For many of us, food is a source of stress relief; however, the foods we choose may not always be the best for our bodies. The foods we consume in an effort to calm our nerves and boost our spirits can end up putting our bodies through stress instead. Processed and high sugar foods, alcohol, and other vices we turn to when we’re under pressure leave our bodies high and dry. Food is a powerful source of stress relief that, when tapped into mindfully, can work wonders for both our mental and physical state of being. It’s important to note the difference between stress eating, and intentional eating to reduce stress. If you're feeling stressed these days, try any of these 10 foods that help relieve stress from the inside out.
1. Fermented Foods
Probiotic-rich fermented foods such as kimchi, sauerkraut, and tempeh are great sources of healthy bacteria. The bacteria are wildly beneficial for our guts and are also great sources of a variety of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Stress not only affects us emotionally, but also affects the bacteria found in our guts.
According to a research study, because stress can alter the composition of bacteria in our guts, as well as trigger mood disorders such as anxiety and depression, there might be some correlation between the altered gut microbiome and mood disorders.
The composition of our gut flora, the types of bacteria found in our intestines, plays an important role in determining our mental state by means of serotonin. Serotonin hormone is known to be a crucial factor in our ability to manage stress and anxiety. What many don’t know is that scientists predict about 90% of serotonin is produced within our guts! Fermented foods help to fuel the bacteria in our guts, who then fuel intestinal cells that help produce the mood-boosting hormone, serotonin.
2. Herbal Tea
There’s nothing like a warm and comforting cup of herbal tea. As it turns out, the benefits of tea extends beyond just the cozy feeling it provides. Did you know that you can reduce your stress levels just by holding a cup of tea? We found a study reported that the physical warmth of simply holding a warm cup of tea was shown to impact an individual’s interpersonal judgements in the way they view and accept those around them.
Stress can greatly impact our ability to get a good night’s rest. Chamomile tea is known to promote healthy sleep which can further help reduce anxiety and depression. According to a study that assessed the effectiveness of chamomile tea, results showed that individuals who received 270mg of chamomile twice per day were able to fall asleep 15 minutes faster and 33% experienced less waking up during the night.
Even green tea that contains caffeine also contains flavonoids, which have been shown to promote brain health by preventing and reversing brain degeneration. Compared to coffee which contains 95-165mg per cup, green tea only contains 25-29mg of caffeine, so you need not worry about becoming jittery!
3. Leafy greens
It’s no secret that leafy greens and green veggies like kale, spinach, and broccoli boast many nutritional benefits. One of which is their ability to aid in stress relief. Similar to fermented foods, leafy greens and veggies high in fiber are very beneficial for our guts.
The bacteria in our guts use fiber found in the food we eat to produce fatty acids called short-chain fatty acids. These fatty acids are vital to the cells in our colons as they are a prime source of energy. A group of researchers discovered that when short-chain fatty acids were transplanted into the guts of mice, stress and anxiety-related behaviors were reduced significantly.
According to a review of dietary connections to stress, anxiety, and depression, participants who consumed >5g/day of two types of soluble fibers reported improved anxiety and depression. The review also concluded that diets rich in fiber may provide preventative measures against developing depression, anxiety, and stress.
4. Nuts & Seeds
One more great reason fats are not to be feared! High quality sources of fat like nuts, specifically pistachios, walnuts, and almonds, are great sources of B vitamins, magnesium, and fatty acids that our bodies need to function at their best.
According to a Penn State study, participants who consumed 1.5-oz. of pistachios daily showed a significant decrease in blood pressure. Lowering blood pressure is a key way to reduce stress put on the body, specifically the heart and blood vessels!
Sunflower seeds also contain an essential amino acid called tryptophan which can help to give your serotonin levels a boost, and thus boost your mood as well!
Nuts are a high source of magnesium which, according to research, is believed to be a promising treatment for anxiety. The reason behind this is that magnesium could potentially aid in improving brain function, and thus, mental disorders.
Wildway's products are full of healthy fats from cashews, walnuts, and seeds like pumpkin and sunflower seeds. We understand the power food plays in our mental health, and we're grateful to lift spirits through good mood foods!
We pay extra for the guac, and you should too. Avocados not only taste great, but are full of healthy omega-3 fatty acids that are good for you.
