How To Eat To Reduce Stress

Likely, when you think of stress and eating, visions of warm mounds of mashed potatoes, ice cream, or your grandmother’s creamy mac and cheese spring to mind.

Those comfort foods that you lean on to relieve whatever is weighing on your mind may offer short-term comfort but add stress in the long-term.

Once the food buzz is gone, you’re often left feeling bloated, sluggish, guilt-ridden...and even more stressed.  On the contrary, eating the right foods can help you manage your stress.

You might be thinking, stress is just a part of big deal, right?


When your body is exposed to stressors, it produces cortisol.

Cortisol is a chemical in the brain that is released during the body’s fight or flight response.

It wreaks havoc on your health—with long-term exposure, it has been linked to depression, anxiety, weight gain, high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol, deficits in memory and learning, bone density, compromised immune function, heart disease, and more.

On the flip side, your body is also capable of producing serotonin which is a feel-good chemical in the brain that controls sleep, memory, mood, digestion, appetite, and sexual desire/function.

Increasing serotonin is an important piece to decrease stress.

By following a few simple food rules, you can chip away at stress by decreasing cortisol and boosting serotonin levels.

In doing so, you’ll find a healthier, less stressed you.

Check out our 7 Food Tips and sample menus below to start using food as a stress-reducing tool, not a counter-productive crutch.

7 Food Tips to Combat Stress

Tip 1:  Choose foods that are high in Vitamin C.

Foods that are rich in vitamin C decrease cortisol and boost immunity.  Think oranges, grapefruits, lemons, limes, kiwi, blueberries, strawberries, cantaloupe, guava, green beans, broccoli, and cauliflower.

Tip 2:  Complex carbohydrates increase serotonin.

Complex carbohydrates (whole-grain bread, cereals, pasta, brown rice, quinoa, and oats) provide a sustained boost to serotonin to elevate your mood.

While even simple carbs (like sugar and white grains) provide a quick spike in serotonin, they are not recommended for on-going stress control, because their effect is short-lived and adversely affect your blood sugar levels.

Tip 3:  More Magnesium

Many people lack sufficient magnesium and suffer headaches, muscle tightness, and fatigue, which exacerbate stress.

Get more magnesium from spinach and other dark leafy greens, legumes (beans, lentils, and chickpeas), salmon, cooked soybeans, almonds, pistachios, pecans, cashews, walnuts, avocado, and even dark chocolate.

Bonus—the healthy fats in nuts and avocado are especially satisfying when stress has you craving high-fat comfort foods.  And, if you haven’t heard, dark chocolate is a health food!

A cocoa content of at least 70% is recommended.  Of course, with something that tasty, 1-ounce portion of dark chocolate is also advised to limit sugar intake.

Tip 4:  Fatty Fish

Omega-3 fatty acids found in fish such as salmon, tuna, herring, mackerel, sardines, and lake trout keep your cortisol from spiking.

Tip 5:  Your Cup of Tea Should be Black

A study found that those who drink 4 cups of black tea daily for 6 weeks had lower cortisol levels following stress.

Tip 6:  Munch Away on Crunchy Raw Vegetables

Has your mom always told you to eat your vegetables?  If she was also pushing raw ones, she was onto something.

Not only are vegetables loaded with healthy vitamins and fiber, but the mechanical motion of chewing on raw vegetables can also help release jaw tension common with stress.

Tip 7:  Pick the Right Bedtime Snack

Carbs like fruit and milk make a great choice.

Fruit boosts serotonin (the feel-good chemical), and the calcium in milk eases anxiety, so it is best to select a low- or no-fat dairy, almond or soy milk.

Now let’s put these tips to work in the following menu ideas.

Sample Stress-Fighting Menus

Apparently, the possible combinations are endless, so individualize your meals to suit your taste, so you are more likely to follow the stress-fighting tips.

The menus below merely give you a starting point to consider and helps get your creative juices flowing.

Sample Menu #1

Breakfast #1—Overnight Oats with Strawberries and Walnuts—one tweak to the recipe would be to substitute low- or no-fat milk, almond or soy for the whole milk.

Lunch #1—Spinach Salad with Mandarin Oranges and Almonds—you can add grilled chicken or feta cheese for a heartier take.

Afternoon snack #1—half an avocado with a pinch of sea salt or 1/4 c. guacamole and chips

Dinner #1—Roasted Salmon and Green Beans—this lemony, super-tasty and easy-to-make meal is sure to please and hits several of the stress-busting tips above.  Even better, it’s a great presentation dish suitable for company. Pair with a brown rice pilaf studded with chickpeas and cashews for more stress-busting power.

Evening snack #1—kiwi and glass of no- or low-fat milk

Sample Menu #2

Breakfast #2—Fruit and Nut Cookies are a yummy, whole-grain start to your day.  Substitute the dates with dried blueberries for a vitamin C punch and store in the freezer for a handy, on-the-go breakfast option.  Pair it with a grapefruit and a cup of black tea.

Lunch #2—Love the comfort of the traditional, white bread PBJ?  Try an anti-stress update--almond butter on whole grain bread with a low-sugar jelly.  Round out this stress-fighting lunch with some cantaloupe.

Afternoon snack #2—raw broccoli, cauliflower, and other veggies with yogurt based salad dressing.

Dinner #2— Black Bean Soup.  This hearty, magnesium-rich soup is an excellent addition to your stress-fighting toolkit.

Evening snack #2—unsweetened or stevia sweetened yogurt with fruit...or blend into a smoothie

What about dessert?

So, if you’re wondering where dessert is in these menus, don’t worry.

You can still indulge a little and follow the stress-reducing tips.

Try dark chocolate covered strawberries or clementine wedges, candied walnuts, or skinny oatmeal chocolate chip cookies...just to name a few.

Diet is not the only stress-fighting tool at your disposal.

Along with your new stress-reducing diet, support your efforts even more by complimenting them with other stress-busting choices:  physical activity, meditation and mindfulness, social connectivity, and listening to music you love.

As you navigate the complexities of your daily life, keeping your stress in check is critical to living your happiest, healthiest, most rewarding life.

Amassing a whole toolkit of strategies to better manage your stress and time is central to successfully balancing and integrating both your work and home life.

Adding tools like the iStratus Day Planner app to your stress-fighting toolkit is an excellent step towards time, task, and stress management.

Ann Brennan