If you’ve been doing some stress-induced snacking on junk food and sugary drinks during quarantine, you’re not alone. Many have been indulging in unhealthy habits, which contribute to body image issues, depression, and increased stress. Despite food often being used as a coping mechanism, sometimes, it can just make stresses worse.
So what foods can help slash your stress in half instead of leaving you with eater’s remorse?
You may have heard of fatty fishes like salmon or mackerel containing high levels of omega-3 fatty acids, which are necessary for a healthy diet. But lesser-known sources of omega-3 can range from caviar, which contains 1,086 mg per tablespoon, to oysters or flax seeds.
For those who hate fish, there are still ways to reap the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids. Research also indicates that supplements are a great way to increase levels of omega-3. A study from Ohio State University found that “daily supplements that contained 2.5 grams of omega-3 fatty acids, the highest dose tested, were the best at helping the body resist the damaging effects of stress.”
In this report, participants who took these supplements had less of the stress hormone cortisol in their systems. When a stress-inducing event occurred in the lab, those in the placebo group had less physiological tolerance to the tension than the omega-3 group.
This is some powerful science, but don’t run off and load up on supplements just yet – consulting with your doctor is key, in case they don’t mix with your current medications or health conditions.
2. Decaf matcha lattes
A report from 2017’s Current Pharmaceutical Design talks about the health benefits and efficacy of matcha, the newest and trendiest stress-relief food. As opposed to regular green tea, matcha tea contains higher levels of “green tea phytochemicals compared to regular green tea.” The three main components in matcha that bring the greatest relief of stress are caffeine, L-theanine, and epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), which have all been tested and proved to benefit both mood and cognitive performance.
Caffeine was also found to be a stress relief mechanism, but not a relaxing one. It’s main benefit is improving cognitive performance, especially “on demanding long-duration cognitive tasks,” and participants reported after just low doses, they felt more alert and aroused.
That being said, “significant effects already occurred at low doses of 40 mg.,” so don’t overdo it with the caffeine, or you might start to have heart palpitations or anxiety. As there’s already caffeine in matcha, there’s no reason to add more, making your latte decaf.
L-theanine, another chemical found in green tea, was noted in this study to “improve self-reported relaxation, tension, and calmness starting at 200 mg.” L-theanine was also found to reduce some of the caffeine-related arousal, perfectly balancing a burst of energy with mellow tranquility.
Additionally, the warm milk in a latte is chock-full of B vitamins and tryptophan, both rumored to increase serotonin levels. Even if you’re lactose intolerant, a splash of hydrating almond milk or protein-rich soy milk can be just as effective.
3. Gluten-free garlic knots
These stress-relieving garlic knots aren’t the kind you’re getting from Olive Garden, which is slathered in salted butter and garlic powder. These are filled with natural antioxidants, immune-boosting vitamins, and digestive-aiding grains.
Garlic, the most important ingredient in a garlic knot, has long been a staple of many anti-inflammatory diets ranging from heart-healthy to weight loss. Researchers from the journal Nutrition and Metabolism note that garlic’s main benefit is the antioxidant glutathione, which some refer to as your body’s “first line of defense” against stress by improving insulin levels, clearing up psoriasis, and reducing oxidative stress (one’s physiological ability to repair and detoxify their own bodies).
Parsley, another vital ingredient in the perfect garlic knot, is also an antioxidant powerhouse. Along with being high in flavonoids, which also decrease one’s oxidative stress, parley contains vitamin C, which some report lowers levels of anxiety. Frontiers in Neuroscience emphasizes that antioxidants can aid in the reduction of inflammation, which is exacerbated in those with depression, chronic health issues, and anxiety or stress.
As for the knot itself, gluten-free bread is the preferred carbohydrate here, namely rye, buckwheat or brown rice flour. Contrary to what many might believe, carbohydrates aren’t the enemy; in fact, they can temporarily increase serotonin and lower stress.
However, it depends on what kind of carbs you’re eating. Unrefined carbs, such as processed bread, pasta, or sweets, can cause your blood sugar to go haywire. Complex carbs, on the other hand, contain vitamins, minerals, and fiber to aid gut health. And seeing as the APA reports that 95% of serotonin is produced by the gut, keeping your intestines happy could also keep your mind at ease.
For those less interested in salty caviar or tangy garlic knots, there are more mild foods that will decrease stress levels without irritating one’s gout or GERD. For instance, hummus, one of the most popular and tasty snacks on the market, contains two non-acidic superfoods: chickpeas and tahini.
In general, Mediterranean diets are scientifically proven to reduce stress and facilitate a positive emotional state. This includes not only fish, rice, olives or olive oil, but chickpeas and tahini as well. In addition to being loaded with tryptophan, chickpeas have tons of B vitamins, zinc, and magnesium, the latter of which has been associated with stress if deficient in one’s system.
One of the key ingredients in tahini, sesame seeds, is a great source of omega-6 and omega-3. Tahini is also high in tryptophan, which is a common thread among all these foods. And for good reason: a four-day study indicated that levels of tryptophan in participants’ diets coincided directly with positive mood.
5. Avocado toast
The mortal enemy of many a money-saver, avocado toast has long been the symbol of entitled millennials everywhere. However, though you may be hesitant to pay $20 for this decadent treat in an overpriced café, making a slice of avocado toast at home could end in lower blood pressure, healthier skin, and increased cognition.
Avocados are the main ingredient in this controversial dish, and their benefits can’t be understated. While full of vitamin B and potassium like many of the other stress-relief foods on this list, avocados also contain vitamin E, which improves vision, skin, hair and nails. Vitamin E also prevents blood clots by widening blood vessels, increasing blood flow, and lowering inflammation.
The toast portion of avocado toast shouldn’t just be a piece of Wonder Bread, as though simple carbs can be filling in the moment, they might make one’s blood sugar spike a little too high for maintained relaxation. “All carbs prompt the brain to make more serotonin,” WebMD reports, and “for a steady supply of this feel-good chemical, it’s best to eat complex carbs, which take longer to digest.” These come in the form of whole grains, which are high in iron, protein, and the anxiety-relieving vitamin magnesium.
Avocados are high in fat and calories, and an excess of carbohydrates can be overwhelming for one’s digestive system. So though this food may lower stress as a treat, and each component has various healthy qualities, overindulging could lead to even more stress.