Best Foods to Reduce Stress

Before I decided to look into this subject, I would have listed a pint of Ben & Jerry’s as my personal proven antidote to stress. Sometimes, you just have to stop thinking about calories.

Having tested out some of the alternatives below, I’m ready to concede that the creamy, cold high-cal route has satisfying rivals. Here’s a rundown of 9 tension-taming foods that won’t give you the guilts:

Discover 10 simple ways to leave stress behind.

Almonds

First of all, that satisfying crunch can help diffuse tension, but that’s not all these nuts offer: their nutritional profile is top-notch, lots of vitamin B2, vitamin E, magnesium and zinc. The magnesium and B2 help prompt production of serotonin, the brain chemical known to improve mood, promote relaxation and sleep.

Almonds contain heart-healthy fat, but unfortunately, they’re not calorie-free so don’t go crazy with the crunching-and-calming chemistry. (For a low-cal crunch, try carrots or celery.) If you’re not crazy about almonds, walnuts and pistachios have similar soothing effects.

Chicken

Here’s a surprise: you’ll get more tryptophan from a chicken breast than from the Thanksgiving turkey. This amino acid is converted in the brain to serotonin, which in turn counters stress naturally so you can sleep better (no tossing and turning as you battle whatever is stressing you out).

Turkeys have gotten more credit than they deserves for supplying us with tryptophan. Think chicken!

Use these tips to better manage stressful situations.

Black Tea

When troubled or stressed, the British turn to tea, a habit that has been scientifically shown to counter high levels of cortisol, a hormone our adrenal glands secrete in response to stress. A study published in 2007 showed that drinking four cups of black tea per day for at least six weeks decreased cortisol levels. And a new study from Australia showed that drinking three cups of black tea per day can lower blood pressure by two or three points, not a lot but enough to reduce the risks of heart attack and stroke posed by high blood pressure by seven to 10 percent population-wide, according to the researchers. There’s no doubt that stress is related to high blood pressure and that diffusing stress can help lower blood pressure.

Bananas

Known as a great source of potassium, the mineral essential to regulation of blood pressure (which can soar when you’re stressed), bananas also give you more of the manganese and vitamin B6 found in almonds and needed to prod serotonin production. And they’re so effective at promoting better slumber that some nutritionists call the yellow fruit “a sleeping pill in a peel.”

Blueberries

You get a double whammy from these delicious berries. They give you plenty of vitamin C, which some studies suggest has stress-busting powers.

Even better, “C” is one of a number of antioxidants in blueberries that do battle with oxidative stress and the destructive effects of oxygen in our bodies.

Salmon

The omega-3 fatty acids salmon contains are not only heart-healthy, they also can help dial down tension. A 2011 study from Ohio State showed a 20 percent reduction in anxiety among medical school students who took omega-3 supplements. The researchers made this surprising discovery during research to test their theory that omega-3s would lower stress-induced levels of cytokines, compounds that promote inflammation in the body, which can lead to illness and heart attacks. 

Broccoli

I happen to like broccoli, so I was happy to learn that it ranks high among foods that can help us counter stress. Here, again, credit goes to the B vitamins it contains, particularly folic acid (strictly speaking, this vitamin is called folate when it is found in food).

If you don’t like broccoli, you can get the stress-busting benefits of folic acid from asparagus and orange juice.

Carbohydrates

Not just any carbs - if you’re serious about lowering stress via your diet, stick to whole-grain breads, cereals and pasta. Like other, less healthy carbs that cause temporary spikes in serotonin, those containing whole grains can optimize production of this calming neurotransmitter.

Whole-grain carbs can also help stabilize your blood sugar levels.

Chocolate

I saved the best for last, and I promise you this isn’t just wishful thinking. Actual scientific evidence has shown that eating about an ounce and a half of dark chocolate daily for two weeks reduced stress hormone levels in the bodies of volunteers who described themselves as highly tense. So savor a square or two and feel your tension melt away.

Learn how reducing stress and getting more sleep can help you lose weight.

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