Everyone wants to reduce or eliminate stresses from their lives. Besides removing stressors and partaking in activities that are known to alleviate stress, such as exercise, meditation, and mindfulness, did you know that our diets can also affect our stress levels?

Cortisol is a hormone that works like nature’s built-in alarm system. It works with certain parts of your brain to control your mood, motivation, and fear. When you are stressed, your body releases cortisol, and too much cortisol can derail your body’s most important functions. It can also lead to a number of health problems.

The best way to lower cortisol in the body is to focus on an anti-inflammatory diet. So, the next time your stress levels start soaring, you may wish to consider loading up your plate with foods that are proven to help lower stress levels. Here are some examples of what you can consume when you are next under pressure.

  1. Herbal Teas

Research has suggested that holding and sipping a warm beverage increases feelings of friendliness and comfort. There is a soothing effect and certain herbs such as lavender and camomile have been shown to have calming properties of their own. Herbal teas are also a good way to keep hydrated especially in times of high pressure.

2. Whole Grains

Research has indicated that carbohydrates can temporarily increase levels of serotonin, a hormone that boosts mood and reduces stress. Once serotonin levels are increased, people under stress have better concentration and focus. However, it is imperative to choose healthy, unrefined carbohydrates, like sweet potatoes and whole grains. Simple carbs, such as cookies, cake, and “white” foods, including white pasta and white bread cause a quick spike and crash of blood sugar, while complex carbohydrates contain vitamins and minerals as well as fibre, which take longer to digest and have less of an immediate impact on blood sugar.

Fibre also supports a healthy gut microbiome, so foods to include would be whole rye, buckwheat, and brown rice.

3. Dark chocolate

Dark chocolate in the diet can reduce stress in two ways — via its chemical impact and its emotional impact. Chocolate feels like such an indulgence that it can be a real treat to simply savor a piece of it, and that feeling alone can help to reduce stress.

Always read the labels though. Pick bars that are packed with pure components and no hidden additives or chemicals. Look on the label for two or three ingredients only, such as cacao beans, cane sugar, and cocoa butter.

4. Nuts

Nuts are full of nutrients, including B vitamins and healthy fatty acids. B vitamins are an important part of a healthy diet and can help reduce stress. Pistachios in particular can have a role in reducing stress levels. Just remember to limit servings to just a handful a day to avoid excess calories.

Nuts and seeds are also high in magnesium, and magnesium has been linked to better anxiety management. Findings from a review published in April 2017 in the journal Nutrients suggested that magnesium benefits individuals with mild to moderate levels of anxiety, but more trials are needed before making this treatment recommendation across the board.

5. Avocados

Avocados offer omega-3 fatty acids. These healthy essential acids are known to reduce stress and anxiety, boost concentration, and improve mood. Omega-3 fatty acids help reduce stress and also contain phytochemicals, fibre, and essential nutrients.

6. Fruits rich in Vitamin C

Some studies have found that high levels of vitamin C may help ease stress levels. One double-blind study, published January 2015 in the Pakistan Journal of Biological Sciences, reported that vitamin C reduced stress levels in participants taking 500 mg per day, and also pointed to possible anxiety prevention. Another study, published in November 2013 in the Pakistan Journal of Biological Sciences, looked at vitamin C and vitamin E and found a significant decrease in anxiety levels in the vitamin C group compared with other groups. Eating fruits like oranges, grapefruits, and strawberries is a good place to start.

7. Fibre rich foods

Fibre-rich foods are gut-friendly and can play a role in lowering stress. According to a review published in July 2018 in the journal Nutritional Neuroscience, a high-fibre diet may be linked with reduced anxiety, depression, and stress.

Consuming beans, green peas, berries, almonds, pistachios, flaxseed, sesame seeds, and lots of greens, like kale and broccoli will all be beneficial. Whole grains are also a must.

8. Probiotics

According to Harvard Health Publishing, probiotics can help boost the immune system, protect against harmful bacteria, and improve digestion and absorption of nutrients. An article published in December 2018 in University Health News cited several studies that found gut health has a direct correlation to improving anxiety, depression, and mood. One way is that gut bacteria can produce molecules with neuroactive functions, including serotonin and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which positively influence mood. 

Kefir is a fermented yogurt drink, which is an excellent source of fibre. Kefir is available in both dairy and plant-based forms. Yoghurt and fermented foods, including Kimchi, Kombucha, and miso are also excellent sources that are also tasty.

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