21 Best Foods to Eat When You're Stressed, According to Dietitians
A staggering (but unsurprising) 83 percent of adults reported experiencing moderate to high levels of stress in the past year, according to the American Psychological Association. If you resonate with those numbers, as the majority of us do, you'll be relieved to know that a simple solution lies in your kitchen.
While many of us reach for a bag of potato chips or a candy bar to beat the blues, salt- and sugar-ridden foods will likely do our bodies more harm than good. To help you nix stress, we've consulted registered dietitians to discover the go-to foods that reduce stress. Find out what these eats are and how they're proven to help you feel at ease. Read on, and for more on how to eat healthy, you won't want to miss these 21 Best Healthy Cooking Hacks of All Time.
"When I am stressed, I reach for warming foods or beverages. I find foods at these temperatures are very soothing and calming. Often, I reach for tea as I find it to be a bit of a ritual (calming to the mind). Heat the water, steep the tea bag, and then cup your hands around the mug and sip slowly. I tend to reach for two types of teas during anxious periods. Peppermint tea is my first choice, as the menthol in the tea is a natural muscle relaxant. We often tense up in response to stress, and it is naturally caffeine-free. Chamomile is also a calming tea that helps assist in sleep, relaxing muscles, and reducing irritability. I like to add cinnamon to my chamomile tea as that warming spice really helps me feel comfortable."
— Amy Shapiro MS, RD, CDN, of Real Nutrition NYC
"I can't drink too much coffee when I'm stressed because it makes me jittery. I swap out coffee for matcha green tea—it feels soothing and is an upper sans the jitters."
— Lauren Slayton, MS, RD
"I love reishi tea. It's caffeine-free, feels good to drink, and studies show it may help to boost 'feel good' feelings while possessing anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory, and immune-boosting properties. I like Four Sigmatic Reishi elixir!"
— Isabel Smith, MS, RD, CDN
Nuts & Nut Butter
"When I'm feeling stressed, my initial reaction is to reach for carb-rich snacks. That's a common reaction among people since carbs release dopamine in the brain, which tends to make you feel better. However, if I can acknowledge that I'm stressed, I usually try to eat nuts or nut butter instead. Not only have nuts been linked to living longer, but they are also rich in healthy fats and protein, both of which help fill me up so I'm not reaching for another snack an hour later. Eating something that curbs my hunger usually takes away some of the stress from my day (I hate feeling hungry and stressed!). The only downside is that the serving size of nuts and nut butter is rather small, so I need to be cognizant of how much I'm eating and try to keep it to one serving."
— Natalie Rizzo, MS, RD
"It's common for us to turn to sweets when we're stressed. I opt for a piece of dark chocolate that contains 70 percent or more cocoa. Dark chocolate releases serotonin (a neurotransmitter) in our brains, which can improve mood and feelings of relaxation."
— Lauren Manganiello, MS, RD, CDN, CPT
"In the midst of a stressful day, feeding myself and my family can feel very overwhelming. Thankfully, blueberries are the perfect, stress-free food to enjoy because they are grab-and-go and make me feel good. At only 80 calories per cup and naturally sweet, I can add them to a smoothie in the morning for my whole family to enjoy, pack them as a super easy and healthy snack for my kids' lunch, or even serve them as a side or dessert. They are a simple solution to help meet the recommended amount of fruits per day. They are available year-round and give us great nutrition like vitamin C and fiber. My stress level goes down when I know I have blueberries in my fridge and freezer."
— Jenna Braddock, MSH, RDN, CSSD, LD/N, and spokesperson for the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council
"I love lavender tea and have used it as a remedy for busting stress for years. Lavender has long been known for its therapeutic properties including relaxation by calming the central nervous system. The combination of the aromatherapy from the hot cup and the internal feeling of overall relaxation makes lavender tea my go-to beverage in times of stress."
— Maya Feller, MS, RD, CDN
"When I feel anxious or stressed, my go-to snack choices are always a crunchy, salty snack like smoked almonds or popcorn, especially truffle-flavored. Research shows that crunchy foods help us relax when we are angry or stressed. Plus, indulgent flavors like truffle always make me happy and get me out of that funk without sacrificing nutrition. Nuts are real whole foods that satisfy both the mind and body due to their natural fiber, fat, and protein content, while popcorn also gives us a dose of healthy fats and fiber, and allows us to eat plenty of volume, which always makes it a better snack food!"
— Laura Burak, MS, RD, CDN
"On days when I'm feeling stressed or anxious, I reach for omega-3-rich foods, like grilled salmon. Omega-3s are essential fatty acids that help our bodies produce serotonin, the chemical that helps us feel happier and calmer. Another perk to soothing with salmon is that omega-3s help counter the physical effects of chronic stress, particularly by reducing inflammation and boosting blood flow. For a double-dose calming meal, pair that grilled salmon with folate-rich spinach, which boosts the production of calming dopamine."
