You’re probably familiar with the impact of a poor night’s sleep or indulging in a little too much alcohol. However, establishing good food habits can have the opposite effect, improving both your mood and work performance and reducing stress.
“Good nutrition is key to achieving health and peak performance,” explains Founder of The Health Whisperer and registered nutritionist Teresa Kryger. “In order to perform at your best, you must provide your body and cells with the right nutrients for optimal function, simultaneously avoiding the foods that exacerbate stress and anxiety symptoms.”
Kryger, who specializes in a unique blend of clinical, performance and corporate nutrition, focuses on foods that contain high levels of magnesium, B vitamins, omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants and stress-reducing phytonutrients when treating her stressed executive clients.
The good news is that incorporating these foods into your diet doesn’t have to be a stressful, time-consuming affair.
“Prioritizing your health and nutrition is not about slaving in the kitchen, the key is having a plan. You need to get organized and ensure you have the good stuff at your fingertips ready to go,” she says.
If you’re time-poor, Kryger recommends setting yourself up for success with nutritionist-approved meals that can be delivered to your door.
“Pre-made meals have come such a long way over the past 10 years. There are dozens of delicious, healthy and fresh pre-made options now available to order online.”
Kryger herself enjoys whipping up a protein-rich and nutritious superfood smoothie, a great ‘grab-and-go’ meal that can be prepared in a matter of minutes.
“Prioritizing your health and nutrition is not about slaving in the kitchen, the key is having a plan.” – Teresa Kryger
And while nutrition may be just one piece of the puzzle within the context of stress management, it has an essential role to play in preventing health issues further down the track.
“If you don’t learn to balance stress with good nutrition and recovery techniques, you are setting yourself up for long-term health issues. Chronic stress can contribute to many health issues such as obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and dementia,” Kryger warns.
Below, you’ll find the top eight foods to help reduce stress and anxiety, so you can consistently perform at your best while taking care of your body in the process.
1. Pumpkin seeds
From improving heart health to helping men with fertility issues, pumpkin seeds contain the nutrients needed for deep relaxation and sleep. These small yet nutrient-dense seeds are rich in magnesium and an amino acid – tryptophan – which calm the mind and body.
“Magnesium is hugely beneficial when it comes to reducing inflammation, metabolizing cortisol and relaxing the body and mind,” asserted Dietitian Courtney Barth in an article for Cleveland Clinic.
Tip: Consider dry-roasting pumpkin seeds in a pan, which can then be incorporated into salads, crackers or simply eaten on a regular basis as they are.
2. Dark chocolate
There’s no denying the indulgent factor that consuming a bar of dark chocolate almost never fails to deliver. The key is to choose a high-quality bar that contains minimal sugar and is at least 70 percent chocolate, as this means the concentration of cocoa will be higher. According to one study, dark chocolate can lower stress hormone levels in the body – but only when consumed in moderation (that’s around 42 grams per day)!
“Dark chocolate may be helpful in relieving anxiety due to its antioxidants, flavanols, and, of course, taste,” explained Tracy Beckerman, New York City-based registered Dietician-Nutritionist, on her website. “Antioxidants present in dark chocolate can reduce stress by lowering levels of cortisol, as well as fight-or-flight hormones known as catecholamines.”
Tip: Choose a bar that contains minimal ingredients: cacao beans, cane sugar and cocoa butter. Cocoa powder alone won’t deliver the same benefits given that cocoa powder contains fewer fats.
3. Oily fish
Fatty fish in the form of mackerel, herring, salmon and sardines don’t just support your brain and heart health, but they also help you to better handle your stress. The combination of omega-3s and vitamin D are essential for your mental health and ability to manage stress. However, for those who have an allergy or aversion to fish, chia seeds, flaxseeds, hemp seeds, walnuts or an omega-3 supplement are good alternatives.
Tip: Prepare some fish cakes, which you can easily take with you to the office to snack on between meals. And make sure to include a delicious dipping sauce.
With more than 10,000 species of seaweed that range from wakami to dulse and, perhaps the most popular variety, nori, the possibilities to incorporate this marine superfood into your diet are as wide as the sky. While most of us are familiar with sushi, dulse flakes sprinkled onto salads and spirulina smoothies are other ways you can incorporate seaweed into your diet. Seaweed is rich in both magnesium and iodine, which can boost energy levels and reduce fatigue.
“Too little iodine can trigger fatigue and depression, but just a quarter cup of seaweed salad can pack over 275 percent of the daily value,” said plant-based Dietitian Cynthia Sass in an article for Health.
Tip: Try roasting a sheet of nori in the oven with a dash of oil and a pinch of salt for the perfect daytime snack.
5. Bone broth
While starting your day with a cup of coffee is the most common practice in many countries around the world today, it’s perhaps not the best move to make if you suffer from chronic stress. During these times, consuming foods that contain the amino acid L-glutamine is particularly important given that cortisol depletes glutamine, according to Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator Ali Miller. In addition to bone broth, other foods rich in glutamine include grass fed beef, lamb, chicken and eggs.
Begin your day with a hot cup of bone broth, which can easily be blended together with spices or milk for additional flavor.
6. Matcha tea
Consumed by Japanese monks for centuries, matcha tea is revered for its ability to help with both concentration and relaxation – at the same time. It boasts a decent amount of caffeine without producing the negative effects that caffeinated beverages normally have on the nervous system. The amino acid, L-theanine, has been proven to reduce stress and anxiety.
Tip: Pick a time of day or a task during the week that requires a great deal of focus. Whether you decide to brew a cup of matcha tea yourself or find a matcha product on the market that appeals to you, this is a great time to arm yourself with this bright green natural wonder.
7. Black tea
There’s a reason why tea is one of the most popular drinks in the world, drunk by billions of people every day. Like coffee, black tea is a source of caffeine, but without giving you the rush of energy that’s associated with coffee. Research confirms that black tea lowers cortisol levels and induces a sense of relaxation after a stressful event.
Tip: In an article explaining the benefits of black tea, Josh Axe, Co-Founder of Ancient Nutrition, recommended choosing organic, loose leaf black tea as opposed to tea bags. For an antioxidant-rich, flavorful brew, he suggests ensuring an adequate steeping time – at least two minutes – and steering clear of milk.
Whether you enjoy it in its flat or curly form, parsley is packed with vitamin K, vitamin A and antioxidants, including vitamin C. These antioxidants have a key role to play in protecting your cells from free radicals and stress. Parsley is also a herb you’ll want to consume during the winter months, due to its immune-boosting properties, thanks to a potent combination of vitamins C and A.
Tip: Every chef knows that the secret to a great salad is the dressing and the texture. Why not add a couple of sprigs of finely chopped parsley to a bowl of salad greens, together with some croutons?