An occasional bout of stress is unavoidable, and may even come to your aid to help you accomplish tasks at times. Chronic stress, however, can take a serious toll on your physical, mental, and emotional health. Studies show that chronic stress can increase the risk of heart disease, depression, and anxiety. And while certain mindfulness techniques, breathing practices, and forms of exercise may prove effective, eating the right foods can also be an effective strategy.
A 2015 article in the journal Stress found that eating quality nutrients over time can positively impact the body’s neural circuits that control emotion, motivation, and mood. Other research observed that eating foods that benefit gut microbiota can help you feel better. Increasing the amount of beneficial microorganisms in the digestive system has a positive impact on your mental and emotional health. Additionally, certain foods can help reduce or balance cortisol (the stress hormone) levels in the body. So the next time you feel anxious or stressed, consider taking a bite out of the following stress-relieving foods.
One of the keys to fighting stress through your diet is eating complex carbohydrates like the ones in sweet potatoes. These complex carbs may lower cortisol levels in the body. An eight-week study in overweight or obese women found that those who ate a diet rich in complex carbs had significantly lower levels of salivary cortisol than those who ate the standard American diet. Sweet potatoes are also rich in vitamin C and potassium, both of which help with stress response.
A 2014 study found that participants who consumed half an avocado during their lunches reduced their desire to eat more than 40% for three hours following the meal. The participants also reported an increase in satisfaction, with a decreased desire to eat for hours after eating the avocado. Consuming regular portions of avocado may shut down your stress eating because they fill your belly and make you feel more satisfied.
Parsley may help you fight back against stress in a different way. The antioxidant compounds in parsley work to neutralize unstable free radicals, in addition to protecting against oxidative stress. Research indicates that oxidative stress is linked to many illnesses, including mental disorders like anxiety and depression. Studies suggest that a diet rich in antioxidants may help prevent stress and anxiety.
Cruciferous vegetables have a long list of health benefits, and broccoli belongs to the cruciferous family. Several studies found that eating more cruciferous vegetables may lower your risk of developing heart disease, mental health disorders like depression, and certain cancers. In addition to the antioxidants and vitamin C, both of which may combat symptoms of depression, broccoli also contains a high amount of sulforaphane. This sulfur compound has neuroprotective properties and potential antidepressant effects.
Chickpeas are naturally rich in stress-busting vitamins and minerals, including zinc, copper, B vitamins, selenium, manganese, and potassium. They are also great sources of L-tryptophan, which the body needs to produce neurotransmitters that regulate mood. According to research, diets rich in plant proteins like chickpeas may improve mental performance and have better brain health. One study monitored two groups of people, one of which followed the standard American diet, while the other followed the Mediterranean diet. The group who consumed the Mediterranean diet consumed more plant foods and legumes. They experienced better mood and less stress than the standard American diet group.
Seaweed is one of the few sources that is especially rich in iodine. Research states that too little iodine in the body can cause fatigue and depression. A quarter cup of seaweed salad packs over 275% of the daily value of iodine. You don’t need a lot to meet your quota, but if your anxiety or depression stems from low iodine levels, consider enjoying some seaweed.
As a nutrient-dense leafy green vegetable, Swiss chard benefits the body in myriad ways. One cup of cooked Swiss chard contains 36% of the daily value of magnesium, which plays an integral role in the body’s stress response. Low levels of magnesium have been linked to an increased risk of panic attacks and anxiety. Plus, chronic stress depletes the body’s magnesium stores, making this mineral absolutely necessary when you feel stressed.
Fermented foods like kimchi contain beneficial bacteria that help to balance bacteria in the gut. According to research, fermented foods may play a role in reducing anxiety and stress levels. One small study found that those who ate fermented foods more frequently had fewer symptoms of social anxiety. Other studies found that probiotic-rich foods like kimchi have profound benefits on mental health overall. This is likely attributed to how probiotics interact with gut bacteria to affect your mood.