Health & Nutrition
March 30, 2021
• Updated on
20 Jul

Best Foods to Help Relieve Stress

Whether there is a deadline, a crucial presentation, an exam/interview, or simply just too many things on your plate — stress is inescapable. It has become an unavoidable part of our hectic lifestyle today. The effects of stress, however, are not just limited to bad mood or irritability.

When left unchecked for a prolonged period of time, it can spell serious trouble for overall health, which means it can screw your sleep, skin (think acne & pimples), hormones, blood pressure, and immune system.

When it comes to affecting your mental health, it can push you into depression and anxiety. It can also be a contributing factor in health issues such as heart diseases and even obesity.

While deleting stress from our lives is not an option, how we deal with it is totally in our hands. You may not be able to totally steer clear of it but there are certain ways with which you can curtail its effects on your body, mind, and overall health.

It would be wrong to look at stress as a stand-alone disease. Feeling a little stressed at some point in our daily routine is not a bad thing. Scientists call it “eustress” or “good stress”. This short-term stress helps us grow and can even boost the immune system.

Sadly in today’s hectic lifestyle, there are just too many of these “eustress” moments. Collectively, these turn into “distress” aka “bad stress” and wreak havoc on our health. Suppressing the immune system, the “bad stress” ultimately pops up in the form of illnesses.

stress relieving foods
Prolonged stress may accumulate slowly and overload our nervous system.

So what actually happens when your body is under stress? During periods of high stress, certain chemicals within the brain called neurotransmitters such as dopamine, epinephrine, and norepinephrine begin to shoot up. This causes large amounts of these and other such “fight or flight” hormones such as adrenaline to be released by the adrenal glands.

These chemicals contribute to certain physiological effects, including rapid heart rate, high blood pressure, and a weakened immune system. When left unchecked over a period, chronic stress can lead to the development of other serious health problems such as acne, stroke, indigestion, stomach ulcers, stroke, and heart disease.

Silently, this prolonged stress may accumulate slowly and overload our nervous system. One of the most common physical reactions to stress is muscle tension, which can ultimately trigger tension headaches, migraines, and other musculoskeletal conditions.

Stress can also influence which nutrients your intestines absorb, and can also provoke you to overindulge in food or stop eating at all. Eating the wrongs foods when under stress can worsen the situation as well as jeopardize your weight-loss plan.

On the other hand, eating the right kind of stress relieving foods can help you fight stress and even, overcome it. Stress relieving foods can help relax your mind and support the body to release feel-good hormones such as dopamine and endorphins. Let’s look at the foods you should eat and the ones you should strictly avoid to beat stress.

stress relieving foods
Almonds promote the release of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that helps boost mood and get quality sleep.

STRESS RELIEVING FOODS

Foods that boost Serotonin

Serotonin is a neurotransmitter, which stabilizes your mood and happiness and helps get quality sleep. Tryptophan is an amino acid that is important for the production of serotonin. Here are some serotonin promoting and highly effective stress-relieving foods:

 Banana

 Almonds

 A2 milk

 Egg

 Whole grains

stress relieving foods
Dark chocolate helps the body release endorphins, which trigger a positive feeling in the body and reduce the feeling of pain.

Foods that boost Endorphins

Known as natural painkillers, endorphins help one deal with stress and reduce the feeling of pain. These also trigger a positive feeling in the body. For example — the feeling that follows a workout or runs is often called euphoric. Stress relieving foods and activities that help you with endorphins are:

 Chilly Foods (Capsaicin, chemical compound present)

 Ashwagandha

 Dark Chocolate

 Pleasure time with a partner

 Laugh with friends

During sleep, your body releases dopamine which helps the body relax.

Foods that boost Dopamine

Popularly known as the ‘happy hormone’, Dopamine acts as both hormone and neurotransmitter. Enzymes in the body convert tyrosine into dopamine. You can include the following stress-relieving foods and activities in your routine:

 Protein-rich foods such as legumes, dairy, and eggs

 Probiotics for good Gut, which is sometimes also called the second brain and produces this neurotransmitter

 Exercise regularly

 Enough sleep

 Meditation/ Chanting

Pumpkin seeds promotes the release of oxytocin, which is known for its anti-stress effects such as reduction in cortisol levels & blood pressure.