According to a 2018 study, researchers found that participants who consumed high doses of 2,000mg per day reported the highest reduction in anxiety symptoms. Omega-3s have anti-inflammatory properties that could contribute to relieving mental conditions such as anxiety and depression.
6. Dark Chocolate
Finally, a reason for us to never let a day go by without eating a little dark chocolate. What better way to indulge in a good-for-you treat than with a little Wildway Dark Chocolate Sea Salt Granola or Dark Chocolate Truffle Snack Mix? We can speak from experience, one bite and we immediately feel a wave of peace!
Not only does dark chocolate hold antioxidant properties that can reduce stress chemically in our own bodies, but the act of indulging in the decadent treat can be emotionally stress relieving!
On an emotional level, a study found that participants who consumed 25g of high polyphenol dark chocolate daily for a period of two weeks reported significantly reduced total daily cortisol levels; cortisol is the body's main stress hormone that initiates our "fight-or-flight" response.
This isn't an excuse to eat an entire bar of chocolate. The recommended serving size is 1oz. or 1/4 of a small dark chocolate bar. In addition to serving size, you also want to be sure you are consuming only dark chocolate that is 70% cacao or higher to reap the antioxidant benefits and ditch the added sugars.
7. Sweet Potatoes
Complex carbs such as sweet potato are potentially helpful in reducing stress hormones such as cortisol. According to a research study, chronically high levels of cortisol can result in inflammation and pain in the body. Another study reported that a diet high in carbohydrate composition was shown to reduce cortisol levels and relieve negative moods after stress. Sweet potatoes are a great wholesome and complex carb choice that are full of vitamin C and potassium which aid in the body’s ability to respond to stress.
It’s important to note that not all carbs are created equal. Complex carbs such as fiber-rich fruits and vegetables, legumes, etc. are what should be consumed to promote stress relief!
We're all aware that fruits are good for our immune systems, but did you know they're also good for our brains? Blueberries are full of antioxidants and phytonutrients that help to improve the body's natural response to stress.
To back this up, a study found that when participants with generalized anxiety disorder and depression received antioxidants supplements for a 6-week period, they reported an overall reduction in anxiety and depression scores.
Wildway uses a variety of simple and real dried fruits across all of our product lines. One of our most recent granola flavor additions is our seasonal Wild Blueberry Granola with dried blueberries and all the omega-3 rich nuts and seeds. Our Lemon Blueberry Snack Mix flavor not only has dried blueberries, but dried lemon as well which is a great source of vitamin C!
9. Matcha Powder
Of all the trendy foods to take off, matcha powder is one that boasts more benefits than simply tasting good and making a pretty latte. The bright green tea matcha powder is rich in an amino acid called L-theanine, which has been shown to have effective stress-relieving properties. Despite matcha being relatively high in caffeine, the presence of L-theanine actually works against the caffeine to leave you feeling calm rather than jittery as some coffees will.
Studies show L-theanine can also help to reduce anxiety by working with the central nervous system to produce neurotransmitters such as dopamine which are known to alleviate stress and anxiety.
10. Wild-Caught Salmon
Similar to avocado, salmon is full of healthy fats, especially essential ones like omega-3s. A study found that omega-3 fatty acids play a role in boosting your mood by allowing serotonin, a neurotransmitter that is linked to our feeling of happiness and well-being, to be released more easily.
Omega-3 reduces the number of inflammatory molecules that inhibit the release of serotonin in our brains. Additionally, omega-6 fatty acids assist in making serotonin receptors more accessible to serotonin, thus making the neurotransmitter more easy to take in.
According to psychiatrist Dr. David Mischoulon, 1-2g of EPA+DHA, two common forms of omega-3, is the recommended dose per day to experience depression and stress relief. This recommendation equates to 3 salmon dinners/wk.
11. Citrus Fruits
It's no secret that citrus fruits are loaded with vitamin C, but did you know that vitamin C may help to relieve your stress? According to a study, consuming 500mg per day of vitamin C may help reduce blood pressure, as well as act as a diuretic that will remove excess fluid from the body and alleviate pressure in blood vessels.
It's important to eat the whole fruit and not just fruit juice. Juiced fruit often lacks the wholesome nutrients found in the whole form of the fruit. So, before you gulp down all the orange juice, try eating a couple instead.
Citrus fruits like oranges are a great source, as well as other surprising foods like kiwi, red bell pepper, and guava.