Feeling stressed? Get some exercise! It's one of nature's most underutilized activities and perhaps one of the most effective and natural stress reducers. Studies consistently indicate that exercise is a helpful tool for alleviating stress and improving overall mood.
However, exercise is only one component of a healthy lifestyle. Your diet also plays an important role in how your body reacts to stress. While a healthy diet devoid of processed foods is ideal for promoting good health, some foods are better than others in the way they combat stress.
Stress Relieving Foods
Below are the top 10 best stress-relieving foods that can easily be incorporated into any diet.
1. Dark Chocolate
Commonly seen as comfort food, chocolate's sweet and bold flavors are enjoyed by millions of people every day. It turns out that science actually supports chocolate as a stress-relieving, mood-boosting food. Chocolate is a beneficial food that may reduce stress hormones. People who rated themselves as being highly stressed experienced a significant drop in stress hormone levels after eating dark-chocolate over a two week period. The amount of dark chocolate consumed during this study was 1.4 ounces per day, or a little over half a pound per week. Make sure you choose organic, high-cacao varieties.
One of the physiological symptoms of stress is hypertension, or high blood pressure. The abundance of alpha-linolenic acid and linoleic acid in walnuts promotes a healthy blood pressure[4, 5] while the polyunsaturated fatty acids support healthy blood circulation and cardiovascular response to acute stress.
Avocados are naturally high in B vitamins, which play an important role in your nervous system. B vitamins promote healthy nerve and brain cells, ensuring they function properly. They also reduce stress and promote healthy brain function and mental wellness.[7, 8] Avocados are also naturally high in monounsaturated fat, a healthy oil, and potassium, both of which help lower blood pressure.[9, 10]
Garlic lowers cortisol levels, preventing unhealthy stress responses. Sulfuric metabolites in garlic, such as allicin, have also been associated with healthy blood pressure, cholesterol, and cardiovascular protection.
Fresh or dried figs offer a potent source of essential vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. As a bioavailable source of potassium, calcium, and magnesium, figs offer nutrients necessary for maintaining healthy blood pressure and muscle function. The antioxidants in figs have the potential for protecting against oxidative stress, a type of stress that is made worse by poor diet, environmental pollution, and tobacco use.
Natural rolled and steel cut oats provide a high-quality source of fiber, a non-digestible carbohydrate necessary for digestion and satiation. The complex carbohydrates found in oatmeal encourage healthy serotonin levels, which may even improve your mood.
7. Pumpkin Seeds
Pumpkin seeds, an autumn favorite, may provide stress-relieving benefits through their high levels of various nutrients, like omega-3 fatty acids, magnesium, zinc, and potassium. Pumpkin seeds also have high phenolic levels, and research indicates that phenols promote antioxidant activity. Antioxidants have the potential to control glucose absorption in cells, as well as protect against hypertension.
8. Swiss Chard
This dark-green leafy vegetable is packed with essential fat-soluble vitamins (A, C, E, and K) as well as minerals such as calcium, iron, magnesium, and potassium. Chard also contains a specific class of antioxidants known as betalains. These compounds have been found to protect the body against high blood sugar and high blood pressure, two conditions commonly associated with stress.
9. Dulse Seaweed
Similar to swiss chard, dulse seaweed offers a high-quality source of nutrients and antioxidants. In addition to essential vitamins and minerals, dulse also contains iodine. Necessary for thyroid health, iodine is required by the thyroid gland for the proper production and regulation of hormones. Considered to be a superfood, this purple sea vegetable may help fight the effects of stress by maintaining proper hormone levels within the body.
10. Citrus Fruits
Aromatherapy has promoted citrus scents for centuries as a natural means to relax. Not only can the aroma of citrus fruits, like oranges and grapefruit, provide a relaxing effect, its natural vitamin C content may also provide additional benefit. One study evaluated the physiological impact of vitamin C in obese children suffering from mental stress. A specific concern of these patients was their blood pressure. Results showed that this high-risk group experienced a blood pressure reduction to levels much more consistent with lean children experiencing little to no stress.
How Do You Relieve Stress?
- Voss MW, et al. Bridging animal and human models of exercise-induced brain plasticity. Trends Cogn Sci. 2013 Sep 9. pii: S1364-6613(13)00166-6.
- Francois-Pierre JM, et al Metabolic Effects of Dark Chocolate Consumption on Energy, Gut Microbiota, and Stress-Related Metabolism in Free-Living Subjects. Journal of Proteome Research, 2009, 8 (12), pp 5568-5579.
- Marshall IJ, et al. Lay perspectives on hypertension and drug adherence: systematic review of qualitative research. BMJ. 2012 Jul 9;345:e3953. doi: 10.1136/bmj.e3953.
- Takeuchi H, et al. Antihypertensive effect and safety of dietary alpha-linolenic acid in subjects with high-normal blood pressure and mild hypertension. Journal of Oleo Science. 2007;56(7):347-60.
- Miura K, et al. Relationship of dietary linoleic acid to blood pressure. Hypertension. 2008 August;52(2):408-14.
- West SG, et al. Effects of diets high in walnuts and flax oil on hemodynamic responses to stress and vascular endothelial function. J Am Coll Nutr. 2010 Dec;29(6):595-603.
- Stough C, et al. Reducing occupational stress with a B-vitamin focussed intervention: a randomized clinical trial: study protocol. Nutr J. 2014; 13:122.
- Vitamin B-12: Fact Sheet for Professionals National Institutes of Health, Office of Dietary Supplements. Updated 22 Aug. 2018. Accessed 30 Oct. 2018.
- Márquez-Ramírez CA, et al. Comparative effects of avocado oil and losartan on blood pressure, renal vascular function, and mitochondrial oxidative stress in hypertensive rats. Nutrition. 2018 Oct;54:60-67.
- Houston MC. The importance of potassium in managing hypertension. Curr Hypertens Rep. 2011 Aug;13(4):309-17.
- Butt MS, et al. Garlic: nature's protection against physiological threats. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2009 Jun;49(6):538-51.
- Vinson JA, et al. Dried fruits: excellent in vitro and in vivo antioxidants. J Am Coll Nutr. 2005 Feb;24(1):44-50.
- P M Lyons and A S Truswell. Serotonin precursor influenced by type of carbohydrate meal in healthy adults. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
- Kwon YI, et al. Health benefits of traditional corn, beans, and pumpkin: in vitro studies for hyperglycemia and hypertension management. J Med Food. 2007 Jun;10(2):266-75.
- Ninfali P, Angelino D. Nutritional and functional potential of Beta vulgaris cicla and rubra. Fitoterapia. 2013 Sep;89:188-99.
- Fernandes PR, et al. Vitamin C restores blood pressure and vasodilator response during mental stress in obese children. Arq Bras Cardiol. 2011 Jun;96(6):490-7. Epub 2011 May 6.
†Results may vary. Information and statements made are for education purposes and are not intended to replace the advice of your doctor. If you have a severe medical condition or health concern, see your physician.