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The Role of Diet in Stress Management

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"The Role of Diet in Stress Management"
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One of the keys to stress management is to maintain a healthy diet rich in a variety of nutrients including certain foods that actually help to lower stress levels.  One might wonder how eating foods can help relieve stress and the answer lies partly in how certain foods affect levels of serotonin, adrenaline, and cortisol.  There are some foods that raise levels of the calming hormone, serotonin.  This hormone is created in the brain thanks to B vitamins and the amino acid tryptophan, according to MedicineNet.  On the other hand, cortisol and adrenaline are related to stress and will actually decrease the level of serotonin.  Certain foods will help to lower the levels of cortisol.


All carbohydrates trigger the creation of serotonin, but complex carbohydrates will generate a steady supply, while simple carbohydrates will produce only short-term relief with a quick spike of serotonin.  Complex carbohydrates provide the body with vitamins, fiber, minerals, and phytochemicals and are also better for stress management as the blood sugar levels in the body will remain relatively stabilized since these foods digest fairly slowly.   Some examples of complex carbohydrates include whole grain breads, cereals, fruits, vegetables, pasta, oatmeal, etc.

Vitamin C

The vitamin C found in citrus fruits, broccoli, kiwi, blueberries, strawberries, peppers, etc.  not only helps the immune system, but it also lowers the level of stress hormones in the body.  One study found that taking a vitamin C supplement prior to a stressful event helped to return cortisol and blood pressure to normal levels quicker than without the supplement.


Spinach, cooked soybeans, and salmon are all foods that are high in magnesium.  According to WebMD this nutrient is helpful in controlling cortisol, but it does need to be replenished regularly.  A deficiency in magnesium may even cause stress by generating fatigue and headaches.

Omega-3 fatty acids

This type of fatty acids found in fatty fish like salmon, flaxseeds, canola oil, etc. helps to protect the body from heart disease while controlling stress hormone levels.  Scientists have found links between omega-3 fatty acids and depression as this condition is not as often found in areas where omega-3’s are a common part of the diet and it has been observed that depressed individuals have lower levels of this nutrient in the body.  A serving of a food containing omega-3 fatty acids should be eaten at least twice a week for optimum health. 

Black Tea

While coffee can boost levels of stressful cortisol, tea has been shown to lower cortisol levels and helps the individual to remain calmer.  The study that demonstrated these beneficial aspects of black tea studied patients who drank four cups of tea every day for six weeks.


These nuts help with stress management by lowering blood pressure.  This means that eating pistachios daily will help to make sure that blood pressure will not reach as high as it might otherwise during a stressful situation.


Food high in potassium like avocados and bananas are good for helping to manage stress as this nutrient also helps to lower blood pressure.


These nuts are beneficial for several reasons.  First, they contain vitamin E which strengthens the immune system in addition to B vitamins that help the body handle stress.  To receive the full benefits of this food, one serving of one quarter of a cup should be consumed daily.

Raw Veggies

Eating crunchy raw vegetables is not only a great addition to a healthy diet, but chewing crunchy food can actually help to release a clenched jaw that may lead to a tension headache.

Food before bed

While a heavy meal before bedtime is unhealthy for several reasons including triggering heartburn; a small snack of carbohydrates will create serotonin and will likely lead to better sleep.

St. John’s wort

Most herbal supplements have not been studied extensively, but St. John’s wort has shown some promise in helping those with depression or anxiety.


Caffeine will stimulate the body, but may then bring energy levels crashing down.  One researcher found that some patients who were sensitive to caffeine experienced an improvement in energy level and mood after cutting caffeine from the diet.

Eating habits

Skipping meals like breakfast can negatively affect moods and can trigger food cravings.  On the other hand, adding a snack or two during the day can offer the body more consistent levels of energy which helps with fatigue and stress.


Drinking alcohol, especially to excessive levels will contribute to stress rather than reduce it.

While a healthy diet is important, it is important to make other lifestyle changes to help manage stress.  These changes include regular exercise, meditation, massage, and even support groups.  Getting an adequate amount of sleep at night is also vital to a healthy routine.  All health related concerns should always be brought to a medical professional.

More about this author: Alanna Rose

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