The Best Foods To Relieve Stress

Photo of Daisy Whitbread Written by Daisy Whitbread
BSc (Hons) MSc DipION
Photo of Dr. Thomas Kutner Medically Reviewed by
Dr. Thomas Kutner
Evidence Based. References sourced from PubMed.
The Best Foods To Relieve Stress

When faced with a stressful event, the body releases the stress hormones cortisol and noradrenalin (norepinephrine).

In the short term, these hormones help us to deal with the cause of our stress. However, when stress becomes chronic, as it often does with modern lifestyles, it leads to various negative effects upon our health and wellbeing.

We are all familiar with the symptoms of stress, such as raised heart rate, anxiety, and shortness of breath. In addition, stress affects our mood, ability to concentrate, our energy levels, appetite, and sleep.

Chronic or long-term stress can eventually affect other systems of the body such as the immune, digestive, and reproductive systems. This can result in increased susceptibility to colds and infections (1), an increased risk of digestive issues such as IBS, and fertility problems. Stress is also associated with an increased risk of various diseases such as cardiovascular disease and some cancers (2,3).

There are various ways to help manage stress and its consequences, some of which are outlined below. Eating a healthy, balanced diet is important to ensure you get the nutrients your body needs to stay resilient in the face of stress. Eating a wide range of plant foods, including at least 7 portions of fruit and vegetables every day, plus plenty of nuts, seeds, beans, lentils, and whole grains is fundamental.

Below is a list of research-backed foods to help relieve stress and get you back on track.

Stress Relieving Techniques

  • Yoga and meditation are scientifically proven to reduce stress levels. The more often you practice, the more benefits you will experience (29).
  • Exercise is as effective as medication for treating mild to moderate depression and releases stress-relieving brain chemicals. Exercising outside in the morning has further benefits, due to the exposure to natural daylight (30).
  • Spending time in nature has proven benefits for mental well-being. Walking or running in the countryside, beach, park or forest is a great way to reap more benefits from your exercise (31).
  • Sleep deprivation is a form of stress on the body, and is unfortunately common these days (32). Prioritizing sleep is therefore key to managing stress. For more info see the top 10 foods for better sleep.
  • Vitamin D is essential for helping ward off depression and keeping us physically and mentally healthy (33). 90% of our total vitamin D comes from the action of sunlight on the skin, so getting some safe sunlight exposure is beneficial. You could also include a supplement during winter as an "insurance policy", especially if you've had limited sun exposure or have darker skin.
  • Caffeine - While moderate amounts of caffeine might ward off symptoms of depression (34), caffeine disrupts blood sugar balance, sleep cycles and causes the release of the stress hormone adrenalin (35,36). Avoid caffeine completely if your stress levels are high, otherwise, limit yourself to 1-2 coffees or teas per day.
  • Sugar and refined carbohydrates can lead to blood sugar highs and lows, which can unbalance mood and energy levels (37). Instead, eat whole grains combined with protein whenever possible to balance blood sugar levels and mood.

Data Sources and References

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