Ugh… The moment you miss an exit and are already late. Stressful!  Stress is an unavoidable part of our strained and hectic lives today. It occurs when psychological or physical demands (whether perceived or real) exceed our ability to cope. Some people experience stress in the form of nervousness or headaches while others get muscle tightening or stomach upset. Long-term stress may cause anxiety or depression and contribute to chronic disease.  

The effects of stress are two-fold: in behavior we react (e.g. stress eating) rather than respond; while physiologically our bodies produce greater amounts of the hormone cortisol. Both can contribute to nasty weight gain. But take heart – and breathe! In addition to relaxation techniques and other therapies, proper nutrition can combat stress. We offer this list of consumables that either reduce/interrupt the perception of stress or mitigate the harmful effects of stress: 


Studies suggest that 1-2 ounces of dark chocolate (60-70% cacao) daily reduces stress levels and inflammation.1 Part of the effect may be that cacao’s flavonoids affect the brain’s sensory perception and mood, easing emotional stress.  


Oats can reduce stress hormone levels and boost serotonin to promote a feeling of calmness.2 Soluble fibers like fructo-oligosaccharides may boost mood since their effect on gut bacteria influences neurotransmitter systems. 


In addition to having a stimulating aroma, citrus is rich in flavonoids which may increase cerebral blood flow and increase neural activity. Vitamin C and potassium-rich foods also improve blood pressure3 and boost the immune system, combatting chronic stress.4 


Various compounds in walnuts like polyphenols, tocopherols, polyunsaturated fatty acids (including omega-3 fatty acids3) may reduce oxidative stress and curb release of stress hormones. Walnuts are also a good source of B-vitamins which promote resilience during bouts of stress.4 


Nutrition experts recommend eating more legumes, fish, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables to reduce vulnerability to stress and decrease the effects of oxidative stress.5,6  


Knowing what you’re going to eat takes away uncertainty, eliminates ‘decision fatigue’ and creates predictability, reducing stress. Structured diets function the same way. Consider how much less complicated it is to eat and simply enjoy your meal when the decision (of what, how much and when) has already been made! 


Certain compounds in herbal plants may mediate the adaptive stress response, helping to increase the body’s tolerance to stress by stimulating stress-protective responses, such as normalizing cortisol levels.7 Two observed adaptogens are Ashwagandha root and tulsi, though there is limited scientific evidence for their effectiveness. *  


If exploring nature and connecting with the earth can relieve stress, then picking your foods from a farm stand or straight from the garden may help. It follows also that dining ‘al fresco‘ will reduce stress — think of breathing in that fresh air!  

Whether you modify your eating habits or incorporate stress-reducing foods, bolster those nutritional defenses with other stress-fighters like getting adequate sleep, exercise, keeping a positive attitude and practicing time management. 

*The National Institutes of Health National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health emphasizes caution with using herbal remedies. They are best used short-term, for a few weeks. 


  1. Dark Chocolate, Health, and Stress Relief. Elizabeth Scott. 6/14/2018. Accessed 2/26/2019 
  2. Eat Right, Drink Well, Stress Less: Stress-Reducing Foods, Herbal Supplements, and Teas. Accessed 2/26/2019 
  3. Eat Right, Drink Well, Stress Less: Stress-Reducing Foods, Herbal Supplements, and Teas. Accessed 2/26/2019  
  4. Foods that Help Tame Stress.  Accessed 2/26/2019 
  5. What to Eat to Beat Stress All Day Long, According to a Registered Dietitian. Jessica Cording. 6/25/2018. Accessed 2/26/2019 
  6. How Food Can Affect Your Mood. Karen Jamrog. November 2018. Accessed 2/26/2019  
  7. Exploring Adaptogenic Herbs. Vicki Shanta Retelny. 10/5/2017. Food & Nutrition magazine. Accessed 2/26/2019 

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