So, we know that we can beat stress. But how do we do that? Many of us look for a natural way to reduce the impact of stress. But your first stop may not be to your doctor, or a therapist, or even a massage therapist (although they are all excellent supports!). It might just be the kitchen—where you can find the foods that combat stress.
Why use food for stress?
Food is the foundation of well-being. It is the building blocks of our very bodies. Without it, we cannot survive, let alone thrive in a stressful world.
When we eat nutritious food, we provide our bodies with the nutrients needed for coping. This includes the nutrients required for maintaining steady energy, supporting adrenal function and building calming neurotransmitters.
Food is also an ongoing dose. While you might be able to get a massage once a month, food is a daily occurrence. The impact of each mouthful might be small, but they all add up to a greater effect long-term.
Let's look at some of the more therapeutic foods you'll want to include in your diet.
It's no coincidence that we often crave chocolate during times of stress. Certainly, it can be for a sugar hit. But there are many more reasons to crave chocolate than this.
Chocolate is full of the calming mineral magnesium. Many of us are severely depleted in magnesium, particularly during times of stress. This is when our bodies use up our stores.
Magnesium is essential for physical relaxation of muscles in the body. It's also an important part of the energy system and neurotransmitter production. This adds up to it being one of the most important nutrients for stress management.
Chocolate also contains other components, such as theobromine. These compounds help the body to release feel-good hormones. It makes for an excellent acute relief snack, as well as provides long-term relief.
All of these benefits are greatest in dark chocolate. So aim for 70-85% chocolate, and minimal sugar.
Have you ever noticed how soothing a big bowl of porridge can be? It's no coincidence. Oats definitely have some stress-relieving properties.
In herbal medicine, oats are known as a nervine, which is an herb that supports the nervous system. This support can help to reduce the fight-or-flight response during stressful times. They may even help with sleep problems due to stress.
Oats are a source of tryptophan. Tryptophan is a precursor to neurotransmitters that can make you feel better.
Oats are also low GI, which brings us to our next food.
Low GI Carbohydrates
Why does the GI factor of your foods matter? It all comes back to balancing your blood sugars. When your blood sugars are bouncing all over the place, you put additional stress on your body. This adds up to overwhelm for your nervous system and adrenals.
Processed carbohydrates are not your friend during stressful times, despite what you might feel. Instead, switch for whole versions of foods. If you crave pasta when stressed, enjoy a bowl of spelt or wholemeal pasta instead of white.
The additional fiber in low GI foods slows the absorption of energy from food into the blood. This gives your body extra time to adjust and store it where it's needed.
We always recommend that you eat your greens. When you're under stress, it's even more essential to follow this!
Leafy greens are full of nutrients that support your body during stress. Like chocolate, leafy greens contain plenty of relaxing mineral magnesium. But there's plenty of other benefits to greens.
Leafy greens are an excellent source of many B vitamins. When we experience stress, our bodies use up our B vitamins at a rapid pace. This is because they're needed for quick energy production. By consuming greens, you replace these and can avoid the exhaustion of B vitamin depletion.
They also add fiber to your daily intake, helping to balance your blood sugars much like other low GI foods.
That's right, our omega-3 superstars make the list. But what do oily fish have in common with stress management? There's a couple of things.
Firstly, oily fish is packed full of zinc. Zinc is a nutrient that is depleted during stress. In fact, it may be part of why we fall sick after a stressful period. By keeping your zinc levels high, your body is better able to cope and defend itself.
Secondly is the power of omega-3s. We know omega-3s are fantastic for inflammation. But this may extend to the brain, too. Research shows that omega-3 intake may help relieve anxiety and improved ability to cope in stressful situations.
Finally, many oily fish also contain good levels of tryptophan.
If you're a plant-based eater, you can still benefits from increasing your zinc and omega-3s. Just look to the next food.
Nuts and Seeds
Nuts and seeds have plenty of benefits for stress. Pumpkin seeds can be an excellent source of zinc for vegetarian and vegan diets. Likewise, chia and flax seeds and walnuts are top picks for plant-based omega-3s. But there's more!
Nuts are also full of fiber, protein and good fats that can help to balance out blood sugars. Many contain other stress supporting nutrients, such as magnesium and B vitamins. Nuts often contain some tryptophan, as well, supporting your happy neurotransmitters.
Finally, for stress eaters, nuts and seeds are ideal if you're looking for that crunch sensation.
So, this technically isn't a food. However, green tea definitely belongs on the list of natural therapies for stress.
Green tea does contain caffeine, which by itself can be bad for stress. But the other components change this.
The first one, l-theanine, works with caffeine to balance neurotransmitters and improves focus. This is ideal when dealing with stressful situations that require concentration, such as work or an exam.
The other, epigallocatechin gallate, is an antioxidant with incredible stress-reversing powers. Research shows that it can actually deactivate the stress hormone cortisol when it's circulating the body. This means that green tea can actually drop your stress hormones naturally.
By adding the foods to combat stress into your diet, you're equipping your body with the nutrition it needs. A balanced diet is your first step towards handling stress in a natural, nourishing way.