When it comes to beating stress, healthy lifestyle habits are key to keeping it under control. And while it may seem obvious that sleep and relaxation may be among the most important lifestyle factors affecting stress levels, the truth is that diet matters a lot too.
Foods that cause inflammation (such as refined grains), are high in sugar, and contain caffeine or alcohol tend to be among the worst choices if stress relief is a top priority. These types of foods can contribute to increased cortisol levels and hormonal imbalances.
For a cortisol lowering, hormonal balancing, overall stress-relieving diet, look toward foods that are anti-inflammatory, low in sugar, high in fiber, nutrient dense, and contain little to no caffeine or alcohol. The following list of superfoods can help get you started.
Add blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, and others to your morning cereal, your fruit smoothie, or your yogurt bowl. They’re low in sugar, high in antioxidants, high in fiber, and pack a good punch of vitamin C, which has been shown to help with stress. Rather than supplementing, you’ll get the most out of this vitamin is by consuming it its most natural form.
High in fiber and one of the best sources of healthy monounsaturated fat, research has shown that people who eat avocados report feeling fuller and are less likely to eat more, which could be good news if you struggle with emotional eating during stressful times.
Cold Water Fish
Cold water fish species like salmon, mackerel, herring, lake trout, tuna, and sardines are all high in omega-3 fatty acids, which help fight inflammation. The American Heart Association recommends consuming two 3.5-ounce servings of cold water fish every week for the health benefits.
Nuts and Seeds
From walnuts and pistachios, to flax seeds and pumpkin seeds, incorporating a variety of nuts and seeds into your diet is a great way to get more fiber, healthy fats, and a wide variety of nutrients. They’re also a great alternative fore vegans who can’t get omega-3s from fish since nuts and seeds contain the more common omega-3 fatty acid, alpha-linolenic acid (ALA).
Chocolate doesn’t just taste amazing — it’s been scientifically proven to have a mood-boosting effect too! For the greatest health benefits with more antioxidants and less sugar, stick to dark chocolate that’s at least 70 percent cocoa.
Try swapping coffee and other caffeinated beverages out for caffeine-free, herbal tea instead. Tea varieties like chamomile, mint, barley, passionflower, and valerian root are commonly used to promote calmness while reducing symptoms of stress including insomnia, anxiety, and even anger.
Complex carbohydrates such as whole grain oats have a mood-boosting effect somewhat similar to chocolate, triggering the brain to produce one of the feel-good hormones, serotonin. Better yet, add some berries and flax seeds for an even greater stress-relieving effect!
As a starting point, a great goal would be to aim to get at least a single serving of one of the above foods every day. Try tracking your mood and emotional states with an app or by writing out how you feel in a journal to determine whether your stress levels are improving over time in relation to your diet changes.