— Rima Kleiner, MS, RD
"The amino acid tryptophan, found in protein-rich foods such as turkey, helps produce serotonin, the chemical that regulates hunger and produces feelings of happiness and well-being."
— Joelle Malinowski, RD, CDE, CDN
Open-Faced Cheese Sandwich
"When I am feeling stressed, satisfying my need for carbs can help. I'll take a slice of whole-grain bread (or a Greek barley rusk), sprinkle a bit of cheese like feta, drizzle it with olive oil, and add a few slices of tomato. Whole-grain carbohydrates and cheese can indirectly increase production of serotonin. In addition, whole-grain bread keeps my blood-sugar levels stable, which also plays a role in mood and energy control. The extra-virgin olive oil I drizzle on top makes it all the more enjoyable, but it is also a source of good monounsaturated fats plus antioxidants. Plus, studies have shown that EVOO is associated with better mood."
— Elena Paravantes, RDN, writer and consultant specializing in the Greek Mediterranean Diet and Cuisine
"Hummus, savory and satiating, is made of legumes that are rich in good-mood nutrients, including folate, magnesium, zinc, and fiber that help keep you full."
— Moe Schlachter, RD, LD
"The monounsaturated fat and antioxidants in avocados help optimize circulation, which contributes to better blood flow to the brain. Avocados also supply antioxidants and 20 different vitamins and minerals, including key nutrients tied to mood, like folate, B6, and potassium."
— Cynthia Sass, RD, CSSD
"Edamame is a good source of plant-based protein and magnesium, both of which are helpful during stress. When a person is stressed, they want to avoid heavy, greasy, and processed foods. Foods should be purposeful, satisfying, and easy to digest. Edamame is a great option and low-maintenance to prepare. It is also low in fat and dense in nutrients. A person could buy shelled edamame in the fresh or frozen section of a grocery store and quickly steam or boil it into a smart snack or part of a meal."
— Ilana Muhlstein, MS, RDN, and co-creator of the 2B Mindset nutrition program
"I regularly add CBD to my morning smoothie. Research around CBD is still underway, but we know that it is very high in antioxidants and is a potent anti-inflammatory. And many people, including myself, find that it helps keep emotions in check and manage life's inevitable stress. I really like MedTerra's CBD tincture because it's tasteless."
— Sheri Kasper, RDN, LDN
Frozen Fruit Pops
"When I get stressed, instead of downing something like a bag of chips, I like to grab Chloe's frozen fruit pop. There is no way to overeat it (it's portion-controlled and too cold to eat quickly… hello, brain freeze!). The strawberry flavor is organic without added sugar, yet tastes just as good as candy or other sweet stuff I may normally grab. It satisfies my sweet tooth, is refreshing, and gives me some real fruit, too!"
— Lauren Manaker, MS, RDN, LD
"Kombucha isn't a drink that you chug, but one that you sip slowly and mindfully. It has an unusual flavor and each batch tastes differently. I like to analyze the flavor as I am drinking it. I also view it as a treat. I buy a large bottle and pour it in a stemless wine glass for cocktail hour. While the act of drinking the kombucha calms my anxiety at the moment, it also nourishes the gut, which is intricately linked to the brain and, therefore, mood. Over time, having a healthy gut microbiome supported by fermented foods, like kombucha, can help reduce chronic stress and anxiety."
— Ashley Reaver, MS, RD, CSSD
"Homemade, hand-cut fries sprinkled with salt and baked are a healthier alternative to fast-food while still providing the stress-relief benefits of consuming carbohydrates. We tend to crave carbs when we are stressed because they help produce the amino acid tryptophan in the brain. Tryptophan is a precursor for the release of the neurotransmitter serotonin, which aids in mood stabilization to make you feel calm and relaxed."
— Jim White RDN, ACSM EX-P, Owner of Jim White Fitness and Nutrition Studios
"Tulsi tea is often paired with ginger, rose, or lemon. The herb tulsi supposedly boasts a balancing effect on hormones and stress. I also find drinking tea to be a relaxing experience: I put it in my favorite mug and take time to savor it. The type of tea matters, but the ritual of drinking it also helps."
— Jill Nussinow, MS, RDN
"Vitamin C intake has been found to lower the stress hormone cortisol as well as help reduce blood pressure during stressful situations. In fact, studies have found that people with higher levels of vitamin C in their blood were likely to bounce back from a stressful situation faster than those with lower levels of vitamin C. Boost your daily intake of vitamin C with an 8-ounce glass of 100 percent orange juice or an orange."
— Holley Grainger, MS, RD
"I keep a stash of frozen grapes in my freezer. Grapes are a natural source of antioxidants and other polyphenols. Enjoying them frozen helps you consume them more slowly, which is a welcome break during times of high stress."
— Marisa Moore, MBA, RDN, LD
For more ways to relieve stress, pair these foods with these 20 Ways to Strip Away Stress.