Making wise choices about the food we consume can go a long way towards helping us stay fit and strong as women in midlife. There are benefits we enjoy, including reducing stress that inevitably works its way into our lives.
The foods we choose to eat can also work against us if we’re not making wise choices. Not only will certain foods not help reduce our stress and anxiety levels, they can cause them to go up, as well as create other dangerous health issues.
I put those foods on the Naughty List. We’ll get to those a little later.
We’ll take a closer look at 10 foods that contain nutrients to help reduce feelings of anxiety. I think you’ll find many of them to be on other ‘healthy food‘ lists as well, which is great news.
You’ll find access to a helpful printable at the end of the list, too, so you can keep this list handy!
If you’re working hard to commit to eating well and making wise choices with your diet, these stress-reducing choices will most likely be on the menu. I’ve also gathered some helpful recipes for you, too, so you can easily find ways to create tasty menu items.
Choosing foods that can help maintain and even lower our stress level is the natural way to deal with the uncertainty and adversity that we face in life. And most of the time we can use resources like these to maintain our health and well-being.
But there are situations where we may need to reach out to a health professional if our anxiety becomes overwhelming. Online therapy is a very helpful resource, particularly when leaving your home isn’t an option.
Foods That Reduce Stress and Anxiety
1 | Avocados
Filled with vitamin B6 and magnesium, the avocado may help with serotonin production in your brain. How does this happen? The avocado is rich in tryptophan, which is a pre-cursor to serotonin, our feel-good chemical.
The omega-3 fatty acids found in avocados are known to reduce stress and anxiety, boost concentration and improve mood. And, it’s a great source of fiber in your diet.
I’ve been trying to acquire more of a taste for avocados in the last few years, and I think I should increase my efforts to decide that they’re tasty treats. So many benefits!
2 | Beans and Legumes
Adding beans, lentils, chickpeas, and legumes to your diet will provide magnesium, vitamin B6 and an array of antioxidants. A 2018 study found that people who ate foods high in B vitamins had better anxiety and stress scores than people who did not.
An additional benefit of keeping a variety of beans in your diet is the fiber. And that not only helps keep you regular, it helps maintain a strong metabolism.
How to incorporate these into your diet? Here are some healthy options from our friends at skinnytaste.com that include beans, legumes and grains. A few that caught my eye are instant pot cilantro lime rice, baked rice and peas, baked sweet potato skins, and southwestern black bean salad.
3 | Chamomile and other herbal tea
Many of us are aware that chamomile tea can help us sleep better, which is awesome. But it can also reduce anxiety, as shown in a 2016 clinical trial
Sometimes just the act of sipping on a warm beverage like an herbal tea can help us relax and feel calmer. In addition to chamomile, lavender has also been shown to have positive effects on mood, stress, anxiety and depression.
4 | Citrus Fruits and Strawberries
A 2015 study reported that vitamin C reduced stress levels in participants taking 500 mg per day.
Berries have plenty of antioxidants, which can help protect your cells from stress and can also help ease feelings of depression.
And, citrus fruits are a good source of fiber, they’re low in calories, contain nutrients that boost heart health, help with hydration, keep your metabolism strong…so many benefits!
5 | Dark Chocolate
Yes, you’ve probably read about the benefits of consuming dark chocolate. And if you’re a chocolate lover, that should make you smile. 🙂
When it comes to reducing anxiety and stress, it was found in a 2019 survey that people who eat dark chocolate regularly are less likely to report depressive symptoms. And there is something to be said for the good feelings that come along with indulging in a decadent treat like this.
So go ahead, use moderation, but respond to the sweet tooth requests and cravings with your head held high, and a bite of dark chocolate in your hand. If you can, choose a high-quality brand without hidden additives or chemicals, and contains just two or three ingredients.
6 | Fish
Add some fatty fish to your diet – tuna, halibut, salmon, herring, sardines, and lake trout to name several – and you could be helping reduce your anxiety.
Why? The Harvard Healthy Blog indicated that the omega-3 nutrients found in these fish easily interact with our mood-related brain molecules. You’re also helping to prevent heart disease when fish is a part of your diet.
As an aside, you might want to take a look at this comprehensive guide about mercury in fish, to stay current and informed on your nutritional selections.
Are you a non-fish eater? No worries. Instead, add chia seeds, flaxseeds, walnuts, milk, soy milk, and nut milk to your menu.
7 | Plain Greek Yogurt
Plain, unsweetened versions of greek yogurt provide key minerals that may help with symptoms of stress and also help to stabilize our mood. Not only that, we’ll benefit (our gut will, specifically) from the probiotics found in yogurt.
Ideally, look for at least five strains of live and active cultures on the ingredients list.
My plan is to see what I can combine using the foods on this list, with the yogurt, so it has more flavor and frankly, is more interesting to eat.
8 | Kiwi
Kiwi is a fruit that is high in serotonin, our feel-good chemical. Serotonin deficiency has been associated with depression and mood disorders.
You’ll also benefit from the combination of vitamins C and E in these cute little fruits.
So go ahead and add some of this beautifully green fruit to your fresh fruit salad, in a fruity sauce or marinade, or in a refreshing smoothie.
9 | Nuts
The nutrients in nuts include B vitamins, healthy fatty acids, and magnesium. As we’ve seen with other foods on this list, B vitamins can help reduce stress, particularly pistachios, as shown in a past study. Just remember to include the calorie/carb count into your overall daily intake.
A different study seems to indicate that magnesium is beneficial to people with mild to moderate levels of anxiety.
10 | Leafy Greens
According to a review published in July 2018 in the journal Nutritional Neuroscience, a high-fiber diet may be linked with reduced anxiety, depression, and stress.
One of the ways to add more fiber to your diet is with green veggies such as kale, broccoli, peas and spinach.
Leafy greens contain folate, which plays a key role in the production of dopamine, a feel-good chemical in our bodies.
Grab your printable and keep it handy…
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You’ll find this printable in the Healthy Living and Wellness Section.
Other Stress-Fighting Foods
Here are some additional sources of foods that can help reduce anxiety and stress:
- Olive Oil
- Old fashioned or steel-cut oats
- Seeds – pumpkin, sunflower, chia, flaxseed, etc
- Whole Grains – brown rice, quinoa, farro, etc
- Fat-free or low-fat milk
- Red bell peppers
The Naughty List
Just as we can make choices to eat foods that may help us reduce the stress in our lives, there are other choices we make that can make our anxiety worsen.
Some of the items on this list are just better left off the menu for any reason. Sugar, hydrogenated oil, processed foods, trans fats, and processed foods come to mind immediately.
Other choices can depend on your tolerance and overall health, as well as your ability to be self-disciplined. Coffee and alcohol are two beverages that some of us can tolerate with moderation and wise choices, and others just can’t handle the effect on their body, or their psyche.
Ideally, you want to know your own body and how it reacts to foods and beverages, and discuss any questions or concerns with your physician.
- Hydrogenated oil
- Fast food
- Trans fats
- High sodium foods
- Artificial Sweeteners
- Processed foods
- Soy sauce
- Wheat bran
- Canned soup
- Apple juice
- Red wine
How about you? When you think about it, none of us are immune to the stresses of life. Learning how to structure our nutrition with foods that reduce stress and anxiety makes such good sense.
Yes, it may mean that we minimize or eliminate the naughty foods, but many of those on the list are harmful to our health in a variety of ways and should be off the table, literally, most of the time.
When I’m feeling stressed or anxious, a little bit of comfort food can help take my mind off of the problem for a little while. But it really doesn’t solve anything and doesn’t help me stay fit, healthy, and strong.
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