18 Terrific Foods to Help Relieve Stress
Written by Jillian Kubala, MS, RD on June 8, 2020 — Medically reviewed by Kathy W. Warwick, R.D., CDE
If you’re feeling stressed, it’s only natural to seek relief.
While occasional bouts of stress are difficult to avoid, chronic stress can take a serious toll on your physical and emotional health. In fact, it may increase your risk of conditions like heart disease and depression.
Interestingly, certain foods and beverages may have stress-relieving qualities.
Here are 18 stress-relieving foods and beverages to add to your diet.
several mugs of matcha tea
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- Matcha powder
This vibrant green tea powder is popular among health enthusiasts because it’s rich in L-theanine, a non-protein amino acid with powerful stress-relieving properties.
Matcha is a better source of this amino acid than other types of green tea, as it’s made from green tea leaves grown in shade. This process increases its content of certain compounds, including L-theanine.
Both human and animal studies show that matcha may reduce stress if its L-theanine content is high enough and its caffeine is low.
For example, in a 15-day study, 36 people ate cookies containing 4.5 grams of matcha powder each day. They experienced significantly reduced activity of the stress marker salivary alpha-amylase, compared with a placebo group.
- Swiss chard
Swiss chard is a leafy green vegetable that’s packed with stress-fighting nutrients.
Just 1 cup (175 grams) of cooked Swiss chard contains 36% of the recommended intake for magnesium, which plays an important role in your body’s stress response.
Low levels of this mineral are associated with conditions like anxiety and panic attacks. Plus, chronic stress may deplete your body’s magnesium stores, making this mineral especially important when you’re stressed.
- Sweet potatoes
Eating whole, nutrient-rich carb sources like sweet potatoes may help lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
Although cortisol levels are tightly regulated, chronic stress can lead to cortisol dysfunction, which may cause inflammation, pain, and other adverse effects.
An 8-week study in women with excess weight or obesity found that those who ate a diet rich in whole, nutrient-dense carbs had significantly lower levels of salivary cortisol than those who followed a standard American diet high in refined carbs.
Sweet potatoes are a whole food that makes an excellent carb choice. They’re packed with nutrients that are important for stress response, such as vitamin C and potassium.
kimchi in a glass jar
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Kimchi is a fermented vegetable dish that’s typically made with napa cabbage and daikon, a type of radish. Fermented foods like kimchi are packed with beneficial bacteria called probiotics and high in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
Research reveals that fermented foods may help reduce stress and anxiety. For example, in a study in 710 young adults, those who ate fermented foods more frequently experienced fewer symptoms of social anxiety.
Many other studies show that probiotic supplements and probiotic-rich foods like kimchi have beneficial effects on mental health. This is likely due to their interactions with your gut bacteria, which directly affect your mood
Artichokes are an incredibly concentrated source of fiber and especially rich in prebiotics, a type of fiber that feeds the friendly bacteria in your gut.
Animal studies indicate that prebiotics like fructooligosaccharides (FOSs), which are concentrated in artichokes, may help reduce stress level.
Plus, one review demonstrated that people who ate 5 or more grams of prebiotics per day experienced improved anxiety and depression symptoms, as well as that high quality, prebiotic-rich diets may reduce your risk of stress.
Artichokes are also high in potassium, magnesium, and vitamins C and K, all of which are essential for a healthy stress response.
- Organ meats
Organ meats, which include the heart, liver, and kidneys of animals like cows and chickens, are an excellent source of B vitamins, especially B12, B6, riboflavin, and folate, which are essential for stress control.
For example, B vitamins are necessary for the production of neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin, which help regulate mood.
Supplementing with B vitamins or eating foods like organ meats may help reduce stress. A review of 18 studies in adults found that B vitamin supplements lowered stress levels and significantly benefited mood.
Just 1 slice (85 grams) of beef liver delivers over 50% of the Daily Value (DV) for vitamin B6 and folate, over 200% of the DV for riboflavin, and over 2,000% of the DV for vitamin B12.
Eggs are often referred to as nature’s multivitamin because of their impressive nutrient profile. Whole eggs are packed with vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and antioxidants needed for a healthy stress response.
Whole eggs are particularly rich in choline, a nutrient found in large amounts in only a few foods. Choline has been shown to play an important role in brain health and may protect against stress.
Animal studies note that choline supplements may aid stress response and boost mood.
oysters on the half shell
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Shellfish, which include mussels, clams, and oysters, are high in amino acids like taurine, which has been studied for its potential mood-boosting properties.
Taurine and other amino acids are needed to produce neurotransmitters like dopamine, which are essential for regulating stress response. In fact, studies indicate that taurine may have antidepressant effects.
