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Six Foods That Help Fight Stress

diet to reduce stress, herbal tea, stress reducers

Managing mental health can be difficult during this time. There are many factors out of our control that can impact our stress levels on a daily basis. Luckily, our diet is one that we actually can control. The food we choose to eat can impact our anxiety and stress levels. Here are some foods and beverages that are not only good for our bodies but also our moods.

1. Tea

Herbal tea has natural stress-relieving effects like relaxation or energy boost. The herbs themselves, for instance, chamomile, can help induce a relaxing feeling and promote better sleep. Herbals teas also provide antioxidants that give a natural cleanse from toxins and support brain health, which can help to promote memory and cognitive functions. The warmth and scent of tea can cause calming effects as well. In contrast, caffeinated teas like green tea can give you a boost of energy. Some say green tea is a great substitute for coffee due to its lower caffeine level that provides energy without that end of the day crash. Caffeinated and non-caffeinated teas are great mood boosters. If you’re feeling overwhelmed with the busy work week, take a break to make yourself a mug of hot tea or your favorite iced tea!

2. Dark Chocolate

It is important to eat your vegetables but also your chocolate! Indulging in a sweet treat can not only be beneficial to your taste buds but your mind too. Eating a serving of rich, dark chocolate can put you at ease and relieve stress in a couple of ways: the emotional feeling of satisfaction and the chemical release of mood-boosting hormones like serotonin. Dark chocolate is also rich in antioxidants, which helps to lower levels of stress hormones in the body. In fact, regular consumption of dark chocolate can reduce the stress hormone cortisol. This specific hormone can put the body in “fight or flight” mode by increasing heart rate, breathing rate, and blood pressure.

It is important to consume dark chocolate in moderation; 1 ounce of dark chocolate is the recommended serving size. Making sure to buy high-quality products and avoid unnecessary added sugars. When looking at the label, there should only be about two or three ingredients in high-quality dark chocolate; cacao beans, cane sugar, and cocoa butter. It’s okay to only want the best regarding your chocolate choices, too!

3. Whole Grains

Carbohydrates have been linked to increased levels of serotonin in the body. Serotonin can promote mental health by lessening the risk for depression or other mood disorders, increasing energy levels, and maintaining a regular sleep cycle. Carbohydrates also provide energy and make us feel more focused, which can help us get out of those afternoon slumps. From a nutrition standpoint, whole grains are filled with more nutrients like fiber than white bread or other unrefined carbohydrates. Opt for more whole grains to boost your health, energy and mood.

4. Fish (omega-3 fatty acids)

Seafood is known to be a heart-healthy choice, but did you know that it can help your brain be healthy, too? Fatty fish, like salmon, tuna, and halibut, are high in omega-3s fatty acids, which are correlated with preventing heart disease and promoting heart health. Omega-3s also have psychologically calming effects because of the chemical interaction these fatty acids have with the brain that decreases symptoms of stress and anxiety in the body. Omega-3s have anti-inflammatory effects that can help with mood disorders like depression and anxiety. Here’s a tip for those who don’t like fish: fish oil supplements, chia seeds, flax seeds, or walnuts are a great alternative to getting your omega-3s.

5. Avocados

Here is another reason to keep eating one of today's most popular foods! Fats are great for the brain and the healthy fats in avocados can help improve your overall mood and reduce stress. Like fish, avocados are high in fatty acids like omega-3s, which we know help to decrease the feeling of stress by increasing your mood and reducing anxiety.

6. Warm Milk

You're never too old for a glass of warm milk before bed! While it is not yet proven if warm milk itself helps you fall asleep, as previously mentioned, the act of drinking a warm beverage before bed can help promote relaxation. Not only that, milk's high calcium and vitamin D content has been linked to helping muscles relax and stabilizing mood. Milk also contains fatty acids that can play a role in the prevention and/or treatment of depression or mental health disorders. For those who are dairy-free, fortified milk alternatives like almond, oat, or cashew milk can be used to meet your daily needs of calcium and relaxing hormones!

Learn more about ways to reduce stress and other wellness programs offered by Wellness Workdays.

Written by Claire McDonald, Wellness Workdays Dietetic Intern.



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