7 Healthy Foods that Help Reduce Stress
Melt in your mouth, velvety chocolate is one awesome food for stress relief. But, did you know there are 7 healthy foods scientifically-proven to help reduce stress? It’s worth digging into foods that relieve stress – stress damages the body. Stress weakens the immune system, and negatively alters the brain: reduces cognition, alters mood, decreases reaction time, and weakens memory. With a whopping 55% of American respondents reporting a significant amount of stress within the last day, compared to the global average of 35% (Global State of Emotions Report), eating foods for stress relief is worth making part of your daily routine.
Best Foods for Stress Relief
If hair-pulling, headache-inducing stress is creeping into your day, consider eating more foods that help your body stay healthy by counteracting the negative effects. These are the top seven healthy foods that reduce stress:
- Dark Chocolate
- Green Tea
If you feel cranky, grumpy, or irritable when you are stressed, you aren’t alone. You may want to add a bit more turmeric in your life, according to researchers. In a randomized double-blind placebo-controlled trial, just one hour after 60 healthy adults aged 60–85 years were given a turmeric extract (contains lots of the active compounds called curcuminoids) they had better attention and mood. In fact, they noted they felt much more content, despite the psychological stress they were under. Makes you wonder about serving up some steaming mugs filled with Turmeric Latte Mix or glasses of Turmeric Juice in the next board meeting to improve the mood of any cranky co-workers. (Note to all parents: there’s no evidence that this will work to improve the attention or mood of your cranky toddler – our sincerest apologies).
Heck, why not raise your mug to turmeric every day with a celebratory “Cheers!”. When healthy adults consumed turmeric daily for a month, a study found they had lower levels of a marker of stress in their saliva, plus lower bad cholesterol, triglycerides, and C-reactive protein (a marker of inflammation). There are so many reasons to include turmeric in your healthy daily habits.
2. Dark Chocolate
Melting chocolate on your tongue can be a truly relaxing experience. For many, there’s no better way to escape the stress of the everyday. Chocolate actually has some interesting effects on the brain – that can be helpful if you are feeling stressed. Chocolate contains tryptophan, the amino acid needed to create serotonin, which is the happy hormone in your body. Beyond improving your mood, chocolate literally lights up your brain. Researchers from Mexico investigated what happens to the brain when a person eats chocolate. The brain’s oscillations (ability to send messages needed for cognition, memory, perception and behavior) lite up like fireworks on the Fourth of July, when people ate chocolate. Chocolate stimulates more blood flow and neuron activity in the brain. Go on and indulge in a mouthful of luscious, molten, dark chocolate if you’re feeling the effects of stress on your brain. Actually, scientists suggest you should eat more chocolate for your health: daily consumption of the helpful flavonoids found in dark chocolate has been shown to help lower risk of obesity, heart disease and diabetes. There shall be no more feeling guilty about indulging in some chocolate – it’s good for you!
STRESS FACT: Dark chocolate contains the highest amounts of helpful nutrients against stress.
The famous fats in salmon, called omega-3 fatty acids, are involved in a wide range of functions in the body that are related to how the brain functions. Two omega-3 fatty acids found in high quantities in salmon are linked to mental health: eicosapentaenoic (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). In fact, not having enough of these fats in your diet have been implicated in the development of some mental health issues. In stressful times, such as during exams, taking an omega-3 fatty acid supplement, or eating fatty fish at least twice a week, has been shown in studies to reduce the negative effects stress has on the body. Eating salmon can be easier than you think. Within a half hour, you can bake salmon on a sheet pan in the oven. You can make it a complete meal by adding vegetables (cauliflower, beets, carrots) to the sheet pan. Boneless, skinless salmon comes in cans which can quickly be turned into Salmon Cakes for a fast meal.
Stress can be helpful! Take for example when you cross paths with a bear in the woods, stress allows you to hustle out of there as fast as possible. But, most days, the stress we endure is brought on by our high-paced society. This chronic stress is damaging to the body. Harmful chemicals are produced when we are stressed. Luckily, researchers have determined the antioxidant gingerol, found in ginger fights these stress-induced harmful chemicals. Add a little ginger candy into your day, and let it melt the stress away (literally, if you’re sucking on Gin Gins Super Strength Ginger Candy). What exactly does ginger do to help? Researchers note that when ginger is in the blood stream, it’s effective at lowering markers of stress and inflammation. Whether you prefer a potent source of ginger as a tablet, a fun ginger chew to entertain you at your desk or a quick shot, there’s many convenient ways to get more ginger into your stressful day.
