress-busting properties.
Chamomile: caffeine-free, rich in antioxidants and well known as a bedtime option, chamomile tea improves sleep, protects against inflammation, reduces stress and anxiety as well as increases the production of feel-good hormones like dopamine and serotonin.
Green tea: whilst it does contain caffeine, green tea’s amino acid (L-theanine) offsets its rousing effect by creating a state of relaxation.
Rooibos: naturally caffeine-free, this African tea has a balancing effect on stressful cortisol levels.
Stress management through nutrition is an important piece of the wellness puzzle to improve physical and mental health. Add to the mix getting enough sleep, exercising, and taking time for yourself to pave the path to a stress-free way of life.