Feeling stressed, anxious, or depressed can take a toll on your mental health. There are several ways to manage negative emotions, such as therapy or meditation, but you can also use food and nutrition to boost your mood.
Discover 13 stress-relieving foods to incorporate into your diet that will help you reduce stress, boost your energy, and improve your overall well-being.
1. Chamomile Tea
Chamomile is a sunny herb that has been used for thousands of years for its calming and soothing effects. Chamomile was often associated with the sun, brightness, and happiness in ancient cultures, hinting at its uplifting properties.
Chamomile contains anti-inflammatory properties that help reduce anxiety and stress in the body. A 2009 clinical trial found that German chamomile, Matricaria Recutita, reduced symptoms of Generalized Anxiety Disorder over a placebo control.
If you are looking for a simple way to reduce stress, try making a cup of chamomile tea in the evening while you practice mindful reading. The herb’s properties should help you relax and unwind.
Omega-3s are essential fatty acids that your body needs to run properly. Two important omega-3 fatty acids are DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid). EPA and DHA are both found in salmon and have been shown to have beneficial effects in combating depression.
A 3 three-ounce serving of salmon contains approximately 1,240 mg of DHA and 590 mg of EPA, making it a great source of essential omega-3 fatty acids. A 2011 randomized controlled trial showed that both DHA and EPA were able to reduce anxiety symptoms in participating by 20%.
Aim to eat three to four ounces of salmon a few times per week. This can help you keep a clear head, improve your mood, and reduce your daily levels of stress.
3. Chia Seeds
Chia seeds are a fascinating food that comes from Salvia hispanica, a desert plant found in Central America. Chia seeds are an excellent food for relieving stress, as they are high in omega-3s, antioxidants, protein, and fiber.
One ounce of chia seeds contains approximately 5,060 mg of ALA (Alpha-linolenic acid), another essential omega-3 fatty acid that can help with symptoms of depression and anxiety.
A 2020 review found people who routinely eat foods high in fiber showed a reduced risk of developing symptoms of depression and anxiety. Since chia seeds contain around 10 grams of fiber per ounce, this makes them an excellent option for a daily fiber source.
To incorporate chia seeds into your diet, try mixing them in with oatmeal or smoothies. Alternatively, you try making chia seed pudding which can be made to suit any flavor profile. See the video below for a few fun recipe options.
Turmeric is a spice that is made from grinding up the root of the Curcuma longa plant. It is most commonly used in Middle Eastern and Asian dishes and is one of the main ingredients in the popular drink “golden milk”.
Curcumin is one of the major components of turmeric and is thought to aid in stress and anxiety relief. Curcumin boosts DHA levels in the brain, which improves mental functions and processes.
A 2015 randomized controlled trial found that anxiety scores were lowered by just one gram of curcumin per day.
You can get curcumin by ingesting turmeric as a daily supplement or incorporating it into your weekly diet. Most sources suggest 2,000 mg or less of turmeric per day, which is about 1 tsp.
It may not surprise you that chocolate is considered a stress-relieving food. Many people joke about eating chocolate when they feel stressed, and there's a good reason.
Dark chocolate, which is chocolate that contains around 70% or more pure cocoa, contains antioxidant compounds called flavonoids. A 2017 article in Frontiers in Nutrition posited that these flavanols increase blood flow and have neuroprotective properties.
Like omega-3s, these can actually help you feel less stressed and more cognizant when making decisions throughout your day. To benefit from chocolate’s antioxidant properties for stress relief, opt for the darkest chocolate you can stand. Aim for a small 1 to 1.5 ounce square as a daily treat.
6. Green Tea
Green tea is an easy-to-consume stress reducer with several brain health properties. Most notably, green tea contains L-theanine. L-theanine is an amino acid that is connected to anxiety reduction, mood stabilization, and brain health.
A 2016 double-blind, randomized study showed that people who consumed L-theanine had lower feelings of stress and decreased cortisol levels. L-theanine found in green tea may also enhance dopamine, GABA, and serotonin production, adding to its uplifting properties.
To get a daily dose of L-theanine, brew a cup of green tea in the mornings for an alternative to your typical morning latte. Stay away from green tea in the evenings, however, as it contains as much caffeine as a cup of coffee.
Oats are a great food to eat to improve your body’s digestive functioning and positively impact the gut-brain connection. One cup of raw oats contains around 8 grams of fiber, which aids in digestion and can help boost your mood.