STRESS FACT: Chewing is a great way to relieve stress. It actually alters signals in the brain, helping reduce stress in your central nervous system. Anyone got a Gin Gin, or two, around to share?
5. Green Tea
Wrapping your hands around a warm cup of tea almost has an immediate relaxing effect. Shall we have a cup and discuss how tea definitely deserves to be on this list of the best foods to reduce stress? Researchers have found that drinking tea can lower levels of the stress hormone, cortisol. What’s in that steaming mug that offers stress relief? There’s an amino acid, L-theanine in tea. Plus, antioxidants, such as the famous ECGC. ECGC strengthens the immune system, supports heart health, and improves brain function (memory and attention). Let’s take another minute, and a deep breath, while we slow down a little to enjoy another sip. Ahh! On the other hand, tea contains caffeine. Did you know that the first steep of your tea contains most of the caffeine? A tip for a better brew: discard the first cup of tea you brew and steep it a second time for a more calming experience.
When you’re stressed, your brain produces excess stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol, and fewer chemicals that lead to relaxation, such as dopamine and serotonin. To help reduce restlessness or anxiety during stressful times, you want your body to create more dopamine and serotonin. To do that you need S-adenosylmethionine (SAMe). There are no food sources of SAMe, but your body can make it on its own if there is enough folic acid in your diet. Folic acid is commonly lacking in most North American’s diets that consist of a lot of convenience foods. You can find folic acid in dark leafy greens, citrus fruits, beans, peas and lentils. A cup of lentils gives you 90% of the daily value of folic acid and, is a great source of magnesium, a mineral that supports muscle relaxation.
Stress can make your head hurt, or your chest feel tight, but for many people stress can be felt in their gut. From indigestion to stomach aches, stress can inhibit the health of your gut. The gut is host to a major part of the body’s immune system. Research shows that when a person is experiencing sufficient stress, both chronic (grieve) or acute (exams), it lowers their immune system’s ability to fight off infection. Luckily, it appears that you can power up your immune system by eating more green vegetables like, broccoli or bok choy. According to researchers in the United Kingdom, green vegetables beneficially interact with the immune system in your gut, helping boost immunity. Who is ready to grab their fork and dig into something green?
- The impact of stress on body function: a review. Excli J 2017; 16: 1057-1072.
- What’s the world’s emotional temperature? Gallup, 2018.
- Investigation of the effects of solid lipid curcumin on cognition and mood in a healthy older population. J. Psychopharmacol. 2015;29:642–65
- Diverse effects of a low dose supplement of curcumin in healthy middle-aged people. Nutr. J. 2012;11:79.
- Omega-3 fatty acids and mental health. Global Health Journal 2020 Mar: 4(2); 18-30.
- The effects of ginger supplementation on markers of inflammatory and oxidative stress: a systematic review and meta-analysis of clinical trials. Phytother Res 2020 Mar 8.
- Mastication as a stress-coping behaviour. Biomed Res Int 2015 May 18: 876409.
- Lentils, mature seeds, cooked, boiled, without salt. FoodData Central, 2019.
- Reduced stress and improved sleep quality caused by green tea are associated with a reduced caffeine content. Nutrients 2017 Jul 19;9(7):777.
- The science of tea’s mood-altering magic. Nature 2019 Feb; 566, S8-S9.
- The effects of tea on psychophysiological stress responsivity and post-stress recovery: a randomised double-blind trial. Psychopharmacology (Berl) 2007 Jan; 190(1): 81-9.
- Exogenous stimuli maintain intraepithelial lymphocytes via hydrocarbon receptor activation. Cell 2011 Oct, 147(3): 629-640.
Allison Tannis MSc RHN: Known for her deliciously geeky words, Allison’s books and articles are read around the world by those curious where are the most nutritious (and delicious) places to stick their forks. More at allisontannis.com. Follow @deliciouslygeeky.