12 Foods that Fight Stress

by Amanda Page Editor

It’s no surprise that when you eat well, you feel well. While eating a healthy and well-balanced diet is essential, your diet can also be modified to help target physical and emotional states. Here’s a look at foods that can help you fight stress.


Oats are a complex carb that helps boost serotonin levels in the brain. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter responsible for boosting mood and relaxation. Antidepressants such as Prozac work by increasing serotonin levels. While all carbs will have this effect, a whole-grain cereal, bread or pasta takes longer to digest and will have longer lasting effects.

Low-fat cottage cheese

Low-fat cottage cheese is loaded with protein and calcium and is low in fat and sugar. The calcium helps strengthen and relax the nervous system and can help you manage stress. Make sure to pick a brand of cottage cheese that doesn’t compensate for the low fat level by adding starches, fillers and sugars, as these can be bad for your stress and your waistline.


Recent research has shown that ginger can aid in pain relief, including stress headaches. Ginger contains the antioxidant gingerol, which fights bad chemicals in our bodies that lead to psychological and physical stress. Ginger has also been found to help relieve motion sickness, an upset stomach, respiratory problems and menstrual discomfort. Don’t like the taste? Try diffusing it in tea, or even aromatherapy.

Simple carbs

That’s right! Tasty treats are called comfort foods for a reason. Candy, soda, and bakery goods should be avoided for plenty of health reasons, but there is no denying that they sometimes hit the spot for a temporary fix. The simple sugars are digested quickly, which causes a spike in serotonin. But it doesn’t last long, so don’t make it a habit.


Avocados are a great source of potassium, containing twice as much as a banana. Increasing potassium intake is an ideal way to lower blood pressure, which spikes when we are stressed. The downside is that those rich avocados are high in fat and calories, so make sure you exercise portion control.


This vegetable is packed with a lot of vitamins including stress-fighting B vitamins and folic acid (a member of the B vitamin family). These nutrients relieve stress, anxiety, and depression.


A prime culprit behind irritability, indigestion, fatigue and stress is having a deficit of magnesium. Just one cup of spinach can have a significant impact on magnesium levels. Other sources of magnesium include soybeans, salmon, tempeh and walnuts.


Selenium deficiency is associated with depression, fatigue and anxiety. Nuts such as almonds are an excellent source of selenium, magnesium, zinc and Vitamin E, which all help boost your immune system. A small handful of nuts per day is the recommended dose. Alternative sources of selenium include Shiitake mushrooms, tuna and salmon.


You probably know that oranges are highly regarded for their bounty of vitamin C. But you may not have known that vitamin C, in addition to boosting the immune system, can curb levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Berries, including raspberries and blueberries, are also excellent sources of vitamin C.


Omega-3 fatty acids found in salmon and tuna can help balance stress hormones, fight heart disease and tame mood swings. Aim to eat three ounces of fatty fish at least two times a week. Not a seafood fan? Try adding flaxseed to your morning yogurt.

Bedtime foods

Inadequate sleep is both a cause for and a product of stress. Try eating “bedtime foods” to help ensure a good night’s rest. Eat a slice of whole wheat toast before bed. The carbs can boost serotonin levels, which will help you relax and fall asleep more quickly. Or have a glass of milk. Its calcium can sooth anxiety and calm mood swings.

Herbal remedies

While there is insufficient research to support their effectiveness, many people swear by the relaxation benefits of herbal remedies such as St. John’s wort. This natural remedy is believed to reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression by balancing neurotransmitters. Other natural stress remedies include ginseng, oatstraw tea, lemon balm tea, chamomile tea, reishi mushrooms and guarana.

Amanda Page
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Amanda Page

Amanda was an editor and graphic designer for HealthCentral.