Tasty foods that are both healthy and stress relieving—Yes, they do exist! This post will share the 7 best foods for stress relief. Healthy recipes included!
Turning to food when we’re stressed is a common habit that lots of people share.
I for one, am not except. When I was struggling with my weight, I noticed that no matter how much I worked out, I couldn’t meet my weight loss goals.
And it was super frustrating because I really thought exercising regularly would be my grand solution.
So, I took a step back and decided to dig further into my stress triggers. Guess what I realized? Whenever the scale wasn’t on my side, I would reach for comfort food.
(You can see how this led to a vicious cycle).
It made me wonder if there were actually healthy – and tasty – options that could help reduce my stress response. And that’s how this blog post came about!
Ready to join me in putting a healthy spin on the term “comfort food”?
Can Unhealthy Foods Affect My Stress Levels?
They can and they do. Unhealthy foods can make your stress levels leap. While you may get an initial surge of endorphins via a sugar high or calorie spike, many stress foods of choice (chips, ice cream, Oreos) deprive our bodies of certain essential nutrients, vitamins, and minerals that are needed to effectively cope with stress.
*Extreme spikes in blood sugar will ultimately make stress harder to regulate.
Why Do People Stress Eat?
When we’re stressed, our adrenal glands release a hormone called cortisol (also known as the stress hormone). Cortisol makes us crave sugary, salty, and fatty foods. (It makes sense because your brain is under the impression that you need to fuel up in order to fight off whatever is causing the stress!
Stress eating is very real! And sometimes it feels absolutely unavoidable. Believe me, I have my own days when a granola bar just ain’t going to cut it.
An interesting study by Harvard shows that women are more prone to turning to food when stressed.
But when we’re chronically stressed our cortisol levels can get “stuck” on overdrive, leading to weight gain, high blood pressure, sleep disruption, and even diabetes.
*Making it even more important to eat all the best foods for stress relief!
What Foods Trigger Stress And Anxiety?
Avoid the following foods to avoid rising stress and anxiety:
- Ice-cream: Tragically, most ice creams are made with refined sugar which only provide us with a temporary boost (and are often followed by a sugar “low”).
- White carbs: Yes, your fave chips are white carbs unless stated otherwise! Similar to ice-cream they also contains refined sugar which sends you on a jittery high followed by a crash.
- Caffeine: I suggest this one in moderation. If you’re experiencing heart palpitations, you’ve definitely had one cup too many!
- Wine: Although many of us love a wine down Wednesday, your nightcap might be robbing you of a good night’s rest. And as you know, less sleep equals more stress.
- Take-out: Hitting the drive-thru is highly appealing when stressed because the body begins to crave sodium. Unfortunately this type of food will increase your blood pressure dramatically, which can lead to hypertension (and more stress).
What Are The Important Nutrients for Stress Reduction?
Certain nutrients naturally counterbalance the effects of stress and are commonly found in the best foods for stress relief. Aim to get your daily dose of the following:
- Vitamin C: Found in citrus fruits such as oranges, lemon, and grapefruit, vitamin C helps reduce stress hormones and boost the immune system.
- Complex Carbohydrates: I mentioned earlier that refined carbs are tied to stress. Studies show that Complex carbs, on the other hand, are stress busters. They digest at a slower pace and keep your blood sugar balanced. These include whole grains, like quinoa and brown rice.
- Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Fatty fish (such as salmon and tuna) are packed with omega-3 fatty acids, which are known to reduce stress and also anxiety. If you’re a vegan you can also find omega-3 in nuts and seeds such as flaxseeds, pistachio, walnuts, and almonds.
What Can I Eat to Reduce Stress?
Yes, your favorite avo toast is a stress buster! Packed with (very) healthy fat, vitamin C, vitamin B5, potassium and fiber, avocados have the perfect combo of nutrients to lower stress, blood pressure, and your cravings too!
2. Matcha powder
If you’ve been as into matcha powder as me, knowing it’s a stress-fighting superfood will make you love it even more! This popular green tea powder is a good source of L-theanine which decreases stress levels.
So the next time you find yourself stressed out and craving something sweet, remember this easy Matcha Chia Pudding!
Fermented food is so underrated! I know that pickles, sauerkraut, and kimchi are an acquired taste but keep at it because they have amazing health benefits!
Kimchi is most often made with cabbage, just like sauerkraut. It is usually made with radishes, too, and topped with seasonings like ginger (read about how good ginger is for you!), garlic, and spring onions.
*And yes, research shows that kimchi helps reduce stress and anxiety!
4. Leafy Greens
When you’re under a huge amount of stress the last thing you’d think about eating is a salad bowl. I get you, your brain is on flight mode and you want me to go for a boring salad?!
Well, just know that leafy greens (such as spinach and kale) are actually stress-busting powerhouses! Who knew right? They’re a rich source of magnesium which can help regulate cortisol and blood pressure.
*The next time you’re feeling more stressed than usual, whip up this spinach salad with warm bacon dressing to kick in the feel-good hormones.
5. Dark Chocolate
A sugar fix generally isn’t the answer to alleviating the stress, but dark chocolate is the golden (and healthy) exception. Chocolate is categorized as an indulgence, so partaking in this treat will send signals to your brain that you’re rewarding yourself. Little bio-hack for you!
Research also shows that dark chocolate that has a high concentration of cacao has positive effects on stress levels, mood, and even memory.
*If you’re not a fan of straight dark chocolate, try this dark chocolate brownie instead!
Instead of grabbing another bag of sour patch, opt for a banana instead. Yes, this household staple actually contains the mood-boosting chemical dopamine and magnesium. A stress-relieving duo!
*Kick the ‘ole banana up a notch by blending it into this delicious Peanut Butter Froyo
Looking for a savory protein pick-me-up? Chickpeas are a good source of stress-busting vitamins and minerals (such as magnesium, potassium, B vitamins, zinc, selenium, manganese, and copper).
*This homemade hummus recipe will give you the perfect amount of stress-reducing minerals!
More Recipes to Reduce Stress
Unhealthy stress-eating habits are sometimes hard to break. Rather than pulling an unrealistic 180 and quitting cold turkey, I suggest stocking your shelves with the healthy options we’ve discussed.
And no need to wait for stress to hit you in the face! Start incorporating these foods into your meal plan and diet and you’ll be managing your cortisol levels in no time.
- 6 Best Overnight Oats
- Teriyaki Salmon
- 10+ Healthy Quinoa Recipes You Need To Try
- Classic Stuffed Peppers
- 19 Easy Sweet Potato Recipes
This post contains affiliate links for products I use regularly and highly recommend.