5 Foods That Naturally Lower Stress

By Melanie Haiken | March 7th, 2014

One of the simplest stress-reduction strategies is to stress-proof your diet. Here are 5 foods that can help.

Stress is never a good thing, but it might be worse than you think. Recent studies have shown that chronic stress puts you at risk for heart attack and stroke, sabotages your immune system, and can take years off your life. Exercise is one important way to protect yourself from stress, and mind-body therapies like meditation and yoga are another. But one of the simplest stress-reduction strategies is to stress-proof your diet. Here are 5 foods that can help.

1. Oranges

We all know we’re supposed to get plenty of vitamin C to ward off colds — but did you know it can ward off stress, too? Vitamin C has the ability to prevent spikes in adrenaline and cortisol and to bring levels back down to normal quickly after a spike. One study found that people given 1,000 milligrams of vitamin C before they gave a speech had lower levels of cortisol and lower blood pressure than a control group. And during longer periods of chronic stress, the normal stores of vitamin C in your adrenal gland become depleted, so eat oranges or take vitamin C daily to restore them.

2. Sunflower seeds

Researchers in Spain found that when sunflower seeds enter the digestive system, they release a bioactive peptide that blocks an enzyme known to raise blood pressure. Stress and high blood pressure are linked in a vicious cycle; stress raises blood pressure, but high blood pressure, or hypertension, also makes the body more vulnerable to anxiety and stress. Sunflower seeds also contain immune-boosting folate and vitamin E, both of which protect the body from disease.

3. Spinach

Spinach is high in folate and magnesium, two nutrients that play key roles in protecting your nervous system from stress. Magnesium has the direct effect of regulating cortisol, while the 400 milligrams of folate in a bowl of spinach lifts your mood and lightens anxiety. If you’re not a spinach fan, other dark leafy greens like chard are also high in magnesium, as are soybeans and nuts.

4. Avocados

An all-in-one stress fighter, avocados are chock-full of the B vitamins you see listed on antistress supplement labels. They also contain monounsaturated fats, the healthful kinds that are important for brain and nerve function.

5. Soybeans

For instant relaxation, you want the amino acid tryptophan, which every year makes headlines as the supposed cause of post-Thanksgiving dinner sleepiness. The reason for this is that tryptophan triggers your body to release serotonin, a relaxing brain chemical. However, turkey is not the only, or even the best, source. A variety of foods are rich in tryptophan, including parmesan cheese, dates, soybeans, eggs, milk, yogurt, and some nuts. Since you’re not necessarily going to be popping a handful of parmesan cheese, and since dates are high in sugar, try soybeans, which are easy to work into your diet. You can add tofu to main dishes, drink soy milk, and snack on dried soybeans or edamame. One complication is that your body requires carbohydrates to release tryptophan, so follow your meal or snack with a cookie or cracker to get the full benefit.

Melanie Haiken is a senior editor at Caring.com, a leading online destination for caregivers seeking information and support as they care for aging parents, spouses, and other loved ones. Melanie has written about health and family-related issues for numerous magazines and websites and has worked for San Francisco’s renowned Center for Investigative Reporting. For more ideas about how to help your loved ones eat healthy, see 5 Secrets to Pleasing a Picky Eater.

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