Stressed Out? Adding These 5 Foods to Your Plate May Help

It’s no secret that many of us are under a great deal of stress. But if you don’t actively work to manage stress, it can have a significant impact on everything from your energy levels, your appetite, and even your health. Although you can’t remove every stressor from your life, you can take steps every day to help manage your stress levels and how your body responds to stress. And your diet can play a large role in helping you do this.

Certain key nutrients in food play an active role in helping to offset stress as well as protect against the damage it can cause to the body. When you fill your plate with stress-busting nutrients, you can literally eat away at stress before it starts to eat away at you.

Pumpkin seeds. When stress levels spike, biting down on a crunchy food can be a satisfying way to alleviate tension, but enjoying pumpkin seeds can do more than just satisfy that urge to munch. As a good source of magnesium with 37 percent of the Recommended Dietary Intake (RDI) in just one ounce (or 30 grams), pumpkin seeds can play a role in helping you manage stress. “Stress and magnesium actually go hand-in-hand,” explains culinary dietitian Alena Kharlamenko, MS, RD, CDN, of Alena Menko Nutrition. “When stressed, your body excretes more magnesium, which then activates signals in your body to release stress hormones, making you more stressed.” 

Thankfully foods rich in magnesium may help. “Foods that contain magnesium can provide a calming effect to the body by relaxing blood vessels and increasing blood flow, which in turn can slowly relax the body and reduce irritability while improving sleep,” explains Ashley Acornley, MS, RD, LDN of Fueled and Fit. Try tossing pumpkin seeds into your salad, on top of yogurt, or enjoying them alone the next time you feel your stress levels rising.

Turkey. If you’ve ever blamed turkey for making you feel sleepy after eating Thanksgiving dinner, then you are familiar with tryptophan. This amino acid is abundant in turkey and helps you to feel calm and relaxed, although it won’t actually put you to sleep. “Tryptophan helps produce the hormones melatonin and serotonin which are essential in helping to relax the body and provide feelings of well-being and happiness,” explains Acornley. 

Research has found consuming a meal rich in tryptophan resulted in an improved mood while helping to reduce the release of the stress hormone cortisol. So, if you’re feeling particularly stressed out and it’s impacting your sleep, try adding tryptophan-rich foods like turkey to your nighttime routine. “Enjoy a tryptophan-rich snack an hour or two before bed to help relax your body and prepare for a good night’s rest,” adds Acornley. (Read about other foods that may help you get a better night’s rest here.) 

Yogurt. The next time you’re feeling anxious and stressed, reach for a refreshing bowl of yogurt to help you relax. This creamy, sweet treat contains the stress-fighting duo of nutrients calcium and tryptophan which may work together to improve mood and reduce angst. 

 Chia seeds. If you aren’t adding chia seeds to your plate, you may want to start. As a plant-based source of omega-3 fatty acids, these healthy fats may not only benefit your heart but may also play a role in stress management. “When you’re stressed, your body releases the hormone cortisol, which in turn can actually make you feel even more stressed. Foods high in omega-3 fatty acids have been found to lower your cortisol levels, helping to diminish your stress,” explains Kharlamenko. Chia seeds can be added to everything from smoothies, to salads, and even overnight oats and with 4 grams of fiber per tablespoon, these tiny seeds also provide a great way to add more fiber to your diet.

Kiwi. The next time you feel your stress levels rising, consider snacking on kiwi. This tiny fruit packs in a powerful punch when it comes to stress management. Kiwi provide a source of the calming amino acid tryptophan, which is needed to make serotonin and melatonin. Kiwi fruit are also high in gut-loving fiber, or prebiotics, which help to feed the good bugs in your belly. And more and more science is emerging to support the impact of a healthy gut on promoting a happy mind.

Try enjoying this sweet fruit or two as a snack or make a stress-busting yogurt parfait layered with sliced kiwi and topped with pumpkin or chia seeds.

Stress is an inevitable part of life, but focusing on your food choices can play a large role in helping your body to better handle the stressors that come your way. And what’s more relaxing than knowing your delicious meal or snack not only tastes good, but is helping you feel your best at the same time?

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