8 Foods That Help Relieve Stress

Doctor William C Lloyd Healthgrades Medical Reviewer
Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Written By Nancy LeBrun on May 9, 2021
  • Woman with broccoli
    Food can help reduce stress, but not the way you may think.
    Stress and eating often go together, but so-called comfort foods can actually make you feel worse. That’s because they slow you down and lower your ability to cope. The stress hormone cortisol triggers powerful cravings for these types of foods. But there are plenty of other foods that reduce stress more effectively. Here’s how to make anti-stress food choices that relieve tension and help you deal with life’s challenges.
  • Whole wheat toast
    1. Whole grains and veggies help your mood as well as your body.
    Complex carbohydrates, such as whole grains and vegetables are good foods for stress relief. They can help your brain tell your body to make more serotonin, an anti-stress hormone that calms us and makes us feel good. It also helps stabilize blood pressure, which may rise in reaction to stress. An added effect of whole grains and vegetables is they even out your blood sugar, which will have a soothing effect and help regulate your appetite.
  • Handful of cherries
    2. Antioxidants in fruits and veggies can counteract the effects of stress.
    Antioxidants are nutrients that boost your immune system. Stress depletes antioxidants by making it harder for your body to absorb them. If your immune system suffers, you will be more prone to illness. To counteract the effects of stress, eat foods high in antioxidants, including apples, prunes, sweet cherries, berries, and plums. You can also find antioxidants in kale, beets, broccoli, artichokes and spinach. Other good sources are pinto, red, black and kidney beans.
  • Woman sniffing orange
    3. Look for vitamins B and C in your diet.
    High amounts of vitamin C can help with more than the common cold. It can also lower your stress hormones and blood pressure levels, both of which can spike in difficult situations. You probably know oranges have lots of vitamin C, but strawberries and grapefruit are good sources too. For vegetables, think kale, red peppers, Brussels sprouts, and broccoli. And keep an eye out for foods rich in B vitamins, like avocado and almonds, which can raise serotonin and dopamine levels. Those hormones can help you feel calm and content.
  • Oatmeal with fruit
    4. Reduce stress with a bowl of oatmeal or a cup of yogurt.
    Oatmeal is a “twofer”: It can reduce stress hormone levels and boost serotonin production, which produces a feeling of calm. Fermented foods like yogurt, pickles (not made with vinegar), and sauerkraut can be high in probiotics, which have been linked to stress relief. Researchers are studying probiotics as a treatment for anxiety, depression, and social anxiety. The theory is called the “brain-gut axis,” because up to 95% of your serotonin receptors are in your digestive tract rather than your brain. So, go with your gut and eat something healthy that will make you feel good too.
  • Grilled Salmon Fillet
    5. Try a dinner of salmon, edamame, and leafy greens.
    The secret ingredient in this meal is the magnesium. Magnesium is a mineral that can help you avoid headaches and fatigue, which can make it harder to cope with stress. It’s also good for premenstrual syndrome (PMS). In older people, magnesium may improve sleep quality, which is also an important tool for handling stress. Zinc is another mineral that has been associated with lower anxiety. You can find it in cashews, egg yolks, liver, and oysters.
  • Nuts
    6. Grab a handful of nuts or seeds for stress relief.
    Pistachios, flaxseeds, walnuts and almonds are among snack-type foods that reduce stress. These stress busters have high levels of omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to reduce cortisol surges set off by stress. A study of medical students showed omega-3s may help reduce anxiety. If it works for doctors-in-training in stressful environment, a handful of almonds might work for you too.
  • Cinnamon
    7. Spice things up to bring stress down.
    Turmeric is a spice that has antioxidant and anti-anxiety properties. It contains an ingredient called circumin, which is known to lower cortisol levels. Ginger contains the antioxidant gingerol, which may also dampen inflammation that comes with stress. Some evidence suggests cinnamon, an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory, can help lower blood pressure. That’s good news for your heart, which beats faster and harder in response to stress.
  • Woman with cake
    8. Sometimes it’s what you don’t eat that can help relieve stress.
    Sugar is number one on the list of foods to avoid if you are under stress. The problem is sugar is a simple carbohydrate, rather than a complex carb like fruits and vegetables. That means it moves quickly in and out of your bloodstream and, as it moves out, you crash. As you start to feel tired and lethargic, you might eat more to get your energy back up. Eating more food can make you feel full and tired—and susceptible to pressure. A blood sugar roller coaster isn’t good for stress. It’s better to keep things on an even keel.
  • Woman eating a chocolate
    9. And the eighth stress buster you’ve been waiting for…
    Chocolate not only satisfies your taste buds, it helps minimize feelings of stress by lowering your response to it. Researchers found that eating chocolate can help people who suffer from anxiety. Those who ate 40 grams of chocolate a day for two weeks reported less stress at the end of the period. The effect was more pronounced in women than men, and both dark and milk chocolate were equally effective. The response appears to correspond to the cocoa solids rather than the sugar in the candy. So, in reasonable amounts, enjoy.
Food That Reduce Stress | Anti-Stress Food | Food for Stress Relief

About The Author

Nancy LeBrun is an Emmy- and Peabody award-winning writer and producer who has been writing about health and wellness for more than five years. She is a member of the Association of Health Care Journalists and the American Society of Journalists and Authors.
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Last Review Date: 2021 May 9
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.