Foods That Help Reduce Stress

Foods That Help Reduce Stress

In the quest to lower stress levels, many focus on self-care, sleep management, and exercise. Yet, the impact of diet on stress often goes overlooked. Dietitian Courtney Barth, MS, RDN, LD, CPT, emphasizes the significant role that certain foods play in reducing cortisol levels, the primary hormone associated with stress.

Cortisol, often dubbed the "stress hormone," serves various critical functions, including regulating sleep cycles, reducing inflammation, managing blood sugar, and controlling blood pressure. While cortisol aids in coping with short-term stressors, prolonged elevation of cortisol levels can lead to increased inflammation and heightened blood pressure, counteracting its beneficial effects.

The Role of Diet in Stress Reduction

Barth advocates for an anti-inflammatory diet, such as the Mediterranean diet, to lower cortisol levels and promote overall wellness. This diet comprises fish, poultry, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats—foods known for their stress-relieving properties.

Stress-Relieving Foods

  • Foods High in Vitamin B: Rich in B vitamins, including vitamin B12, aid in cortisol metabolism. Incorporate beef, chicken, eggs, fortified cereal, and nutritional yeast into your diet for stress reduction. Vitamin B-rich foods support stress management and contribute to overall energy levels and cognitive function.
  • Omega-3 Fatty Acid-Rich Foods: Omega-3 fatty acids combat inflammation, with fatty fish being an excellent source. Additionally, include avocados, chia seeds, flax seeds, walnuts, and olive oil in your meals. These foods alleviate stress and promote heart health and cognitive function.
  • Magnesium-rich foods: Magnesium reduces inflammation, metabolizes cortisol, and promotes relaxation. Avocados, bananas, dark chocolate, pumpkin seeds, and spinach are magnesium-rich options for your diet. Magnesium not only aids in stress reduction but also supports muscle function and bone health.
  • Protein-Rich Foods: Meat, fish, poultry, beans, and legumes help maintain balanced blood sugar levels, which is essential for stress management. Opt for almonds, chicken breast, lentils, peanuts, quinoa, turkey breast, and salmon. Protein-rich foods provide a sustained energy source and promote satiety, aiding stress resilience throughout the day.
  • Gut-Healthy Foods: Probiotic-rich and fermented foods support gut health, influencing immune function and stress response. Incorporate Greek yogurt, kefir, kimchi, kombucha, and sauerkraut into your diet for overall well-being. A healthy gut microbiome enhances stress resilience and promotes immune function and mental health.

Quick Stress-Relief Options

While stress management through food requires consistency, magnesium-rich foods offer immediate assistance in unwinding. Pumpkin seeds and dark chocolate, with at least 90% cacao content, serve as convenient options for relaxation. Indulging in these treats at the end of a hectic day can promote relaxation and improve sleep quality.

Foods to Avoid

Certain foods, such as alcohol, caffeine, high-sugar items, and simple carbohydrates, can elevate cortisol levels and exacerbate stress. Limiting their consumption supports stress reduction efforts and promotes overall well-being. Instead, opt for nutrient-dense alternatives that nourish your body and mind.

Consistency in meal timing is vital for regulating blood sugar levels and reducing stress. Skipping meals can induce stress on the body, emphasizing the importance of regular, balanced eating habits. Aim for meals that incorporate a balance of macronutrients—protein, carbohydrates, and fats—to sustain energy levels and promote satiety.

Prioritizing Overall Wellness

While stress-relieving foods offer significant benefits, holistic stress management involves exercise, adequate sleep, and chronic disease management. A comprehensive approach to well-being ensures optimal stress reduction and overall health. By prioritizing self-care practices and nourishing your body with nutrient-rich foods, you empower yourself to navigate life's challenges with resilience and vitality.


Nutrition plays a pivotal role in stress management, offering a tangible means of promoting wellness. Incorporating stress-relieving foods into your diet and prioritizing holistic well-being empowers your body to navigate stress more effectively. Remember, nutrition is within your control when it comes to health, providing a foundation for resilience and vitality.