By Liz Friedman, MS and Jayashree Mani, MS, CCN
Twenty-first century living can be stressful. On top of the normal routine stresses from years past including jobs, household chores, and demands of family members, children and pets, we are now connected through technology to a constant barrage of headlines, clickbait, reels, stories, tiktoks and more that are designed to keep us engaged and to produce an emotional response.
Aside from taking mental and physical breaks (exercise is a huge stress-buster and mood-lifter), choosing the right foods can help your body stabilize and manage stress. Just the act of being stressed can increase the need for certain nutrients, and other compounds in stress-busting foods can provide a needed assist.
1) Green-Leafy Vegetables. Green leafy vegetables such as kale, spinach, Swiss chard and collards contain folate, which is essential for the production of neurotransmitters in the brain, including serotonin and dopamine, which can help provide a feeling of well-being and happiness. Green leafy vegetables also have high levels of antioxidants and bioactive nutrients such as vitamins C, E and K, beta carotene, lutein, nitrate, polyphenols, and kaempferol, which support optimal brain functioning, healthy blood pressure, immune functioning and mood. Dark, leafy greens are also a great source of magnesium, a mineral thought to be helpful in mild-moderate anxiety. Finally, green leafy vegetables are loaded with fiber, and a high-fiber diet may be associated with a reduction in anxiety, depression and stress.
2) Nuts and Seeds. Nuts and seeds (pumpkin, sunflower) contain B vitamins that help support cortisol balance, stress response, and adrenal health. Pistachios have been shown to calm acute stress reactions if eaten in moderation. Nuts and seeds also contain magnesium, as mentioned above, and healthy fatty acids, discussed below.
3) Avocado. Like nuts and seeds, avocados contain stress-reducing B vitamins, as well as healthy omega-3 fatty acids. These essential fatty acids help reduce inflammation, anxiety and stress.
4) Deep, Cold-Water Fish. Deep, cold-water fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, tuna, herring and sardines, also contain omega-3 fatty acids, especially DHA. Studies have shown that DHA provides brain support and mitigates psychological stress.
5) Citrus Fruit and Strawberries. Citrus fruits are jam-packed with vitamin C, an antioxidant which has been shown to decrease anxiety and stress in high levels. Strawberries also contain high levels of vitamin C, with seven average berries containing more vitamin C than an orange! Adding grapefruit, orange and strawberries to your diet is another good way to keep stress at bay.
6) High-Quality Dark Chocolate. This stress-buster, if consumed in measured portions, contains antioxidant flavonoids and polyphenols which help support cognitive function, support mood- improving serotonin, and keep stress hormones in check. An extra-added benefit of dark chocolate is its direct emotional effect through the stimulation of endorphins. We recommend choosing a high-quality dark chocolate with minimal added sugar and no additives or chemicals, and consuming it in moderation (1 oz. per day).
Add any or all of the above seven stress-busters to naturally counteract some of the stresses of 21st century life!