Foods that boost Oxytocin

It is called the “love hormone” or “cuddle hormone” and its main functions are contraction of the uterus during childbirth and lactation. It is known to induce anti-stress-like effects such as reduction of blood pressure and cortisol levels. In addition, it promotes growth and healing. A few oxytocin-inducing and stress relieving foods are:

 Pumpkin seeds

 Green Tea

 Chamomile Tea

 Almonds

 Spinach

Too much caffeine can overstimulate the body and disrupts hormonal balance.

WORST FOODS FOR STRESS

1. Sweet treats

When you are stressed, the body releases more cortisol, a hormone responsible for helping to manage both stress and blood sugar levels. Eating sugary foods raise blood sugar levels, which makes the body release more cortisol to balance blood sugar.

The problem arises when this increased cortisol level starts disrupting your sleep, decrease the immune response, and trigger unhealthy food cravings. According to Harvard Medical School, one way to use food to reduce stress and anxiety is to keep blood sugar as stable as possible. You can do it by replacing simple sugars with complex carbs, which metabolize more slowly.

Skip: White sugar, ice creams & cookies.

Healthy Swap: Dark Chocolate (cocoa more than 75%), makhana kheer with nuts, fruit, or fruit custard.

2. Artificial Sugars

Artificial sugars are equally bad for you. The fake sugar substitutes create more problems like headaches, confusion in mind, increases the risk of CVDs, and inflammation. They also have a similar effect on your blood sugar.

Skip: Sugarfree, stevia drops

Healthy Swap: Natural sugars such as jaggery, mishri, raisins, fig, pind-khajoor, and fruit.

3. Refined Carbohydrates

With zero nutritional value, refined carbs cause a rise in blood sugar, increase calories and make you more moody and irritable by spiking the sugar levels.

Skip: Cookies and Chips

Healthy Swap: A bowl of biryani, a bowl of quinoa, paneer pakoda, and a handful of nuts.

4. Excess Caffeine

Too much caffeine can wreak havoc on your adrenal glands by overstimulating the body. It disrupts the hormonal balance and also causes a rise in blood pressure and heart rate that will ultimately increase the feeling of anxiety.

Skip: Black Coffee

Healthy Swap: Masala Chai, A glass of Buttermilk, Herbal teas

A nutrient-rich diet helps you deal with stress in a better way.

Focus on these Nutrients in mood lifting foods

· Serotonin is often called the precursor for melatonin — the sleep hormone. Serotonin is a chemical neurotransmitter that helps to regulate mood, sleep, memory, and behavior. It is also believed to improve brain function and relieve anxiety.

· Vitamin B functions majorly in the development and maintenance of the nervous system. The deficiency of vitamin-B-can has a negative impact on the nervous system, which might increase the risk of developing stress-related symptoms such as irritability, lethargy, and depression. B-vitamins also help maintain regular blood-sugar levels so that your energy and mood remain stable under stress.

· Omega 3 fatty acids contain alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which provides two essential fatty acids: eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Essential for brain health and mood, Omega 3 fatty acids also help the body tackle stress better.
The EPA and DHA regulate neurotransmitters, reduce inflammation, and promote healthy brain function. In fact, low omega-3 intake is linked to increased anxiety and depression.

· Magnesium, in adequate amounts, is essential for avoiding headaches and fatigue. It has been found that oral magnesium can also successfully relieve premenstrual mood changes.

· Vitamin C can curb levels of stress hormones while strengthening the immune system.

Foods that relieve Stress & Anxiety

mood lifting foods

Banana: Packed with potassium, bananas are one the best stress-relieving foods. It helps calm your stress levels instantly. Potassium is a vital mineral that helps normalize the heartbeat, send oxygen to the brain, and regulate the body’s water balance.

