There's a lot to be stressed about right now, no doubt about it. A little bit of stress is natural, but prolonged stress can be harmful for your body and health. Food won't solve your stress, obviously, but certain foods can help by signaling your brain to increase production of mood-improving hormones like serotonin. “While all nutritional benefits from food accumulate with consistent intake over time, certain foods can assist in providing a noticeable decrease in feelings of anxiety and stress more rapidly,” says registered dietician Amy Isabella Chalker. Here are six foods to add to your diet for a bit of natural calm.
Salmon is a high-quality protein containing many healthy antioxidants. “Packed with essential fatty acids, salmon ranks high on the list of foods that can assist with decreasing feelings of stress and anxiety," Chalker says. The anti-inflammatory properties of the fatty acids can counteract stress hormones.
Recipe: Use salmon in our Salmon Dijon Salad
Sunflower seeds are a great source of essential fats, as well as key vitamins B3, B5, and B6, Chalker says. "These vitamins are particularly important in optimizing the body's stress response, working to nourish the burnt-out adrenal glands and in turn leading to more moderate stress hormone production,” Chalker says. Raw sunflower seeds can last in your pantry for three months or so and in the freezer for up to a year. Keep these mood-boosting seeds on hand as a snack recipe go-to or recipe mix-in.
Recipe: Use sunflower seeds in our Sunflower Seed & Red Pepper Rigatoni
Chock-full of vitamin C, which is necessary for your body to produce serotonin, strawberries are a sweet way to get a bit of a mood lift. "As an antioxidant, vitamin C also neutralizes free radicals, providing a boost to the immune system—one of the first systems to go when the body is in a prolonged state of stress,” Chalker says. Having a good immune system allows the adrenal glands to recharge, so mix berries into your salads, salsas, oatmeal, and lots more for a sweet serotonin boost.
Recipe: Use strawberries in our Strawberry & Jalapeño Salsa
“Wheat germ is an excellent source of vitamins B3, B5, and B6, key players in regulating the adrenals and their cortisol production," Chalker says. Think of wheat germ as the kernel part of the wheat, before it’s processed into cereal or bread. It's a great addition to oatmeal, snack bites, yogurt, cereal, and more.
Recipe: Use wheat germ in our PB Trail Mix Bites
Green tea is one of the least-processed types of tea, making it a great choice no matter what your stress levels are. It comes from the leaves of the camellia sinensis plant before they are processed to make other types of tea, like black tea. “Green tea offers concentrated amounts of the amino acid L-theanine, which studies have shown increase the neurotransmitter GABA, producing anti-anxiety effects,” Chalker says.
Recipe: Use green tea in our Blueberry & Green Tea Punch
Dark chocolate has cocoa flavanols, a useful nutrient for reducing blood pressure, increasing brain activity, and giving you a mood boost. "Dark chocolate gets high marks for its fatty acid profile and its concentration of antioxidant compounds,” Chalker says. She recommends eating one to two ounces a day for a small pick-me-up.
Recipe: Use dark chocolate in our Seed & Spice Chocolate Bark
Typically in season from February to November, this tropical fruit is a great source of Vitamin C, Chalker says, which is one of the most vital nutrients for regulating the adrenals. You'll know it's ripe when the skin is yellow. The seeds are edible, but scoop them out and eat just the flesh if that's more your speed. The fruit is great in smoothies, salsas, desserts, or just on its own.
Recipe: Use papaya in our Mexican Fruit Salad