20 Stress Relieving Foods to Try if You're Feeling Anxious

Stress-relieving foods can help decrease anxiety and tension. Find out the best foods for stress relief according to nutrition experts.

Girl works at a computer and eats fast food. Unhealthy food: chips, crackers, candy, waffles, cola. Junk food, concept.

When work deadlines begin piling up and your social calendar is overbooked, who has time for planning a food menu? But when it comes to combating stress levels, what you eat may actually help relieve your tension.

Some foods may help stabilize blood sugar or, better yet, your emotional response. Here are 20 foods that may reduce stress and why they can help.

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Green Leafy Vegetables

It's tempting to reach for a cheeseburger when stressed, but go green at lunch instead. "Green leafy vegetables like spinach contain folate, which produces dopamine, a pleasure-inducing brain chemical, helping you keep calm," Heather Mangieri, RDN, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, told Health.

A 2022 study in the Journal of Affective Disorders of over 14,500 people found a significant inverse relationship between depression and higher intake of selenium, zinc, and B vitamins, including folate. Meaning, less depression was seen with higher intake of these vitamins and minerals.

And a 2018 study fpublished in Frontiers in Psychology discovered that college students tended to feel calmer, happier, and more energetic on days they ate more fruits and veggies.

It can be hard to tell which came first—upbeat thoughts or healthy eating—but the researchers found that healthy eating seemed to predict a positive mood the next day.

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Seaweed

Sushi lovers, you're in luck. That seaweed wrapped around your spicy tuna roll has added benefits for relieving stress.

"Seaweed is rich in iodine and one of the few sources of this important mineral," explained Sass. According to the NIH, seaweed is an excellent source of dietary iodine.

"Too little iodine can trigger fatigue and depression, but just a quarter cup of seaweed salad can pack over 275% of the daily value."

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Avocado

Slice after slice of avocado toast might not be so healthy, but consuming regular portions of this superfruit might help shut down stress eating by filling your belly and making you feel more satisfied.

In a 2014 study published in Nutrient Journal, researchers had participants add half an avocado to their lunches, reducing their desire to eat more by 40% for the three hours following the midday meal.

That full feeling will make you less inclined to reach for unhealthy snacks when stress kicks in, increasing your stress levels as a result.

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Beets

Beets are high in folate, a vitamin that can play a role in relieving stress. According to Sass, one cup of beets supplies over 30% of the folate needed daily.

"Because of its link with the nervous system, too little folate has been known to trigger mental fatigue, forgetfulness, confusion, and insomnia," said Sass. "In addition, several common medications can deplete the body's supply of folate, including cholesterol-lowering drugs, anti-inflammatory drugs, diabetes medications and birth control pills."

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Blueberries

"When you're stressed, there's a battle being fought inside you," said Mangieri. "The antioxidants and phytonutrients found in berries fight in your defense, helping improve your body's response to stress."

Research has also shown that blueberry eaters experience a boost in natural killer cells, "a type of white blood cell that plays a vital role in immunity, critical for countering stress," Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD, Health's contributing nutrition editor, told Health.

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Oranges

As one of the top sources of vitamin C, oranges are thought to be a great way to relax and lower stress levels.

"In addition to supporting immune function, which can be weakened by stress, this key nutrient helps reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which can wreak havoc on the body," said Sass.

"The effects of a prolonged high cortisol level can include fatigue, brain fog, increased appetite, and weight gain, particularly belly fat."

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Oysters

Oysters are known aphrodisiacs, but their high zinc content is another reason to love those slimy little delicacies. Oysters contain more zinc per serving than any other food, according to the NIH. You'll get 32 mg of zinc per serving (6 raw oysters), which is 400% of your recommended dietary allowance.

"Zinc may lower the body's response to stress," said Gans. "It's an antioxidant, which has the ability to possibly strengthen the immune system, have anti-inflammatory properties, and in zinc specifically, it may lower the body's response to stress and anxiety."

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Salmon

Stress can ratchet up levels of anxiety hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol. "The omega-3 fatty acids in salmon have anti-inflammatory properties that may help counteract the negative effects of stress hormones," said Lisa Cimperman, RD, of the University Hospitals Case Medical Center and a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

In a 2021 study published in Molecular Psychiatry, researchers found that omega-3 reduced overall cortisol (the primary stress hormone) up to 33% compared to placebo.

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Turkey Breast

You've probably heard that the tryptophan in turkey is to blame for that food coma on Thanksgiving. This amino acid helps produce serotonin, "the chemical that regulates hunger and feelings of happiness and well-being," said Mangieri.

On its own, tryptophan may have a calming effect. In a 2016 study published in the Archives of Psychiatric Nursing found that higher doses of dietary tryptophan resulted in significantly less depression and irritability and decreased anxiety.

Other foods high in tryptophan include nuts, seeds, tofu, fish, lentils, oats, beans, and eggs.

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Eggs

Eggs aren't just a great brunch staple. "Whole eggs are one of the few natural sources of vitamin D," said Sass. "This nutrient is linked to several important health benefits, including better immune function, anti-inflammation, and mood regulation, including reducing symptoms of depression."

A 2021 review published in the journal Clinics found that most studies looking at a connection between vitamin D and mood have seen a reduction in symptoms of depression, anxiety, and mood with increased vitamin D levels.

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Yogurt

As bizarre as it may sound, the bacteria in your gut might be contributing to stress.

According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), the brain and gut communicate via body chemicals and gut microbiota may affect behavior and emotion.

