7 Stress Relieving Foods to Try if You're Feeling Anxious
When work deadlines begin piling up and your social calendar is overbooked, who has time to create a meal plan? But when it comes to combating stress levels, what you eat may actually help relieve your tension.
Some foods may help stabilise blood sugar or, better yet, your emotional response. Here are 7 calming foods that may reduce stress and why they can help.
Green Plants & Vegetables
It's tempting to reach for a cheeseburger when you're stressed, but go green at lunch instead. "Green leafy vegetables like chlorella, spinach and kale contain folate, which produces dopamine, a pleasure-inducing brain chemical, helping you keep calm," Heather Mangieri, RDN, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, told Health.com
A 2022 study in the Journal of Affective Disorders that looked at over 14,500 people found a significant inverse relationship between depression and higher intake of selenium, zinc, and B vitamins, including folate. Meaning, less depression was seen with a higher intake of these vitamins and minerals.
And a 2018 study published in Frontiers in Psychology 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.
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," Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD, Health's contributing nutrition editor, told Health. According to the NIH, seaweed is an excellent source of dietary iodine. "Too little iodine can trigger fatigue and depression, but just a quarter cup of seaweed salad can pack over 275% of the daily value," said Sass.
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 can 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. A 2015 review in the British Journal of Nutrition highlighted that pistachios have a high antioxidant and anti-inflammatory potential.
"Eating pistachios may reduce acute stress by lowering blood pressure and heart rate," said Mangieri. "The nuts contain key phytonutrients that may provide antioxidant support for cardiovascular health."
Consuming regular portions of avocado might help shut down stress eating by filling your belly and making you feel more satisfied.
In a 2014 study published in Nutrient Journal, 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. The participants reported an increase in satisfaction and a decrease in the desire to eat for three hours after eating the avocado.
Beets are high in folate, 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.
"Because of its link with the nervous system, too little folate has been known to trigger mental fatigue, forgetfulness, confusion, and insomnia," said Sass. "In addition, several common medications can deplete the body's supply of folate, including cholesterol-lowering drugs, anti-inflammatory drugs, diabetes medications, and birth control pills."
Rich in nutrients and antioxidants, blueberries are considered a powerhouse food.
"When you're stressed, there's a battle being fought inside you," said Mangieri. "The antioxidants and phytonutrients found in berries fight in your defence, helping improve your body's response to stress."
Research has also shown that people who eat blueberries experience a boost in natural killer cells, which is "a type of white blood cell that plays a vital role in immunity, critical for countering stress," explained Sass.
One medium-sized naval orange provides over half of the recommended dietary allowances established by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for vitamin C. Researchers have recognised that vitamin C plays a role in the body's stress response, according to a 2020 study in the Journal of Thoracic Disease.
"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," said Sass. "The effects of a prolonged high cortisol level can include fatigue, brain fog, increased appetite, and weight gain, particularly belly fat."