Raw whole oats and steel-cut oats are best, as they take longer to digest than quick-cooking kinds. This helps keep your energy levels and insulin production stable. Stable blood sugar often manifests as an improved mood, with fewer feelings of stress and irritability.
Try making healthy energy bites with raw oats, nut butter, seeds, and a sweetener. You can also opt for sweet or savory oatmeal with healthy toppings like berries and nuts.
Berries of any kind are a great addition to your daily diet for stress reduction. Most berries contain high levels of antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals who are linked to lower instances of depression and anxiety.
A 2018 review suggested that phenolic compounds found in berries reduce oxidative stress which can aid in mental well-being.
A separate 2018 study found that people who consumed high levels of phenolic acid and anthocyanins, a pigment found in blue-purple berries, showed a reduced risk of depression symptoms.
Increase your berry consumption by eating a wide variety of berries such as:
- Goji berries
Although cherries are not technically berries, they too can help you relieve stress. Cherries contain melatonin, a hormone found in the human body that helps regulate sleep. Getting the right amount of sleep is essential to your mental health, so add cherries in with your berries.
9. Hemp Hearts
Hemp hearts are part of the seeds that come from Cannabis sativa, or hemp plant. Hemp hearts are soft in texture and nutty in flavor and can be used as a topping on salads, toast, or oatmeal.
Hemp hearts are an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids, which are great for improving brain function and cardiovascular health. Three tablespoons of hemp hearts contain approximately 2,600 mg of the stress-relieving omega-3 ALA and 9.48 grams of protein.
Hemp hearts are an easy add-on to your daily diet. Top your nut-butter toast with a sprinkle of hemp hearts or mix it into a bowl of savory or sweet oatmeal.
You can also top salads with hemp hearts or even sprinkle them onto a small bowl of berries as a fun topping.
Eggs are a great food for relieving anxiety, stress, and overwhelm. These nutrient powerhouses contain essential amino acids that help your body produce serotonin and dopamine which are feel-good neurotransmitters in the brain. A 2020 article mentions that a moderate intake of eggs is associated with a decreased risk of depressive symptoms.
One egg contains Vitamins A, B5, B12, B2, B6, D, E, K, folate, phosphorus, selenium, calcium, and zinc.
All of these nutrients work together to create a healthier brain and body which can improve wellness and mental health. Aim to eat one or two eggs every day or so to give your brain a boost of helpful nutrients.
Yogurt, along with other probiotic foods like sauerkraut, kombucha, kimchi, and kefir, is wonderful for reducing mental stress and anxiety. Probiotics work to improve your gut health, which influences your mood through the gut-brain axis.
A 2013 study found that people who consumed around 8 ounces of yogurt a day showed better brain function and emotional regulation after four weeks.
To give your mind a stress-relieving boost, incorporate yogurt into your daily or weekly food routine. Look for yogurt with live active cultures for the most probiotic benefits.
There’s a reason that Popeye showed superpowers after eating his spinach.
Spinach is a leafy green vegetable that can be eaten as part of a salad, thrown into smoothies, or wilted into soups or side dishes. It contains numerous vitamins like A, C, and K, as well as minerals like folate, iron, potassium, and magnesium which are great for your mind and body.
In relation to stress-relieving properties, a 2018 study on mice concluded that spinach contains anti-stress and antidepressant properties. An article from Harvard Health relayed that the magnesium in spinach can also have a calming effect on one’s mood.
Try adding spinach to your diet by tossing a few baby spinach leaves into a salad mix or smoothie. You can also get your daily spinach by taking a greens supplement.
If you are a coffee fan, you’ll be happy to know that this popular beverage can relieve stress and give your mood a boost in the right quantities. A 2018 randomized controlled trial and 2021 report found that black coffee improved mental functioning after consumption.
Coffee is a major source of caffeine. There is approximately 37 mg of caffeine in one teaspoon of coffee. A 2015 meta-analysis found that people who drank between 68 mg and 509 mg of coffee per day experienced an 8% decrease in depressive symptoms per cup.
While coffee can improve your mood and reduce stress, too much can also cause problems. Jitteriness and irritability are side effects of too much caffeine, so stay below about 400 mg of caffeine which is around four cups of black coffee.
Add Stress-Relieving Foods to Your Diet For Better Mental Health
Although many factors play into your daily stress levels, eating stress-relieving foods can help. Try incorporating a handful of these foods into your diet and take note of the changes you feel.
Keep trying new foods until you find the items that keep you feeling calm and at peace.