Donuts, cookies, chips—there’s no denying that certain high-fat and high-sugar foods are the go-to ways to self-medicate when we’re stressed. But the truth is, those same foods can send our feel-good hormones on a roller coaster ride and leave us feeling sluggish, depressed and worse than ever. So rather than reaching for junk food the next time you’re feeling frazzled, do your mind and body a favor by going for complex carbs, healthy fats or lean proteins.
These 10 healthy options have all of the nutrients you need to fend off mental and physical stress and get back to a state of bliss.
The complex carbs in oatmeal boost serotonin levels and help create a calming effect on the brain, according to Keri Glassman, R.D., author of “Slim, Calm, Sexy Diet: 365 Proven Food Strategies for Mind/Body Bliss.” “This comfort food, which also has antioxidant properties, gives us a soothing feeling, which helps us prevent stress,” she says.
Sure, oranges are chock-full of immunity-boosting vitamin C, but did you know that same nutrient can also help our bodies alleviate stress? “When we are stressed, our body releases more free radicals,” explains Glassman. “Vitamin C in oranges helps our bodies to keep those free radicals from building up and causing more stress.”
Time to get crunching! Walnuts contain alpha-linolenic acid, an essential omega-3 fatty acid that can reduce blood pressure, prevent surges in stress hormones and guard against mood swings. Glassman also notes that the simple act of crunching any nuts can help relieve feelings of aggression.
Whether it’s blueberries, raspberries or strawberries, these little fruits are big on antioxidants that have stress-relieving properties. Berries are also an excellent source of vitamin C, which can keep our cortisol levels in check.
“Chocolate has an undeniable link to mood,” says Glassman. “We eat more chocolate if we are depressed to make ourselves feel better.” And it works. Just be sure to stick with dark chocolate, which not only has healthy antioxidants, but can also lower blood pressure, making us feel calmer and more relaxed. Now who’s going to argue with that?
The act of sipping any hot beverage can be very soothing. Chamomile tea in particular is a calming herbal drink that is known to be a mild tranquilizer and sleep-inducer—perfect for a pre-slumber ritual.
Pick some low-fat cottage cheese, sprinkle it with flax seeds and top with fresh blueberries—and you’ve got yourself a mood-boosting snack. The carbs release a steady supply of energy and serotonin, while the berries work to control those nasty stress hormones.
These green goddesses are rich in glutathione, a substance that prevents the absorption of fats that cause oxidative damage from stress. Avocados are also a good source of beta-carotene, vitamin E and the ever-important folate, which acts as a mood stabilizer.
Depression has been linked to low levels of folic acid, notes Glassman. So load up on those dark green veggies. Asparagus, for instance, is high in folate, a mood-enhancing nutrient that can help ward off stress or a blue mood.
Got milk? It’s high in antioxidants, vitamin B12, protein and calcium, which can stave off free radicals brought on by stress. Plus, the protein in milk has a calming effect by lowering blood pressure, and milk’s potassium helps relieve muscle tension and cramps. Bottoms up!