Stress is brought on by a number of circumstances, from work deadlines to major life events. And when we’re overwhelmed, it can be very easy to cope with, say, a handful of chips or a cookie or two.
But here’s the thing: The foods our brain likes directs us toward when we’re anxious may actually toy with our emotions even more, says Lisa R. Young, author of The Portion Teller Plan and adjunct professor of nutrition at New York University’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development.
“Sugar and processed foods, in particular the ‘white carbs,’ can cause fluctuations in your blood sugar and they can also cause mood issues,” Young told The Huffington Post.
But fear not, stress eaters. According to Young, there are a number of foods you can consume during tough moments that won’t make you feel guilty and also contain properties which may help you calm down. Check them out below:
Research suggests nutrients in oily fish and certain nuts may help you feel more calm, Young said. Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to reduce inflammation in the brain and could potentially reduce anxiety.
“Blueberries contain anthocyanins, and while you’d probably have to eat a lot, it’s thought that the antioxidants that they contain might help produce dopamine which also helps to control your mood,” Young said.
Dopamine plays a significant role in our emotional wellbeing because it’s a chemical in the brain that’s responsible for our feeling of pleasure and reward.
Research shows there may be a connection between fermented foods, gut health and mental wellness. Young says to avoid pickles, if possible, due to their high salt profile and the relationship between sodium and high blood pressure, which could increase stress rather than reduce it.
4. Chamomile tea
A 2009 study conducted by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania found that chamomile extract was shown to significantly reduce feelings of anxiety. Other small studies also suggest that the herb may help people with sleep disorders get better rest.
5. Spinach or other greens
Scientists have researched low levels of folate and vitamin B12 in people who experience depression and anxiety and believe there may be a connection between the two. Leafy greens are high in folate, which is why Young considers them a smart choice in high-stress moments.
6. Any combination of protein, fiber and good fat
Young advises to fill up on a big salad made from vegetables, a fat such as avocado and protein such as turkey. It’s fewer calories than classic comfort foods like macaroni and cheese, and Young says it stabilizes blood sugar levels which helps with mood regulation.
And finally, our environment also plays a big role. Young suggests stocking the fridge or desk drawers with some stress-reducing foods that are easy to grab during periods of anxiety. It’s one less hurdle in the moment.