Are You Eating A Low-Stress Diet? Foods That Calm the Mind
Dr. Kara's Health Insights

Are You Eating A Low-Stress Diet? Foods That Calm the Mind

by DK Kara MD on Apr 21, 2022

Have you ever been in a situation you didn’t know how to handle?

Maybe it was a situation at work. Maybe your car broke down, or someone you love is sick. Whatever the case may be, the circumstance caused you to begin experiencing symptoms of stress.

Your chest began to hurt, you didn’t sleep as well, your muscles felt tense, and headaches or dizziness became a daily occurrence (1).

In the past, you might reach for comfort foods to help you cope. But did you know that what’s on your plate can affect your stress levels, for better or worse?

Heavily processed foods, artificial flavors and unnecessary chemicals can not only cause inflammation, they can influence your tolerance for stressful situations.

Thankfully, foods can also help you cope better. Are you eating a low-stress diet?

How Foods Affect Mood

Of all the different categories of food you could eat, which types really help? Research shows that chronic stress changes our metabolic needs and drains us of certain nutrients (17). This can cause you to crave salty or sweet foods regularly.

But because these foods lack nutritional value, the wrong foods can greatly affect how you feel.

Nutrients are the key here, and one such nutrient is protein. Some examples are fish, egg, chicken, beans, and turkey. These protein sources can be linked to increased levels of dopamine and norepinephrine, which are chemicals that can influence factors such as mood, your ability to concentrate, and motivation (2).

Another food category that can really help reduce stress are fruits and vegetables. How do these help, specifically? The secret lies in the antioxidants.

Your body encounters stressors from both outside and inside. Environmental stressors can be the first domino in the domino effect, but what you put inside your body can compound the effects.

Certain foods such as refined carbohydrates, sugars, and caffeine can make stress worse (4). In contrast, studies conclude that those who consume more fruits and vegetables had higher levels of psychological well-being and happiness over those that didn’t (3).

Best Stress-Relieving Foods

With these nutrients in mind, here are other foods that are great at empowering you to handle stressful situations better.

Matcha Powder

You may have heard that green tea is good for you, but instead of drinking tea made from steeped leaves, matcha powder (ground up green tea leaves) offers powerful mood boosting properties.

Matcha contains L-theanine, an amino acid known to help reduce stress levels in test subjects. One study had 36 people consume 4.5grams of matcha powder once a day. After 15 days, this group had notably lower stress levels over the placebo group (5).

Swiss Chard

Magnesium is a nutrient that, whether present or absent, can influence your stress levels. Researchers observe those with low levels of magnesium have a harder time coping with stress (6).

Eating 1 cup of swiss chard gives our body 36% of the magnesium you need for the day, so consider making this veggie a regular at the dinner table.

Shellfish

Low levels of copper, magnesium, and zinc have been associated with symptoms like depression, according to a Japanese study (12).

Shellfish, which can include clams, oysters, and mussels, are high in these vitamins. They also have an amino acid called taurine, which can have antidepressant effects (13).

Fatty fish

Certain fish, such as salmon, herring, and mackerel, have healthy omega-3 fatty acids that are great for fighting inflammation. They’re also vital for brain health, and can even help ease symptoms of stress and depression (15).

Broccoli

Often resembling miniature trees, broccoli is a great food in the fight against stress. High in calming nutrients like magnesium and vitamin c, broccoli also contains a sulfur compound called sulforaphane. This compound has shown to offer potential antidepressant effects (16).

Kimchi

Originating in Asia, this fermented dish made of cabbage and radishes offers a host of health benefits. Foods that undergo fermentation can have probiotics, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals.

As more research connects gut health with mood (9), eating fermented foods can always be beneficial. One study showed that when 710 young adults ate fermented foods regularly, they experienced fewer episodes of social anxiety (8).

Artichokes

This flowering vegetable is a great source of fiber, as well as prebiotics. Prebiotics are a type of fiber that feeds the probiotics in your gut.

Studies show that eating foods high in prebiotics like fructooligosaccharides (FOSs) can help lower stress levels in the body (10).

Eggs

Also known as “nature’s multivitamin”, eggs are loaded with vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and antioxidants that provide an all-over health boost.

One of their unique nutrients is choline, and animal studies note that choline may have antidepressant effects (11).  

Parsley

This dainty herb makes a great garnish for meals. It also has a lot of health benefits, mainly in the form of antioxidants.

Chronic stress and inflammation often go hand in hand. Eating diets high in antioxidants can lower inflammation, which can lead to lower stress levels (15).

Sweet Potatoes

Cortisol is considered the “stress hormone”. Chronic stress can invite inflammation, pain, and eventually disease.

The good news is that sweet potatoes have nutrients such as vitamin c and potassium that can help combat stress (7)

Wrap Up

Stress is not something that is going away any time soon, but how we handle it can make all the difference.

Adopting certain mindsets to lower stress can be helpful, but there is a physical aspect that shouldn’t be ignored. Science is peeling back the layers of just how important nutrition is when it comes to mood.

Choosing fresh fruits, vegetables, and protein sources not only reduce inflammation and boost your immune system, they can actually help lower your stress levels.

If you’re tired of being stressed, maybe it’s time for a few diet changes. Which one of these foods do you plan on adding to next week’s grocery list?  We’d love to hear from you!

References & Disclaimer

(1) https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/11874-stress

(2) https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17513421/

(3) https://ajph.aphapublications.org/doi/10.2105/AJPH.2016.303260

(4) https://www.mdanderson.org/cancerwise/8-foods-that-impact-stress.h00-159459267.html

(5) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6512570/

(6) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6298677/

(7) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3560823/

(8) https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25998000/

(9) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3904694/

(10) https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28242013/

(11) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3327365/

(12) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6521019/

(13) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5504064/

(14) https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24757497/

(15) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6423824/

(16) https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26721468/

(17) https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/stress-and-health/

✝✝This noted statement is based on independent research and is not necessarily the opinion of the author