When you’re feeling stressed about an upcoming exam or an important meeting with your boss, it’s all too easy to turn to comfort foods like macaroni and cheese, pizza, or chips to make you feel better. However, junk food is only a temporary relief that does nothing to reduce stress. “Using food to soothe is a learned response that many of us turn to when we’re feeling stressed out,” explains Dana Kofsky, Thumbtack wellness coach and nutrition expert. “Junk food is familiar and comfortable to the body, so it’s often the first thing we turn to.”
If this is your default response, Kofsky says that rethinking your snacking habits could help quell stress. Rather than reaching for processed, refined snacks that cause a temporary spike in your blood-sugar levels, consider these science-backed foods that are proven to reduce anxiety, boost dopamine, and more. Stock up on these five foods to reduce stress next time you’re on deadline.
Studies show that the omega-3 fatty acids found in salmon can help reduce anxiety. Kofsky recommends eating six to eight ounces of salmon twice a week to reap the benefits of this superfood. Plus, there are so many yummy ways to cook salmon. Try adding it to your menu a few times a week to support your mental and physical health.
According to a study in The International Journal of Health Sciences, dark chocolate can regulate your anxiety levels by reducing stress hormones like cortisol. Kofsky says, “Eating chocolate increases serotonin in the brain, giving you a buzz that can help reduce stress.” It’s important to note that not just any chocolate bar will provide these effects. She advises grabbing some raw cocoa to steer clear of the added sugars found in other processed chocolate products.
Green Leafy Vegetables
When you’re feeling stressed out, it might be a good idea to prepare some side dishes or salads that are chock-full of veggies to help keep you calm. A study in The Journal of Affective Disorders finds that the folate in green leafy vegetables is associated with alleviating depressive symptoms like anxiety and stress. That’s because folate produces dopamine (a chemical messenger that affects your emotions) in your brain. Kofsky’s favorite sources of folate are asparagus, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts.
We’re all familiar with the annual post-Thanksgiving food coma. But did you know that the tryptophan found in turkey is an essential amino acid that is used to make niacin and serotonin? Hint: Serotonin is a natural upper that is thought to regulate mood. It’s also the reason Kofsky suggests eating this lean meat when you feel stressed out.
One natural way to fight stress is with a strong immune system. A simple way to build this strength is to eat foods that are high in antioxidants, which prevent cell damage caused by free radicals that are found in the environment and occur naturally in your body. Kofsky recommends eating blueberries to get your antioxidant fix, but you can also turn to other plant-based foods like nuts, sweet potatoes, tea, and even wine, just to name a few.
Take advantage of these foods to reduce stress next time you're feeling out of control. A simple snack swap can make all the difference.
This post was originally published on August 3, 2017, and has since been updated.