With looming deadlines and an overburdened schedule, it’s tempting to head to the vending machines and give in to sugar cravings. But here’s the problem: what you eat actually has a direct impact on your stress level. Refined sugar and high-sodium foods can trigger anxiety, amplify stress, and drain your energy levels—meaning a pint of ice cream is probably not the best way to get over a breakup after all. But there’s good news! Foods like dark chocolate and blueberries actually help decrease stress levels, giving you the sweetness your body is craving without the unhealthy blood-sugar spike. Here, five foods you can nosh on to destress naturally.
Leafy green vegetables
Spinach, kale, romaine lettuce, and other leafy greens contain folate, which stimulates production of mood-regulating neurotransmitters. A 2012 study found that depression was greatly reduced in people with a diet rich in folate, so add your greens of choice to a sandwich or scrambled eggs, opt for a salad for lunch, and include a generous dose with dinner.
While sugar can cause inflammation and mood swings, unadulterated dark chocolate boosts production of anandamide, a neurotransmitter that lowers the production of stress hormones. To enjoy only the positive side effects, make sure no extra sugar or flavors are added, and of course, moderation is key.
Yogurt and fermented foods
Stress isn’t just determined by your brain: mental health starts in the gut. The beneficial bacteria that resides there can help reduce anxiety and depression and improve cognitive functioning and self-awareness. Care for your gut flora by eating yogurt, but avoid any artificial sweeteners, colors, or sugar that negate the benefits. Sauerkraut, probiotic pickles, kimchi, and other fermented vegetables are also great options.
Blueberries and blackberries are packed with antioxidants that stimulate dopamine production. They’ll also boost your immune system, which will help you ward off stress and sickness. Sprinkle berries over oatmeal or blend them into a smoothie for breakfast, pack a handful for a snack, or swirl into plain yogurt for a delicious, healthy dessert.
Seafood and nuts
Unfortunately, many modern diets lack zinc, but the mineral is a natural antidepressant that helps the body handle stressful situations. Low levels are even linked to chronic anxiety. Add zinc-filled foods to your daily diet—seafood, like oysters, make a great weekday dinner—and snacking on pumpkin seeds or nuts, particularly cashews, can ensure you’re getting the recommended amount.