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When you’re feeling stressed and anxious, you want to do everything you can to calm yourself down. Luckily, there are plenty of strategies you can use to tone down anxiety and bring a sense of calm to your day. You can work up a good sweat, take a few deep breaths, or try a few minutes of meditation. Or you can proactively channel your inner calmness from the inside out—before stress strikes!—by adding naturally calming foods to your day.
There are a number of different foods you can incorporate into your diet that have a naturally calming effect. Let’s take a look at five naturally calming foods to add to your plate:
Salmon is delicious and there’s a reason it tops most healthy food lists. Beyond its heart health benefits, salmon is also packed with a variety of nutrients that can help fight anxiety—starting with potassium. “Potassium acts as a facilitator in ensuring the brain has the ability to properly use serotonin,” says Christine Bendana, an Austin-based Culinary Nutritionist and founder of meal planning website PrepYoSelf. “Without the electrical charges sparked by potassium, [the brain] would not be able to efficiently use neurotransmitters like serotonin—which is linked to positive thoughts and feelings.”
Plus, salmon’s high level of omega-3 fatty acids “regulate neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin, which help with calming and relaxing properties,” says Bendana. Salmon also contains vitamin B6, which helps the body synthesize GABA, a neurotransmitter that plays an important role in how the body responds to stress.
Red Bell Peppers
Vitamin C might have a reputation for fighting off colds—but did you know the highest concentration of vitamin C is found in the brain? The vitamin helps make several brain chemicals, or neurotransmitters, and may also play a role in your mood.
If you’re looking for a big dose of vitamin C, you can’t do much better than red bell peppers. One medium red bell pepper contains 152 milligrams of Vitamin C—that’s 54 milligrams more vitamin C than a large orange (which clocks in at 68 milligrams) and a whopping 169 percent of your Percent Daily Value.
As mentioned, potassium and vitamin C are both nutrients that play a role in calming the brain. And one food that’s rich in both potassium and vitamin C? Spinach.
If you want to get the most benefit, eat your spinach raw and you won’t lose the vitamin C, which is sensitive to heat. (“Spinach is best eaten raw to maintain most of its vitamin C,” says Bendana.) You can use spinach leaves as a base for your salad or toss a handful into your smoothies.
Or, if you do decide to cook your spinach—and want to maintain as many nutrients as possible—try using the saute method. “Sauteeing is the best way to cook spinach to avoid nutrient loss,” says Bendana.
Oats might be associated with breakfast—but they’re also packed with nutrients that make them the perfect way to channel your inner calm. “Oats are a good source of the amino acid tryptophan, which is an amino acid that the body needs to produce serotonin,” says Registered Dietitian Nutritionist Jenna Appel. “Serotonin helps regulate sleep and mood and may help to reduce feelings of anxiety.”
Want to maximize the calming effects of your bowl of oats? Try topping your oats with tart cherries. “Tart cherries are rich in four different sleep-regulating compounds: melatonin, tryptophan, potassium, and an antioxidant called procynadin—all of which are responsible for helping us feel more relaxed and calm,” says Erin Kenney, Registered Dietician Nutritionist and author of Rewire Your Gut.
We all deal with a certain level of stress and anxiety. But by eating well and filling your plate with lots of fruit and veggies, you’re not only giving your body the nutrients it needs to deal with daily stress that’s inevitable, but researchers have shown you’re also more likely to be happy, and improve your sense of life satisfaction and wellbeing. Salad, anyone?
This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for medical diagnosis or treatment. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or condition. Always check with your doctor before changing your diet, altering your sleep habits, taking supplements, or starting a new fitness routine.