When we're under stress, we sometimes reach for some type of comfort food: cookies, chips, or other. If you eat this way habitually, however, you can seriously undermine your health — and damage your bones.
Junk food typically contains high amounts of sugar, which can deflate your mood rather than improve it, leading to a cascade of reactions that increase stress and weaken your immune system.1
And if you're already depressed, empty calorie foods will make you feel worse by increasing the levels of the stress hormone cortisol circulating in your bloodstream, which has far-reaching effects on your bones and overall health.2
From hair-trigger emotions to chronic headaches, feeling exhausted and fuzzy-brained yet unable to sleep, not to mention catching colds or other viruses regularly, excess stress harms your health.
Eat These “Super 8” Foods To Nourish And Heal
Fortunately, you can reverse this vicious cycle with food. Just as processed food with little to no nutritional value lowers your resistance and weakens your bones, nourishing foods can relieve stress, helping to reduce cortisol levels and strengthen your bones. As we move into the colder months in the Northern Hemisphere, it's especially important to keep your immune system strong.
Here are the top eight foods to relieve stress and anxiety, all of which are Foundation Foods:
Berries, such as strawberries, blackberries, raspberries, and blueberries, are powerful healers rich in Vitamin C, so they lower the risk of degenerative diseases. Blueberries in particular are also packed with flavonoids known as anthocyanins (from the Greek for “dark blue”), which help the brain produce dopamine, the neurotransmitter responsible for mood and memory.
In fact, researchers have found that blueberries help those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). If blueberries are potent enough to mitigate the biochemical drivers behind the depression and suicidal tendencies associated with PTSD, think how beneficial they can be for everyday stress relief.3
What healthy spread makes almost any sandwich taste better? Avocado. Though biologically a fruit, we tend to eat avocado as a vegetable. In addition to being versatile and delicious, avocados provide a plethora of healthy fats and nutrients, including potassium, Vitamins B and E, and the all-important magnesium, which has been scientifically shown to relieve anxiety.4
Avocados also contain glutathione, a master antioxidant that helps detoxify your liver. Glutathione is depleted by chronic stress.
Best of all, for those aiming to lose weight, avocado can help to curb appetite. According to research, adding half an avocado to your lunch can satisfy you enough to prevent mid-afternoon snacking.5
3. Dark Chocolate*
Sometimes a food that you love is also good for you. Dark chocolate is a perfect example. A renowned magnesium-rich mood elevator, dark chocolate has been proven to reduce anxiety in those who consumed a beverage of cocoa polyphenols — the antioxidants that protect your bones from the effects of aging — versus those who drank a placebo.6
After enjoying a healthy meal, feel free to indulge in a square or two of stress-reducing dark chocolate. Your body and brain will thank you.
If you're dealing with a querulous coworker or fractious loved one, the best course of action may be to offer him or her some turkey (always try to get the organic kind). As odd as that may sound, there is a scientific reason behind it: organic turkey breast contains tryptophan, which your body converts into the calming neurotransmitter serotonin. Researchers have found that tryptophan makes people much more agreeable.7
When you eat turkey with avocado, you've created a powerhouse combination to soothe anxiety, satisfy hunger, and help to create more harmonious relationships. It lends a whole new, healthy meaning to the term “power lunch”.
5. Fermented Foods*
As a Saver, you know good health begins in the gut. Fermented foods such as plain, unsweetened yogurt is an excellent mood, bone, and overall health builder. So is sauerkraut (fermented cabbage). Both provide your gut with plenty of beneficial bacteria that enhance brain chemistry and maintain a healthy environment for optimal assimilation of nutrients.8
In addition to being an excellent source of gut-friendly probiotics, yogurt is also rich in calcium, zinc, vitamins B2, B5, B12, and potassium.
6. Leafy Greens*
You've probably been hearing “Eat your vegetables!” since early childhood — though no one may ever have explained precisely why they're so beneficial. Dark, leafy greens such as spinach, chard, kale, dandelion greens, and arugula are chock-full of alkalizing antioxidants and phytonutrients, including B vitamins, bioavailable calcium, and magnesium.
You may be magnesium-deficient and unaware of it, though your body might alert you to the lack in myriad unpleasant ways, such as anxiety, insomnia, and muscle cramps.9
In lieu of medication, you can alleviate these and other symptoms by increasing your intake of dark leafy greens.
Another magnesium powerhouse, cashews are also rich in zinc, an essential stress-busting mineral that helps keep your brain on an even keel. When you're subject to unremitting stress, your body's zinc stores can become depleted. This is when irritability and food cravings take over.10
The simple solution? Keep some cashews in a mason jar at home and at work. When you want a snack, reach for a handful of nuts.
8. Wild-Caught Alaskan Salmon*
If you enjoy eating fish, wild-caught salmon is one of your best choices for both stress reduction and for the Omega-3 fats EPA and DHA, which play an important role in emotional well being.
One study found that Omega-3 supplementation lowered both inflammation and anxiety in medical students, who are under a notorious amount of stress.11
The study reported that:
“The reduction in anxiety symptoms associated with n-3 supplementation provides the first evidence that n-3 may have potential anxiolytic benefits for individuals without an anxiety disorder diagnosis.”