For example, the probiotic bacteria, called Lactobacillus rhamnosus, contains a neurotransmitter called GABA that helps regulate brain activity and can calm anxiety.

A 2019 study published in Frontiers in Psychiatry divided 38 healthy volunteers either to an experimental or control group. The experimental group consumed a daily dose of a probiotic mixture (containing Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium bacterial strains).

After six weeks, the researchers noted significant improvement in mood in the experimental group, with a reduction in depressive mood state, anger, and fatigue, and an improvement in sleep quality.

This study was small, so more research is needed to confirm the results—but considering that yogurt is full of calcium and protein in addition to probiotics, you really can't go wrong by adding more of it to your diet.

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Milk

Fortified milk is an excellent source of vitamin D, which is thought to boost happiness. A 50-year study by London's UCL Institute of Child Health published in PLOS Medicine found an association between reduced levels of vitamin D and an increased risk of panic and depression among 5,966 men and women.

People who had sufficient vitamin D levels had a reduced risk of panic disorders compared to subjects with the lowest levels of vitamin D. Other foods high in vitamin D include salmon, egg yolks, and fortified cereal.

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Cashews

One ounce of the buttery nut packs1.6 mg of zinc, according to the USDA. That's about 13% of the daily recommended value of zinc recommended for women, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Zinc an essential mineral that may help reduce anxiety.

A 2019 study published in Current Developments in Nutrition found that regular use of multivitamin mineral supplements may improve anxiety in young adults between ages 18 and 24.

If you're already getting enough zinc, it may not help your mood to chow down on cashews (or other zinc-rich foods like oysters, beef, chicken, and yogurt). But cashews are also rich in omega-3s and protein, so they're a smart snack no matter what.

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Pistachios

When you have an ongoing loop of negative thoughts playing in your mind, doing something repetitive with your hands may help silence your inner monologue. Think knitting or kneading bread—or even shelling nuts like pistachios or peanuts. The rhythmic moves will help you relax.

Plus, the added step of cracking open a shell slows down your eating, making pistachios a diet-friendly snack.

What's more, pistachios have heart-health benefits. A 2015 review in the British Journal of Nutrition highlighted that pistachios have a high antioxidant and anti-inflammatory potential.

"Eating pistachios may reduce acute stress by lowering blood pressure and heart rate," said Mangieri. "The nuts contain key phytonutrients that may provide antioxidant support for cardiovascular health."

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Seeds

Flaxseed, pumpkin seeds, and sunflower seeds are all great sources of magnesium (as are leafy greens, yogurt, nuts, and fish). Loading up on the mineral may help regulate emotions.

"Magnesium has been shown to help alleviate depression, fatigue, and irritability," said Sass. "Bonus: When you're feeling especially irritable during that time of the month, the mineral also helps to fight PMS symptoms, including cramps and water retention."

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Oatmeal

If you're already a carb lover, it's likely that nothing can come between you and a doughnut when stress hits. First rule of thumb: Don't completely deny the craving.

According to UC San Diego Health, tryptophan alone isn't enough to make serotonin. You also need to take in carbohydrates to allow tryptophan to pass the blood-brain barrier.

But instead of reaching for that sugary bear claw, go for complex carbs. "Stress can cause your blood sugar to rise, said Mangieri, "so a complex carb like oatmeal won't contribute to your already potential spike in blood glucose."

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Dark Chocolate

A regular healthy indulgence (just a bite, not a whole bar!) of dark chocolate might have the power to regulate your stress levels.

According to a 2014 study in the International Journal of Health Sciences, consuming 40 g of dark and milk chocolate daily during a period of 2 weeks reduced stress in individuals in the study.

"Research has shown that it can reduce your stress hormones, including cortisol," said Sass.

"Also, the antioxidants in cocoa trigger the walls of your blood vessels to relax, lowering blood pressure and improving circulation. Finally, dark chocolate contains unique natural substances that create a sense of euphoria similar to the feeling of being in love."

Go for varieties that contain at least 70% cocoa.

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Green Tea

Green tea is a great alternative to coffee and won't give you those caffine-induced jitters like your cup of joe.

Green tea has the highest concentration of theanine compared to other types of tea. Theanine is an amino acid which, according to research presented in a 2021 Molecules study may relieve stress, induce relaxation and combat anxiety.

A 2020 review published in Plant Foods for Human Nutrition found that taking a 200 to 400 milligrams (mg) supplement of theanine daily reduced stress and anxiety in people exposed to stressful conditions.

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Chamomile

Swap that glass of wine out for a cup of chamomile tea before bed if you're really looking to relax. This tea favorite is the healthy way to unwind and get a great night's sleep while you're at it.

"Chamomile has been shown to enhance sleep, including promoting relaxation and sleepiness, and improving sleep quality," said Sass. "Adequate sleep is an important stress reliever and helps to optimize immune function, which can be weakened by stress."

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Turmeric

Add turmeric to your dishes for an extra boost of feel-good nutrients. The spice is known for its anti-inflammatory properties, specifically curcumin, said Gans.

"Curcumin is known to possibly stimulate the 'feel-good' hormones in our body, like serotonin and dopamine," said Gans. "So by default, it's probably going to put you in a better mood."

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A Quick Review

Planning a nutritious meal may feel like it adds more stress to your already-packed plate. But the benefits to your mood and stress levels make these foods worth the effort.

Updated by
Christina Oehler
Christina Oehler
Christina is a New York City-based writer and commerce editor. She has worked at various publications including InStyle, Shape, Verywell Health, and Health. She also has a RYT-200 certification.
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