When we are under stress or feel anxious, our potassium levels drop which can easily be replenished with eating a banana. It is also a good source of magnesium and tryptophan that produces serotonin in our body which further uplifts your mood.

mood lifting foods

Almonds contain magnesium and calcium, which may help promote muscle relaxation and sleep. Almonds are quite easy to grab stress relieving foods, which makes them a perfect mid-morning or evening snack. They are high in good fats and low in sugar and saturated fats.

foods that relieve stress and depression

Fatty fish, such as salmon, mackerel, sardines, trout, and herring, are incredibly rich in omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin D, nutrients that have shown to help reduce stress levels and be one of the most effective mood-lifting foods.

foods that relieve stress and depression

Citrus fruits are rich in vitamin C, which has antioxidant properties that may help reduce inflammation and prevent damage to cells that may promote anxiety and stress. Stress relieving foods that also help you maintain good skin.

foods that relieve stress and depression

Chickpeas are packed with stress-fighting vitamins and minerals, including magnesium, potassium, B vitamins, zinc, selenium, manganese, and copper. One of the powerful stress relieving foods, these are also rich in L-tryptophan, which your body needs to produce mood-regulating neurotransmitters

foods that relieve stress and depression

Oatmeal may seem an unlikely entrant on this list of stress relieving foods but it can help reduce levels of stress hormones and also boosts serotonin, which stimulates a feeling of calmness.

foods that relieve stress and depression

Pumpkin Seeds are the healthiest pick when it comes to stress relieving foods. These seeds contain Magnesium & Tryptophan, which have the potential to reduce anxiety and stress.

foods that relieve stress and depression

Dark Chocolate is one of the most preferred mood lifting foods. But is it really stress relieving food? Chocolate has a high tryptophan content, which the body uses to turn into mood-enhancing neurotransmitters, such as serotonin in the brain.

Dark chocolate is also a good source of magnesium, which may help reduce symptoms of depression. When choosing dark chocolate, aim for 70 percent or more. Dark chocolate still contains added sugars and fats, so a small serving of 1 to 3 grams (g) is appropriate.

foods that relieve stress and depression

Eggs offer a complete protein, meaning it contains all the essential amino acids the body needs for growth and development. Eggs also contain tryptophan, which is an amino acid that helps create serotonin. Whole eggs are particularly rich in choline, a nutrient found in large amounts in only a few stress relieving foods. Choline has shown to play an important role in brain health and may protect against stress.

foods that help relieve stress and anxiety

Yogurt is one of the most mind calming and stress relieving foods. It contains probiotics, which may have a positive effect on brain health and anxiety levels. Including fermented food in the diet can benefit the natural gut bacteria and may reduce anxiety and stress. So it is also one of those foods that relieve both stress and anxiety.

Related Lovneet Batra's Instagram Video:


Diet plan with the best stress relieving foods

On waking up: Coconut oil (1 tsp) + 2 glasses lukewarm water + almonds (7 soaked)

Breakfast: Omelette (1)/ 1 bowl oatmeal

Mid-morning: Banana + Pumpkin seeds (2 tsp)

Lunch: Sabzi (1 bowl) + Chapati (1) + Curd (1 bowl)

5 pm: 1 bowl chickpea salad

Dinner: Veg Khichdi (1 bowl) + Mint chutney

Before Bedtime: Ashwagandha Almond Mylk (1 cup)/ Chamomile Tea

Why food is a stress reliever?

There is an extensive network of neurons and a highway of chemicals and hormones that work as a communication pathway between gut and brain. This is known as the gut-brain axis. For scientists today, this gut-brain axis offers a better understanding of the relationship between what we eat and how we feel after eating food. What we eat inevitably affects our emotions.

Over the years, diets have become potent tools to help manage stress and mental health. The best stress relieving foods are nutrient-dense foods containing high levels of vitamins, minerals, fibre, and antioxidants that nourish the beneficial microbes in the gut that can support brain performance, and reduce stress as well as inflammation.

On the other hand, diets high in processed foods and refined sugar may give you a short-term mood boost, but at the same time, they also promote inflammation in the gut, influencing brain function and energy levels in the long run.

Which fruit is the best for stress?

Offering a perfect balance of fiber and fruit’s sugar content, a banana is the healthiest stress relieving food that gives the brain energy and helps improve mood. It is often referred to as ‘brain food’ because of its rich potassium and magnesium content. Bananas also offer vitamins and nutrients that promote cognitive function. Banana is low in calories and contains virtually no fat, which makes it a great mid-meal or midnight snack. It is one of those powerful foods that relieve stress and anxiety.

What to eat to relieve stress?

It may feel irresistibly tempting to reach out for junk foods and sugar treats when under stress but it is neither a healthy choice nor an effective way to beat stress. Instead, go for foods that neither overshoot your calorie intake nor spike your blood glucose level for a short-lived mood boost.

