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Stress Reducing Foods

Eating healthy whole foods isn’t only good for your body, it is good for your mind as well. Consuming a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and protein nourishes the brain and protects it from oxidative stress.

Low-quality foods, such as highly processed foods, can negatively affect your emotional health. Below are some foods that can help reduce your stress levels while also improving your overall wellbeing.



The average American diet lacks omega-3s while being high in trans and saturated fats. Omega-3 fatty acids help produce brain chemicals responsible for positive moods, such as dopamine and serotonin. Our bodies cannot produce omega-3s on its own, so we have to rely on food to obtain it. Cold-water fish such as salmon or sardines are great sources. If you are a vegetarian, walnuts, cashews, chia seeds, flaxseeds, pumpkin seeds, and sunflower seeds are also rich in Omega-3s.


Complex Carbs:

Simple carbs, such as white bread, pasta, rice, pretzels, essentially anything made with white flour, can lower your mood. This happens because it causes your blood sugar to spike and then quickly crash down. When blood sugar crashes, it causes anxiety and a bad mood. This is why you should reach for complex carbs instead.

Complex carbohydrates release blood sugar slowly, which can help produce serotonin. Serotonin acts as a mood stabilizer that can increase your wellbeing and aid in digestion. Oats, sweet potatoes, farro, barley, and beans are all complex carbohydrates.


Lean Proteins:

Protein is rich in the amino acid, tryptophan, which is more powerful than you may think. Tryptophan is widely known as the chemical that causes post-thanksgiving dinner naps, but it also produces serotonin. Fish, eggs, and beans are all chock-full of protein, which can help keep serotonin levels up.

Pairing proteins with complex carbs is a great way to reduce anxiety. Complex carbs help tryptophan reach the brain, which can improve overall cognitive function.


Leafy Greens:

Dark leafy greens are rich in folate, which produces dopamine, the “happy hormone” that is an important part of our brain’s reward system. Folate deficiencies are linked to high rates of depression, insomnia, and fatigue. Spinach, broccoli, kale, asparagus, and collard greens are all significant sources.



Almonds are loaded with GABA. When GABA attaches to a GABA receptor in your brain, it produces a calming effect. This can help with feelings of anxiety, stress, and fear. Almonds are one of the most convenient sources of GABA, but it is also found in wheat bran, halibut, and bananas.



If you aren’t a fan of the foods mentioned above, you can also opt for avocados, blueberries, dark chocolate (yas!) pistachios, or green tea. All of these are easy to snack on and incorporate into your diet.

Does all this information make you feel a bit overwhelmed? You can also chat with a registered dietitian about how to eat your way to less stress, one bite at a time.

About the Author

Tracy Lockwood Beckerman, MS, RD, CDN

Registered Dietitian