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Like leafy greens, salmon functions as an antidepressant — without the side effects of drugs.
Stress reduction can be easy and delicious. You can start your day with blueberries in oatmeal or other bone-healthy cereal, add organic turkey and avocado to a salad for lunch, treat yourself to a dark chocolate or cashew snack mid-afternoon, and have wild-caught salmon with healthy side dishes for dinner. Notice how relaxed and well these healing foods make you feel.
Remember The “Magic 8” To Alleviate Anxiety
Stress is an inevitable part of life, but chronic stress becomes damaging. To assist your body and mind in staying calm and clear, reach for these healthy, stress-releasing foods, especially during difficult times.
1 Stress Weakens the Immune System, American Psychological Association, February 23, 2006. Web: https://www.apa.org/research/action/immune.aspx
2 Kimberly A. Dienes, Nicholas A. Hazel, and Constance L. Hammen,
“Cortisol Secretion in Depressed and At-Risk Adults.” Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2013 Jun; 38(6): 927–940. Web: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4451064
3 Philip Ebenezer et al., “The Neuro-protective Efficacy of Blueberry in an Animal Model of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)”, Published Online:1 Apr 2015Abstract Number:835.1. Web:https://www.fasebj.org/doi/abs/10.1096/fasebj.29.1_supplement.835.1
4 Neil Bernard Boyle, Clare Lawton, and Louise Dye, “The Effects of Magnesium Supplementation on Subjective Anxiety and Stress — A Systematic Review,” Nutrients. 2017 May; 9(5): 429.
5 Michelle Wien, Ella Haddad, Keiji Oda and Joan Sabaté, “A randomized 3×3 crossover study to evaluate the effect of Hass avocado intake on post-ingestive satiety, glucose and insulin levels, and subsequent energy intake in overweight adults”, Nutrition Journall201312:155. Web:https://nutritionj.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1475-2891-12-155
6 Pase, Matthew P., et al. “Cocoa polyphenols enhance positive moodstates but not cognitive performance: a randomized, placebo-controlled trial.” J Psychopharmacol. May 2013. Vol. 27 no. 5 pages 451-458. Web. https://jop.sagepub.com/content/27/5/451.abstract
7 Marije aan het Rot, Debbie S. Moskowitz, Gilbert Pinard, and Simon N. Young, “Social behaviour and mood in everyday life: the effects of tryptophan in quarrelsome individuals”, J Psychiatry Neurosci. 2006 Jul; 31(4): 253–262. Web:https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1488902
8 Bravo JA, Forsythe P, Chew MV, Escaravage E, Savignac HM, Dinan TG, Bienenstock J, Cryan JF., “Ingestion of Lactobacillus strain regulates emotional behavior and central GABA receptor expression in a mouse via the vagus nerve”, Proc Natl Acad Sci USA.2011Sep 20;108(38):16050-5. Web:https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed?term=Proceedings+of+the+National+Academy+of+Sciences+of+the+United+States+of+America%5BJour%5D+AND+2011%5Bpdat%5D+AND+Bravo%5Bauthor%5D&cmd=detailssearch
9 S.B. Sartori, N. Whittle, A. Hetzenauer, and N. Singewald, “Magnesium deficiency induces anxiety and HPA axis dysregulation”, Neuropharmacology. 2012 Jan; 62(1): 304–312. Web: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3198864
10 Swardfager W et al, “Potential roles of zinc in the pathophysiology and treatment of major depressive disorder”. Neurosci Biobehav Rev.2013 Jun;37(5):911-29. Web: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23567517
11 Kiecolt-Glaser JKet al, “Omega-3 supplementation lowers inflammation and anxiety in medical students: a randomized controlled trial”. Brain Behav Immun.2011Nov;25(8):1725-34. Web: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21784145
Comments on this article are closed.
I’m frustrated with this whole thing. What is good to eat, what is not…what is a foundation, food what is not. The charts do not help me figure this out. Some foods seem to be alkalizing in one area and not another. I’m about to give up on this.
Lovely to receive articles from such a well researched academic! Thank you Vivian, it’s like having a guardian angel looking after my bones! I have IBS, I believe brought on by alendronic acid and calcium tablets, so have to be careful about some of the foods you recommend, but in all I can always find something from your lists to nourish me! Please don’t stop! Many thanks again. Jill
What a great article, Vivian! We are all faced with stress, and its so good to know we can manage it with food. Love it! Thank you!
Vivian, Thank you, your advise help me a lot. God bless you. always.
All the Best
So pleased to see that fermented foods were included in your bone strengthening, stress bursting list.
I’m afraid that, on a limited budget, avocados and blueberries are only an occasional treat for me. However I really enjoy my home made sauerkraut and other fermented vegetables. My latest being dilly beans and fermented aubergine.
Thank you Vivian for all your wonderful advice. Your programme is certainly working for me.
Thanks Vivian. This list is very helpful. I can confirm from experience (I suffered from anxiety and panic attacks 2 years ago) that these foods really do help. I continue to eat a lot of turkey, salmon, avocado, cashews, etc. and am feeling so much better. I also take a magnesium glycinate supplement when I feel overly anxious or have trouble sleeping. Taking one capsule right before going to bed makes me feel very relaxed and I usually get a much better night’s sleep. Thanks again. Joanne