Moreover, eating processed foods when under stress is a vicious cycle. You keep eating in the hope of feeling better, which rarely happens. It also leads to emotional eating. To beat stress, pick whole and natural foods, which come under the category of the healthiest stress relieving foods that help stabilize levels of sugar in the blood. Foods that have a long-term impact on your mood and brain function such as almonds, pumpkin seeds, oatmeal, fish and eggs, etc.

How can I reduce stress naturally?

Daily stress can play havoc with your mental, emotional and physical health. The good news is that there are plenty of simple, effective, and easy lifestyle changes that can help you reduce stress naturally. Besides eating nutrient and fiber-rich foods, the lifestyle changes you need to bring in your daily routine — having meals on time, prioritising 7–8 hours of sleep, exercising regularly, less sitting, yoga, and practicing breathing exercising which help calm the nerves. Besides including stress relieving foods in your daily diet, you can bring in these lifestyle changes to promote positivity and healthy living.

What can I drink to relieve stress?

Besides stress relieving foods, there are certain drinks such as Ashwagandha or Chamomile tea that can help beat stress in real-time. Avoid colas, sodas, and other caffeinated drinks when under stress.

Chamomile tea as an herbal remedy is used around the world because of its anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, antioxidant, and relaxant properties. Its tea and extract have been shown to promote restful sleep and reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression.

Ashwagandha is an adaptogenic herb, which means it helps you adapt in the face of stress. When stressed, your adrenal glands release cortisol, which is also known as the stress hormone. High levels of stress hormone over a period of time can lead to high sugar levels and increased fat storage in the body. Studies have shown that Ashwagandha helps reduce cortisol levels, playing an effective role in tackling chronic stress and anxiety disorder.

Stress is one of the common reasons behind excessive weight gain nowadays. Beat stress, lose weight, and achieve mind-body balance with our holistic and empowering Nutrition Plans. Click here.

FAQs:

How does stress affect our overall health?

The effects of stress are not just limited to bad mood or irritability.

When left unchecked for a prolonged period of time, it can spell serious trouble for overall health: it can wreak havoc on your sleep pattern, skin (think acne & pimples), hormones, blood pressure, and immune system. When it comes to affecting your mental health, it can push you into depression and anxiety. It can also be a contributing factor in health issues such as heart diseases and even obesity.

Are there different kinds of stress?

Feeling a little stressed at some point in our daily routine is not such a bad thing, according to scientists. They call it“eustress” or “good stress”. This short-term stress helps us grow and can even boost the immune system. But  in today’s hectic world, there are too many of these “eustress” moments and they collectively turn into “distress” aka “bad stress” and wreak havoc on our health. Suppressing the immune system, the “bad stress” ultimately pops up in the form of illnesses.

What happens to our body under stress?

During periods of high stress, certain chemicals within the brain called neurotransmitters such as dopamine, epinephrine, and norepinephrine begin to shoot up. This causes large amounts of these and other such “fight or flight” hormones such as adrenaline to be released by the adrenal glands. These chemicals contribute to certain physiological effects, including rapid heart rate, high blood pressure, and a weakened immune system. When left unchecked over a period, chronic stress can lead to the development of other serious health problems such as acne, stroke, indigestion, stomach ulcers, stroke, and heart disease. Silently, this prolonged stress may accumulate slowly and overload our nervous system. One of the most common physical reactions to stress is muscle tension, which can ultimately trigger tension headaches, migraines, and other musculoskeletal conditions.

What foods help relieve stress?

Indulge in foods that boost serotonin, like banana, almonds, eggs, whole grains and A2 milk; foods that boost endorphins like dark chocolate, ashwagandha, and capsaicin-rich foods (peppers and chilli); foods that boost dopamine like legumes, dairy and nuts; and foods that boost oxytocin like pumpkin seeds, green tea, chamomile tea, almonds and spinach. 

What foods should you avoid if you are stressed?

Foods to avoid when stressed include refined sugars, artificial sweeteners, refined carbohydrates and excess caffeine, 

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Lovneet Batra
Founder
Lovneet Batra is a clinical nutritionist with over a decade of experience treating patients and educating people on the benefits of a healthy diet. One of Delhi’s most sought-after nutritionists...
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