Eat your way to a more relaxed state — and no, we don’t mean pigging out on high-calorie junk food. While there isn’t a cure-all food to magically erase frustration, you can get some stress relief with a combo of exercising, eating small meals throughout the day and getting more of these 10 fresh goodies.
1. Whole-Wheat Pretzels
Eating carbohydrate-rich foods gives you an energy boost and triggers the brain to release a feel-good chemical called serotonin. Opting for a whole-grain snack (cereals, pretzels, bread, crackers, etc.) provides extra fiber, too.
Munching on crunchy foods also helps beat stress. Nutrient-rich carrots, celery and other crunchy, fresh veggies offer satisfying crispness but won’t bog you down with too many calories.
Calm frazzled nerves with a steaming cup of your favorite tea blend. The soothing warmth and tea’s plant compounds work together to level off your body’s response to stress. Both herbal and black tea can help.
Stress runs you down, which leaves you open to sickness. Almonds, pistachios and walnuts are high in the antioxidant vitamin E and zinc — both good for boosting your immune system. Bonus: Those nuts are good sources of B-vitamins, which help the body manage stress, too. Since nuts are high in (healthy) fat, stick to a 1/4-cup portions.
5. Swiss Chard
Swiss chard and other leafy veggies like spinach are full of magnesium (a single cup covers 40% of your daily need); getting more magnesium can help control and limit your body’s release of the stress-spiking hormone cortisol. Science stuff aside, wilted greens are a delicious addition to soups, pasta and rice dishes or taste great just sautéed with olive oil and garlic.
Work more calcium into your diet with non-fat or low-fat yogurt — a sprinkle of nuts and some fresh fruit will turn it into an ultra-satisfying snack. The good-for-you part: Yogurt contains probiotics that help create a healthy and calm digestive system.
Chocolate lovers know that just a taste can cure all that ails them and there’s science to back it up. Research indicates that dark chocolate may lower levels of stress hormones. Chocolate also contains sugar (a carbohydrate), so it releases mood-improving serotonin. It’s alright to indulge; just keep the portions in check — shoot for one-ounce servings.
Read more about the health benefits of chocolate.
Have a glass to get more B-vitamins, protein, vitamin D and bone-building calcium to relieve tense muscles. Stick to the low-fat (1%) or skim varieties. If you prefer it with more flavor, have some with whole-grain cereal in the morning or sip on some chocolate milk around bedtime to bring on more restful sleep.
9. Banana and Avocado
That’s two things, we know, but what do these fruits have in common? They’re loaded with potassium, a vital mineral for keeping blood pressure low. Add sliced banana to your morning oatmeal or a half-cup of sliced avocado to a lunchtime salad or sandwich. That will cover your potassium needs for the day.
10. Fatty Fish
The heart-healthy omega-3 fats in fish such as salmon, sardines and tuna manage adrenaline levels to help keep you calm, cool and collected. They’re also good for just about every part of your body, including the eyes, skin and hair.
Read more about picking safe, sustainable fish.
Dana Angelo White, MS, RD, ATC, is a registered dietitian, certified athletic trainer and owner of Dana White Nutrition, Inc., which specializes in culinary and sports nutrition. See Dana’s full bio »