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Healthy Foods to Combat Stress

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Healthy Foods to Combat Stress

Stress is a normal part of life, but how we handle it makes a difference in our overall health. Exercise, sleep and relaxation are well-known strategies to help manage stress, but research shows foods can also play a role in controlling the tension and pressure of daily life.
Foods containing vitamin B12, vitamin C, magnesium and the amino acid tryptophan may help combat stress. Try incorporating some of these key foods into your diet to tame stress.
Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 plays an important role in the production of brain chemicals that affect mood and fight stress. Foods high in B12 include:

  • Salmon

  • Shrimp

  • Scallops

  • Turkey

  • Skim milk

  • Eggs

Tip: Plow through a hectic day with a satisfying, high protein lunch: a bowl of leafy greens topped with grilled salmon, tossed lightly in balsamic vinegar and olive oil and finished off with slow-burning carbohydrates such as beans or edamame.
Vitamin C

Vitamin C can decrease levels of stress hormones and boost the immune system. Good sources include:

  • Red bell peppers

  • Strawberries

  • Brussels sprouts

  • Oranges

  • Broccoli

  • Pineapple

  • Cauliflower

Tip: For parties and family gatherings, serve a veggie platter piled high with sweet red bell peppers, broccoli florets and crunchy cauliflower. Serve with a savory Greek yogurt dip.

Magnesium can ease anxiety. It is necessary for nerve conduction and plays a role in electrolyte balance, which affects the nervous system. Too little magnesium can cause headaches and fatigue. Good sources of magnesium include:

  • Spinach

  • Pumpkin seeds

  • Soy beans

  • Dark chocolate

  • Bananas

Tip: Recharge your battery with a snack break in the afternoon and enjoy a handful (1 oz.) of toasted pumpkin seeds and a small piece of dark chocolate.

Increasing brain serotonin may improve your ability to cope with stress. To manufacture serotonin, our bodies need the amino acid tryptophan. Sources of tryptophan include:

  • Milk                                                    

  • Yogurt

  • Soymilk

  • Cashews

  • Walnuts

  • Oats

  • Brown rice

  • Avocados

  • Apples

  • Bananas

Tip: Start your day with a bowl of warm oatmeal, cooked in low-fat milk and topped with walnuts and sliced apples. Sprinkle with cinnamon or nutmeg.
Other tips to manage stress through nutrition and lifestyle:

  • Try to limit mindless nibbling on simple carbs, including candy and desserts, which can cause a spike in serotonin levels that provides short-lived energy. Instead, reach for “slow-burning,” high-fiber carbs, such as fresh fruit, or healthy brain-powering fats, such as nuts.

  • Drink black tea to help you recover from stressful events more quickly by lowering cortisol levels.

  • Crunch on raw vegetables to help ease stress. Munching on celery or carrot sticks helps release a tensed jaw, which can in turn ward off tension.

  • Enjoy fatty fish–salmon, tuna, mackerel–at least twice a week for the omega-3 fatty acids that can help prevent surges in stress hormones.

  • Try to get adequate sleep and rest (7-8 hours/night) to reduce stress hormones, such as cortisol, that can spike you hunger levels.

  • Stay active throughout the day and make time to exercise during the holidays–even a quick 10-minute walk can lower stress levels.

For more information about Cooper Clinic Nutrition Services, visit or call 972.560.2655.

Article provided by Elana Paddock, RDN, LD, CDE, Cooper Clinic Nutrition Services