Breathing exercises, essential oils, and even spending ten minutes petting a furry friend can all help lessen the physiological effects of stress. Something else that can work in your favor: snacking—if you choose the right type of foods.
According to food mindfulness expert Geneen Roth, when someone is stressed, they tend to gravitate toward sugary, carb-loaded snacks because, simply put, they’re more pleasurable than noshing on veggies, and when you’re stressed, you want something comforting.
Traditional comfort foods (oh hey, mac and cheese) aren’t necessarily bad, but registered dietitian Brynn McDowell, RD says there are lots of other healthy options that still hit that pleasure point—while providing additional benefits to your body to combat the effects of stress. Rounded up here are seven science-backed foods that reduce stress:
Why it’s good for stress: What can’t avocado do, honestly? Avocado is high in fiber, which can help control blood sugar—preventing the spikes and crashes that can affect one’s mood and anxiety—and is rich in brain-supporting nutrients. “The avocado is rich in B vitamins which play a role in nerve and brain cell functioning,” McDowell says.
How to eat it: Avocado toast, of course. “This trendy food deserves all its popularity in my opinion, especially as a good option to grab when you are stressed,” McDowell says. “The whole grain bread will help stabilize blood sugar levels and the fiber [in the avocado] keeps you full and satiated.”
Why it’s good for stress: “The probiotics in yogurt may help repair the inflammation that stress can cause to your gut,” McDowell says. “Plus, it’s a good source of calcium and protein.”
How to eat it: McDowell loves making a simple parfait by taking Greek yogurt and topping it with blueberries for sweetness and an extra antioxidant boost—she says it’s one of her favorite stress snacks.
Why it’s good for stress: A cruciferous vegetable native to Peru, maca is adaptogenic, which means it supports your adrenals—the glands that manage your hormonal response to stress—to help you cope with anxiety and fatigue. A major bonus and not so coincidental: It’s also a libido-booster.
How to eat it: Maca has a slightly nutty taste and because you’ll likely be getting it in powder form, it’s best to mix it in something, such as a hot mug of low-sugar cocoa or avocado-based vegan ice cream.
Why they’re good for stress: Vitamin C (of which oranges have a lot), has been found to lower anxiety levels, which is often triggered by stress. It also helps to keep your immune system on point, something that can definitely weaken in times of stress. Even the smell of citrus is linked to feeling happier, so just the act of eating oranges (or smelling some citrus essential oil) could help calm your nerves.
How to eat it: Add a few slices to your yogurt—which you already know helps the body fight stress. Or, use some segments to brighten up a lunchtime salad.
5. Sweet potatoes
Why it’s good for stress: Complex carbs, like sweet potatoes, also work to keep blood sugar levels steady, which is essential to staying clear-minded during stressful times. They also cause the brain to amp up its production of happiness-boosting serotonin.
Why it’s good for stress: Think of oats as a good supporting player in your fight against stress. Like avocados, oats are high in fiber, which can help keep your blood sugar even (along with your mood). They’re also rich in B vitamins, which are crucial for maintaining energy and improving brain health.
How to eat it: If you’re sick of oatmeal, try using oat milk to make a piping hot golden milk latte or noshing on some oat-based granola.
7. Dark chocolate
Why it’s good for stress: Yes, chocolate can be a healthy snack to turn to in times of stress—as long as you keep it dark. “In 2018, Loma Linda University shared research showing that dark chocolate—with at least 70 percent cacao—can have positive effects on stress levels and mood,” McDowell pointed out.
How to eat it: A couple squares of dark chocolate on its own are bound to give you a mood boost.
So yes, taking a few deep breaths can help reduce stress. Absolutely. But a couple squares of dark chocolate can work its own magic, too.