According to a new report, Americans are currently the unhappiest they have been in over fifty years. Between social distancing, the looming threat of the coronavirus pandemic, the uncertain job market, and the fight for racial justice, there is a lot to be stressed out about right now. But if you have secure access to food, the food you eat should not be a cause of stress in your life. In fact, the food you eat can actually help you manage and suppress that stress– that is, if you eat the right foods.
Joy Bauer, a registered dietician, the nutrition and health expert for NBC’s Today, and author of Super Food: 150 Recipes for Eternal Youth, recently divulged her top recommendations for foods that can help you relax. Take a look at the top seven foods that can help you take the edge off if you are feeling stressed recently.
One orange contains about 70 milligrams of Vitamin C, which almost fills your entire daily need of the nutrient. While Vitamin C is most highly praised for its immune-boosting abilities, the nutrient also can help alleviate stress. One study asked participants to perform a stressful task, after which some participants where given Vitamin C. Those who took the vitamin had better results on measurements of stress than those who received the placebo. The subjects who took Vitamin C reported feeling better and also saw benefits on cardiovascular and neuroendocrine levels.
“Start your day with an orange at breakfast or have one as a tasty afternoon snack paired with almonds or yogurt,” Bauer told Real Simple. “Add one to your salad for a bit of tart sweetness, incorporate one into salsa, or use as a topper for chicken or fish. Try tossing orange sections into smoothies—it’s great paired with other vitamin-C-rich fruits, such as strawberries, lemon, mango, pineapple, papaya, kiwi, or grapefruit.”
Chammomile tea has long been known to act as a mild sedative and has been shown to ease muscle tension as well as tame anxiety and irritability. In one specific study, individuals who took chammomile extract for eight weeks scored lower on an anxiety test than those who took a placebo.
“Chamomile is one of the most commonly used and best known medicinal plants in the world. In fact, we sip more than one million cups each day,” Bauer said.
While chamomile tea is definitely the most popular anti-anxiety tea, there are others that help descrease stress in the body, including thyme tea, which is a tea made from thyme leaves. Thyme originates from Southern Europe and the countries bordering the Mediterranean, but it is now very common all over the world and can be found in most grocery stores along with other popular herbs.
“Thyme helps produce beneficial effects on the neurological system because of a compound it contains called carvacrol,” Dr. Felice Gersh, a founder of the Integrative Medical Group of Irvine, told Well+Good. “It has a natural calming and supporting effect on the neurological system.”
As herbal teas, both chamomile and thyme can be drunk during any time of the day. If you need to unwind before bed, you can do so without worries of either teas keeping you awake.
Gabanzo beans, otherwise called chickpeas, have high levels of tryptophan, which is an amino acid that the body uses to produce serotonin, a chemical that contributes to feelings of well being and happiness. Studies have shown that a tryptophan depletion could be linked to anxiety.
“It’s just one amino acid (and the least abundant) that competes to get into the brain,” Bauer said. “And adding some carbs helps move the powerful amino acid along.”
Chickpeas provide both tryptophan and slow-burning carbs, which is a great combination for reducing stress. Chickpeas also contain a large amount of folate, which is a B vitamin that helps regulate mood. A cup of cooked chickpeas has more than 70% of your daily recommended intake of folate. The popular legume also has high protein and fiber content, which can help steady blood sugars and stabilize your mood.
In addition to being versatile, oats also deliver high levels of tryptophan, which helps the body produce serotonin. While all types of oats can help reduce your anxiety, Bauer likes steel-cut oats best because they are minimally processed, which means there will be a slower increase in your blood sugar, a result that can help stabilize your mood.
Oats also contain magnesium, which is a nutrient that people who are deficient in may be more likely to suffer from anxiety and depression.
One of the most effective components that helps us feel good are omega-3 fats, which salmon and other fatty fish are extremely high in.
“In addition to helping fight depression, studies have shown that these healthy fats are particularly useful in combating anxiety,” Bauer explains. “Omega-3s helped reduce inflammation and anxiety by 20 percent in younger adults who experienced an everyday stressor known to trigger an anxiety-ridden response.”
Fatty fish are also rich in another important nutrient: Vitamin D. Low levels of Vitamin D are linked to depression, which is associated with anxiety.
Salmon can be served in many forms: grilled, baked, raw (in sushi), and added to dishes like salads, pasta, and casseroles. Sardines are also packed with omega-3 fats.
Speaking of omega-3 fatty acids, avocados are packed with them. In order to reap the benefits of omega-3 fats, which include reducing stress and anxiety, boosting concentration, and improving your mood, you have to make sure you are getting the right amount of fatty acids in your diet.
The federal governments recommends that adult men receive 1.6 grams of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which is a form of omega-3 fats, and that adult women receive 1.1 gram of ALA.
7. Dark chocolate
Dark chocolate can help reduce stress in two separate ways, according to Everyday Health. Chocolate has both a chemical and emotional impact. The snack feels like such an indulgence, and that feeling alone can help reduce stress.
Dark chocolate is also rich in antioxidants, which may help reduce stress by lowering levels of stress hormones in your body. When it comes to dark chocolate, it’s important to consume it in moderation. A healthy amount of dark chocolate in one sitting is about one-fourth of a small dark chocolate bar, which comes out to about 1 oz.