Life is stressful: there’s no way around that. And as hard as we may try we can’t always avoid it, and as a result our stress levels will skyrocket, and with it cortisol. Cortisol causes food cravings, which cause us to overeat in times of stress, and nearly 40 percent of Americans admit to stress-eating.
The stress doesn’t have to be a huge catalyst—oftentimes it’s just the motions of daily life—but that little bit is often enough to throw us off our game and land us in a vicious cycle of eating what we call “comfort foods,” which usually end up being foods high in sugars and carbs. There are, however, foods that can combat this. From leafy greens to tea leaves, the types of food used to fight stress are varied, and below you will find seven of them.
1. Wild salmon
Salmon is an all-around superfood. It is packed with omega-3s that reduce inflammation and oxidative stress in the body, which is even more incentive to give it a try, and also help the brain function more efficiently. In this study it was discovered that those omega-3s reduced cortisol levels in people with high levels of stress.
Not only that, salmon is also one of the best sources of high-quality dietary protein. Two to three servings of salmon per week are recommended for the best results, and you can also consume other oily fish such as mackerel for similar effects.
Asparagus are high in folate, which can help reduce overly-high cortisol levels. When stressed your body releases hormones that can affect your mood, and eating asparagus can stabilize it.
A single cup of asparagus provides two-thirds of your daily serving of folic acid, so sauté, steam, or bake those stalks for your daily dose of stress-fighting goodness. Other dark, leafy greens, such as spinach, are high in folic acid as well.
Nuts are a great snack. Not only are they healthy, they are also easy to pack and easy to snack. Cashews are an excellent source of zinc, low levels of which have been linked to both anxiety and depression. Our bodies have no way to store zinc, so it’s recommended to try and get a little bit every day: cashews can be chopped up and put into salads or stir-fry, for variety.
Take a small bag to work, or keep one close at hand when you’re winding down when you get home and watching TV. That way, if you’re a mindless eater, you can also be a healthy eater, but be careful how much you consume since cashews are also high in fat.
Garlic, like many plants, is packed chock-full of antioxidants. Antioxidants neutralize free radicals, which are harmful particles that damage our cells, progress aging, and cause disease. They can also even reverse the effects of free radicals over time.
One of the compounds in garlic, allicin, has been linked to preventing heart disease, cancer, all the way down to even fending off the common cold. Stress weakens our immune system, so it never hurts to begin adding more garlic to your diet.
Berries are very high in vitamin C, which, as this study and this study show, have successfully reduced cortisol levels. Darker berries, such as blueberries, are also loaded with antochyanins, which also have cortisol-lowering benefits, as well as vitamins C and E and minerals like manganese and magnesium.
German researchers asked 120 people to do difficult math problems and then give a speech. Since berries are high in vitamin C, which is helpful in combating stress, those who had been given vitamin C fared better and had lower stress and cortisol levels than those who were not given vitamin C. Berries also have antioxidants, which, as you know, lower oxidative stress in the body. If you want a berry with a triple punch, try some Acai berries.
6. Dark chocolate
In a controlled human study researchers found that, compared to the placebo, dark chocolate significantly reduced cortisol levels in the participants. A trail published by the American Chemical Society’s Journal of Proteome Research showed that eating an ounce and a half of dark chocolate a day can drastically reduce the levels of stress hormone in the body.
Dark chocolate contains magnesium, which can help fight fatigue, depression, stress, and irritability. The best part about dark chocolate? Most people like it, and it isn’t difficult to find. Whenever you’re feeling stressed reach for a bar of dark chocolate, or even just a warm glass of milk (which is also a known fighter against stress) with some chocolate in it.
7. Chamomile tea
Chamomile is widely known as a sleep aid. It has been used for centuries as such, and has been found to have a truly relaxing effect on the body. But more than that, chamomile can be used to fight the effects of stress. In a few studies, chamomile has been shown to improve sleep quality, and better sleep leads to less stress and decreased cortisol levels. And this study shows that chamomile has been known to also block the precursor to cortisol, the adrenocorticotropic hormone, from being secreted by the adrenal glands.
If you’re concerned about the stress in your life, try any of these seven foods and see how you feel. Stress isn’t an easy feeling to live with, but with a few simple additions to your everyday diet you could begin to finally fight back.
Find out what your calming food is—that is, a food with natural, actual calming properties and not just a food you turn to in times of dire need. In women, especially, higher cortisol levels lead to more food cravings, which usually fall under the high-sugar, high-carb foods which lead to an expanding waistline and more stress. Find foods that will truly soothe and comfort you.