When we are stressed out, the foods we turn to are most likely going to be traditional ‘comfort’ foods – big meals, take-out, fatty foods, sweet foods, alcohol etc. We’ve all found some comfort in junk food and a bottle of beer or glass of wine when we’ve been stressed out or upset. However, this isn’t a permanent solution. Unhealthy foods are a temporary fix, we get the sugar rush which makes us feel good, but then we crash. When our body isn’t getting the right nutrition, we feel less energetic, more lethargic, and less able to concentrate and focus. All of this can lead to even more stress.
If you’ve been feeling more stressed out than usual lately, it’s important to know which foods are best to choose and which to avoid when it comes to combating stress and helping you to deal with feelings of stress and anxiety. You need a healthy, balanced diet which includes a moderate amount of each of the different food groups to ensure that your body gets the optimum amounts of nutrients to fight both physical and mental health issues. Some foods have a good range of properties which help the body combat stress. Choosing these stress-busting foods will help to heal and calm your mind long term, rather than providing temporary relief.
Some of the best stress-fighting foods include: Avocado – Avocados are a creamy and versatile fruit which can be eaten in a range of different ways; raw, made into sauces, dressings and dips, or in a smoothie. These nutrient-dense fruits have the nutrients to stress-proof your body, thanks to their high glutathione content which specifically blocks the intestinal absorption of certain fats which cause oxidative damage. Avocados also contain higher levels of vitamin E, folate, and beta-carotene than any other fruit, which boosts their stress-busting properties. Be careful with portion control when eating avocado, as it is high in fat, albeit healthy fat, it still contains calories.
Blueberries – Swapping chocolate or chips for one of the best superfoods is a great way to help you deal with your stress levels and achieve a higher level of calm. Blueberries have some of the highest levels of antioxidants, especially anthocyanin, which means that this berry has been linked to a wide range of health benefits, including sharper cognition, better focus, and a clearer mind – all of which can help you to better deal with stress.
Chamomile Tea – Of course, it’s not all about what you’re eating when it comes to managing stress; what you’re drinking can also alleviate or worsen stress levels. Drinking liquids which are high in sugars and caffeine, such as coffee, energy drinks or soda, can actually increase your stress levels if consumed regularly. Chamomile tea has long been used as a natural bedtime soother, and it has also been used in clinical trials, which determined that chamomile tea is effective in reducing the symptoms of generalised anxiety disorder.
Dark Organic Chocolate – Although it’s usually seen as an unhealthy treat, there is an undeniable link between chocolate and our mood. Studies have shown that eating chocolate can actually make you happier. However, that doesn’t mean that you can start munching on chocolate bars every time you're stressed out – chocolate works best as a de-stressor when eaten in moderation and as part of a healthy and balanced diet. Dark chocolate in particular is best for you, as it contains more flavonols and polyphenols, two hugely important antioxidants which can help combat stress.
Oatmeal – Oatmeal is great in that it can be a filling comfort food, but also has a large number of healthy properties. A complex carbohydrate, eating oatmeal causes your brain to produce higher levels of the feel-good chemical serotonin, helping you to feel calmer and less stressed. Walnuts – If you’re looking for a healthy snacking option which will help you to stay better in control of your stress levels, walnuts are a great choice.
Pistachios – another food which is great for snacking and can also help to combat stress and anxiety in the long term is pistachios. Studies have found that simply eating two small, snack-size portions of pistachios per day can lower vascular constriction when stressed, putting less pressure on your heart by further dilating your arteries. Along with this, the rhythmic, repetitive act of shelling pistachios can actually be quite therapeutic!
Green Leafy Vegetables – leafy, green vegetables should be a pivotal part of anyone’s diet. Along with helping to combat stress, leafy greens are full of nutrients and antioxidants which help to fight disease and leave your body feeling healthier and more energised. Dark leafy greens, for example spinach, are especially good since they are rich in folate, which helps the body to produce more mood-regulating neurotransmitters such as serotonin, which is a ‘feel-good’ chemical. Making leafy greens a part of your diet will help you to feel happier and less stressed out overall.
Fermented foods – last but not least, eating fermented foods such as kefir, kimchi, and bio yoghurt help to keep the gut healthy, which is essential. The beneficial bacteria which are found in fermented foods have a direct effect on brain chemistry and transmit positive mood and behaviour regulating signals to your brain via the vagus nerve.
Planning your meals wisely is key to not only staying physically fit and healthy, but also to staying mentally strong and being able to best manage your levels of stress. Knowing which foods to avoid and which are the best to reach for to snack on when you’re feeling worried and anxious is important to helping you get control over your emotions and fears. In order to stay on track, it’s a good idea to make a meal plan for your week and plan ahead to make sure that you have a good selection of these stress-busting foods in your kitchen to make meals and snacks from when you’re feeling like stress-eating.
As the saying goes, you are what you eat – so make sure that you’re filling yourself up with foods which are good for your mental health.