5 Foods that are Good for Stress

Calm your senses with these top five foods that are good for stress.

5 Foods That Are Good For Stress photo

The best foods to eat when you are feeling stressed.

We tend to go for high-energy foods when feeling stressed, anxious or tired, such as foods high in sugar. This is likely an evolutionary trait to promote fat storage and aid survival during difficult times. However, in the modern western world, we have greater access to food all year round and we generally lead more sedentary lifestyles. Therefore the frequent consumption of high-sugar foods is not as necessary for survival and tends to have a negative effect on our health long-term, such as increasing the risk of diabetes, high cholesterol and cardiovascular disease.

Instead, it is important to choose foods rich in specific nutrients that help to reduce stress and support a healthy nervous system. For example, magnesium, B vitamins, vitamin C and tryptophan. Fermented foods also support gut health which is important since chronic stress can disrupt gut function and have implications on mental health. Foods good for stress are discussed in more detail below.

Top 5 foods to eat when stressed
1. Dark, leafy green vegetables

These are a great source of magnesium which is a mineral that helps to promote relaxation of the nervous system. It can also improve tolerance to stressful situations when adequate amounts are consumed. Magnesium can be depleted during prolonged stress therefore eating dark, leafy greens such as kale, spinach, spring greens, rocket and swiss chard, are important foods for stress. They are also a good source of vitamin B9 (folate) which helps the body convert food into energy.

2. Dark chocolate

Dark chocolate (70%+) is another good source of magnesium, which could partly explain why chocolate can be so alluring as comfort food. Dark chocolate also contains high levels of cocoa polyphenols which help to feed our beneficial gut bacteria. This is important as the gut and brain communicate with each other via the gut-brain axis. A healthy gut is thought to have a positive effect on brain function and mental wellbeing. Consuming cacao polyphenols may also help to reduce inflammation which is associated with chronic stress, due to their antioxidant properties.

3. Turkey or chicken

Serotonin, known as the ‘happy hormone’, helps to regulate mood but can be depleted during chronic stress. Turkey and chicken are good sources of the amino acid tryptophan which plays a role in serotonin production. Plant sources include tofu, soybeans and pumpkin seeds.

4. Fermented foods

These foods contain live beneficial bacteria that help to support a healthy gut, which in turn can support brain function and mental wellbeing via the gut-brain axis. Consider including food such as unpasteurised sauerkraut, kombucha, kimchi, live yoghurt, kefir, tempeh and miso in your diet.

5. Vitamin-C foods

Vitamin C is required for cortisol production and can be depleted during chronic stress. You can support your body when stressed by including vitamin-C-rich foods such as bell peppers, kiwi, citrus foods, parsley, tomatoes, broccoli, strawberries and kale.

Summary

Choosing nutrient-dense foods rather than high-sugar foods when stressed is a positive dietary change you can make to support your long-term health. Foods good for stress include dark, leafy green vegetables, dark chocolate, turkey, chicken, fermented foods, and vitamin-C-rich foods.

Sorrenti, V., t al., (2020). Cocoa Polyphenols and Gut Microbiota Interplay: Bioavailability, Prebiotic Effect, and Impact on Human Health. Nutrients, 12(7), 1908. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu12071908

Leonard, W.R., Snodgrass, J.J. and Robertson, M.L., 2010. Evolutionary Perspectives on Fat Ingestion and Metabolism in Humans. pp.3–18.

Guilliams, T.G., 2018. The Role of Stress and the HPA Axis in Chronic Disease Management. 2nd ed. USA: Point Institute.

Kim, B., et al., (2016). A Review of Fermented Foods with Beneficial Effects on Brain and Cognitive Function. Preventive nutrition and food science, 21(4), 297–309. https://doi.org/10.3746/pnf.2016.21.4.297