Shellfish are also loaded with vitamin B12, zinc, copper, manganese, and selenium, all of which may help boost mood. A study in 2,089 Japanese adults associated low intakes of zinc, copper, and manganese with depression and anxiety symptoms.
- Acerola cherry powder
Acerola cherries are one of the most concentrated sources of vitamin C. They boast 50–100% more vitamin C than citrus fruits like oranges and lemons.
Vitamin C is involved in stress response. What’s more, high vitamin C levels are linked to elevated mood and lower levels of depression and anger. Plus, eating foods rich in this vitamin may improve overall mood.
Although they can be enjoyed fresh, acerola cherries are highly perishable. As such, they’re most often sold as a powder, which you can add to foods and beverages.
- Fatty fish
Fatty fish like mackerel, herring, salmon, and sardines are incredibly rich in omega-3 fats and vitamin D, nutrients that have been shown to help reduce stress levels and improve mood.
Omega-3s are not only essential for brain health and mood but may also help your body handle stress. In fact, low omega-3 intake is linked to increased anxiety and depression in Western populations.
Vitamin D also plays critical roles in mental health and stress regulation. Low levels are associated with an increased risk of anxiety and depression.
Parsley is a nutritious herb that’s packed with antioxidants — compounds that neutralize unstable molecules called free radicals and protect against oxidative stress.
Oxidative stress is associated with many illnesses, including mental health disorders like depression and anxiety. Studies suggest that a diet rich in antioxidants may help prevent stress and anxiety.
Antioxidants can also help reduce inflammation, which is often high in those with chronic stress.
Parsley is especially rich in carotenoids, flavonoids, and volatile oils, all of which have powerful antioxidant properties.
whole garlic bulbs
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Garlic is high in sulfur compounds that help increase levels of glutathione. This antioxidant is part of your body’s first line of defense against stress.
What’s more, animal studies suggest that garlic helps combat stress and reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression. Still, more human research is needed.
Tahini is a rich spread made from sesame seeds, which are an excellent source of the amino acid L-tryptophan.
L-tryptophan is a precursor of the mood-regulating neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin. Following a diet high in tryptophan may help boost mood and ease symptoms of depression and anxiety.
In a 4-day study in 25 young adults, a high tryptophan diet led to better mood, decreased anxiety, and reduced depression symptoms, compared with a diet low in this amino acid.
- Sunflower seeds
Sunflower seeds are a rich source of vitamin E. This fat-soluble vitamin acts as a powerful antioxidant and is essential for mental health.
A low intake of this nutrient is associated with altered mood and depression.
Sunflower seeds are also high in other stress-reducing nutrients, including magnesium, manganese, selenium, zinc, B vitamins, and copper.
Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli are renowned for their health benefits. A diet rich in cruciferous vegetables may lower your risk of certain cancers, heart disease, and mental health disorders like depression.
Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli are some of the most concentrated food sources of some nutrients — including magnesium, vitamin C, and folate — that have been proven to combat depressive symptoms
Broccoli is also rich in sulforaphane, a sulfur compound that has neuroprotective properties and may offer calming and antidepressant effects.
Additionally, 1 cup (184 grams) of cooked broccoli packs over 20% of the DV for vitamin B6, a higher intake of which is tied to a lower risk of anxiety and depression in women.
roasted chickpeas in a pan
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Chickpeas are packed with stress-fighting vitamins and minerals, including magnesium, potassium, B vitamins, zinc, selenium, manganese, and copper.
These delicious legumes are also rich in L-tryptophan, which your body needs to produce mood-regulating neurotransmitters.
Research has found that diets rich in plant proteins like chickpeas may help boost brain health and improve mental performance.
In a study in over 9,000 people, those who followed a Mediterranean diet rich in plant foods like legumes experienced better mood and less stress than those who followed a typical Western diet rich in processed foods.
- Chamomile tea
Chamomile is a medicinal herb that has been used since ancient times as a natural stress reducer. Its tea and extract have been shown to promote restful sleep and reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression.
An 8-week study in 45 people with anxiety demonstrated that taking 1.5 grams of chamomile extract reduced salivary cortisol levels and improved anxiety symptoms.
Blueberries are associated with a number of health benefits, including improved mood.
These berries are high in flavonoid antioxidants that have powerful anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective effects. They may help reduce stress-related inflammation and protect against stress-related cellular damage.
What’s more, studies have shown that eating flavonoid-rich foods like blueberries may safeguard against depression and boost your mood.
The bottom line
Numerous foods contain nutrients that may help you reduce stress.
Matcha powder, fatty fish, kimchi, garlic, chamomile tea, and broccoli are just a few that may help.
Try incorporating some of these foods and beverages into your diet to naturally promote stress relief.
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