We all have stress. But how you handle your stress and anxiety makes all the difference to your short-term and long-term health. According to a recent poll, 22% of respondents turn to food as a coping mechanism for stress. I am guilty of it as well. It used to be that, when I felt stressed, I would reach for a cookie. Stress. Cookie. Rinse. Repeat. The problem with that is that type of behavior can make your stress worse. So the next time you are stressed, instead of reaching for a cookie, try incorporating some of these foods that can help reduce anxiety into your daily diet. And because I am on the keto diet, and I have stress, I have included keto-friendly foods on this list.
How Foods Can Help With Anxiety
Scientists are just starting to understand more about the connection between foods and the brain. Dietary patterns can alter brain chemistry and the production of neurotransmitters, which are chemicals in the brain that can stimulate and calm. These neurotransmitters influence our mood, as well as our appetite.
As you scroll through this list of foods that can help reduce anxiety, it is important that you set your expectations. Eating a turkey sandwich is not going to make everything glitter and rainbows and unicorns. Eating all the chia seeds in the world is not a good reason to stop all of your anti-anxiety medication. But if you incorporate some of these helathy foods into your regular diet, you increase your chances of lowering your stress and anxiety symptoms.
6 Foods to Incorporate into Your Stress Management Diet
1. Salmon – and Other Foods High in Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids are essential for brain health and a well-functioning nervous system. Recently, scientists have tested the potentialof Omega-3 fatty acids to help in the treatment of psychiatric conditions, including mood and anxiety disorders. A 2011 study from Ohio State University researchers showed that Omega-3 Fatty acids are especially good for reducing symptoms of anxiety. Omega-3s are abundant in fatty fish such as wild salmon, as well as flaxseed, walnuts, and chia seeds.
2. Turkey – and Other Foods High in Tryptophan
Did you ever see the Seinfeld episode where Jerry and George treat Jerry’s girlfriend to a dinner of turkey and red wine, and as a result she falls asleep? (As a side note, they do this so that they can play with her classic toy collection). That was classic.
Most of us know that the giant turkey that we carve into during Thanksgiving is loaded with tryptophan. And after a saisfying Thanksgiving meal, we waddle inside and fall asleep on the couch watching football or the 20th hour of the ‘A Christmas Story Marathon’ on TNT. So everyone thinks that it’s the tryptohan in the turkey that is responsible for your after-turkey nap. In actuality, it’s the massive amount of carbs you consume alongside the turkey that is responsible for your slumber. However, tryptophan is a precursor to serotonin. And levels of serotonin are correlated to depression, anxiety, ADHD, memory loss, binge eating and a host of other mental health issues. So it’s important to keep your serotonin levels optimal. Eating a diet rich in tryptophan from foods like turkey and other meats, nuts, seeds, beans, and eggs can help keep those serotonin levels balanced – naps are optional.
3. Greens Such as Spinach and Swiss Chard – and Other Foods High in Magnesium
Magnesium is a vital nutrient that plays several important roles in brain functioning. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, inadequate magnesium reduces levels of serotonin. But wait! Antidepressants have been shown to increase magnesium in the brain. Coincidence? I don’t believe in coincidences! A diet that includes greens, such as spinach and Swiss chard, eggs, legumes, nuts, seeds, and avocados, will help your magnesium levels soar!
4. Sauerkraut – and Other Fermented Foods
Fermented foods are a rich source of healthy bacteria known as probiotics. While most people associate probiotics with digestive health, they also affect the bacterial composition of our gut, also known as the microbiome. Research is uncovering that our microbiomes are extremely important to our overall health and wellness. There is evidence that the gut microbiome has a direct affect on the brain, and vice-versa. It can affect our state of mind, and may play a large role in symptoms such as anxiety and depression. Recent studies show that the microbiome can increase serotonin levels and modulate stress responses.
A diverse community of microorganisms within your microbiome can help ensure that bad microbes don’t dominate your gut over good ones. A diet that promotes a diverse microbiome includes fermented foods, such as sauerkraut, kimchi, and yogurt. A healthy gut is a happy gut!
5. Chamomile – and Other Herbal Teas that are Calming
When I was teenager, I had trouble sleeping. My mom used to make chamomile tea for me to drink. I was never too crazy about the tea, but it was effective! As an adult, I am still not crazy about chamomile tea. But I still find that a cup of chamomile tea (or chamomile essential oil) is soothing and relaxing.
And it’s not just me. According to a report from Harvard Medical School, chamomile tea has been shown to be an effective alternative treatment for anxiety. So cozy up with a cup of chamomile tea before bed to set yourself up for a better night’s sleep.
6. Raspberries – and Other Foods that Contain Strong Antioxidants
As the body processes food and reacts to its environment, it produces waste substaces known as free radicals. If the body cannot process and remove free radicals efficiently, oxidative stress can result, leading to inflammation and impaired production of neurochemicals. Antioxidants are substances that can prevent or slow damage to cells caused by free radicals, thereby preventing oxidative stress.
Translation: Oxidative stress, bad. Antioxidants, good.
Recent research suggests a direct correlation between oxidative stress and anxiety, and that supplementing with antioxidants may be useful as part of a treatment plan for patients with stress-induced mood disorders.
Most people are aware that berries are rich in antioxidants, But let’s not forget foods rich in beta-carotene, such as spinach, and kale; or foods high in vitamin E, such as almonds, and avocados; or foods that contain selenium, including Brazil nuts, chicken, and eggs. All of which is essential for supporting optimal brain function.
Comment below! Which foods do you eat when you want to manage your stress?