Stress Eating? Try These Calming Foods

These dozen foods aren't just delicious, they may also help your mood.

dried apricots, milk, and brown rice

While there are many who suffer with anxiety, depression, and insomnia on a regular basis, the current state of the world means that even those who have never had any of these issues are suddenly finding themselves on edge, sleepless, and struggling. While we strongly advocate for seeking therapeutic and medical assistance if any of these have become serious for you, we also wanted to see how we might explore food as a way to help combat or mitigate the more minor or occasional instances of these issues.

So, what foods should we look to for increasing a sense of calm? Which might boost our moods in a positive direction? Which might be useful in helping us sleep? And are there any that have a tendency to exacerbate any of those issues that we should avoid if we are experiencing them?

We reached out to Michelle Stewart, MPH, RDN, LDN, CDE, FAND owner of Michelle Stewart Consulting and Associates, and the former President of the Florida Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics to find out how our eating might help us have a positive effect on our mental health.

Stewart reminded us that some foodstuffs can actually have a detrimental impact on our stress levels. "Increased levels of adrenaline, the fight or flight hormone, raises the blood pressure. When these levels stay high for prolonged periods, the last thing you need is anything to increase adrenaline." Stewart recommends. This means avoiding or reducing the intake of foods that increase the production of adrenaline like refined carbs, sugars, and caffeine. After the initial boost we can get from these foods and beverages, they can all have the effect of leaving us tired, lethargic, subject to poor concentration, and with headaches and digestive problems. "Adrenaline also cuts down the supply of blood to the stomach and releases essential fatty acids and glucose to fuel the muscles. This means your body quickly uses up more in the way of vitamins such as the B complex, vitamin C, and E. You also use up more in the way of calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, and zinc."

Stewart also warns against relying too heavily on other stimulants to control your mood. "Alcohol and smoking, which you may be tempted to turn to in times of stress, actually destroy essential nutrients. In addition, although it seems to have a calming effect at first, alcohol is actually a stimulant."

Here are many foods that are reported to potentially have a positive impact on our moods. Stewart provided the following list:

01 of 13

Cottage Cheese

Homemade Low Fat Cottage Cheese in a white bowl
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Cottage cheese provides good quality protein and calcium to satisfy your system's needs. Eat it straight, with fruit, or mixed into creamy savory dishes like pasta.

Try it: Homemade Cottage Cheese

02 of 13


Close-Up Of Almonds In Bowl On Table
Ekapat Suwanmanee / EyeEm / Getty Images

A good source of Vitamins B2 and E, the high antioxidant content of almonds aids in flushing those toxins that put more stress on your body. Enjoy as is for a simple snack, or used crushed almonds to bread cuts of meat before baking.

Try it: Almond Crusted Tilapia

03 of 13


plain or natural yogurt or yoghurt in a cup
Axel Bueckert / Getty Images

Yogurt provides the essential minerals and calcium to stimulate proper nerve impulses and normalize the acidity of the stomach. It's especially beneficial when your stomach is upset and if you are prone to ulcers. Avoid overly sweetened store-bought yogurts and instead reach for protein-packed Greek varieties or try making it yourself at home.

Try it: Easy Homemade Yogurt

04 of 13


Full frame shot of blueberries in container at market for sale.
Francesco Bergamaschi / Getty Images

Blueberries are very high in vitamin C, which has been shown to give the body added reserves to help it deal with high levels of stress. Also, blueberries contain a high amount of fiber, which assists with regulating blood sugar levels. Blood sugar levels that fluctuate too much are a major contributor to stress for some people. Snack on the berries plain, bake into whole grain granola bars, or blend into a smoothie.

Try it: Healthy Blueberry Breakfast Smoothie

05 of 13

Low Fat or Skim Milk

Bottle and glass of milk
Jose A. Bernat Bacete / Getty Images

Milk is very high in calcium and B vitamins, which help to build your bones and protect nerve health. It is also high in protein, which may help blood sugar to stay stabilized. Drink a glass with dinner or heat it up over the stove with spices like cinnamon and nutmeg for a warm treat.

Try it: Dreamy Nighttime Drink

06 of 13


Close up of multiple oranges
Richard Newstead / Getty Images

Oranges are very rich in vitamin C. When you are stressed, your body releases even more free radicals than usual. Vitamin C helps to keep the free radicals in check and repairs the body. Basically, it helps protect the body from the cumulative effects of stress. Throw orange wedges onto your next salad, try a glass of freshly squeezed juice, or chop them up for a tropical twist on salsa.

Try it: Romaine and Mandarin Orange Salad

07 of 13

Whole Grains

Instant Pot Brown Rice

All whole grains—including bulgur wheat, quinoa, oats, and brown rice—contain plenty of B vitamins and also supply serotonin-producing carbohydrates that do not spike blood sugar levels. Use them to make grain bowls, act as hearty side dishes, or for stuffing into peppers and tomatoes.

Try it: Oven Brown Rice

08 of 13

Green Vegetables

a top-down view of crispy-looking dark green kale leaves on a white plate
Mamie Caira

Broccoli, kale, and other dark green vegetables are powerhouses of vitamins that help replenish our bodies in times of stress. Many vegetables also contain potassium, which is good for our nerves and can calm them. Also, when we eat a diet high in vegetables, we're less likely to feel weighed down and it is easier to do stress-reducing exercise. Play with how you like your green vegetables, but roasting, steaming, or sautéing are all great options.

Try it: Easy Garlic Kale

09 of 13

Dried Apricots

Dried apricots in a white bowl
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Dried apricots are rich in magnesium, which is a stress-buster. Some people even say that magnesium helps reduce heart palpitations brought on by stress. Magnesium is a natural muscle relaxant as well. Apricots are also high in fiber and vitamin C. Don't eat too many of them, though, because they also contain quite a bit of fructose, a type of sugar. Dried apricots can be snacked on, chopped and tossed into grain pilafs, or blended into condiments.

Try it: Dried Apricot Jam

10 of 13


sliced marinated and grilled turkey breast on a bed of fresh lettuces

Turkey contains an amino acid called L-Tryptophan. This amino acid triggers the release of serotonin, which is a feel-good brain chemical. This is the reason why many people who eat turkey feel relaxed, or even tired, afterwards. L-Tryptophan has a documented calming effect. Try baked turkey breasts for an easy weeknight dinner.

Try it: Marinated Turkey Breast

11 of 13


fried tofu
Seiman Choi photography / Getty Images

Try adding foods that are made out of soy to your diet, such as soy milk, tofu, tempeh, or miso. Soy is high in protein, B vitamins, calcium, and magnesium. Toss tempeh or soy into your next stir fry, use miso as a soup base, or try soy milk over your cereal.

Try it: Simple Pan-Fried Tofu

12 of 13

Sweet Potatoes

mashed sweet potatoes in a blue bowl

Sweet potatoes can be particularly stress reducing because they can satisfy the urge we get for carbohydrates and sweets when we are under a great deal of stress. Instead of reaching for a donut, eat one of these special spuds instead. They are packed full of beta-carotene and other vitamins, and the fiber helps your body to process the carbohydrates in a slow and steady manner. Enjoy sweet potatoes stuffed, mashed, roasted, or as baked wedges.

Try it: Slow Cooker Mashed Sweet Potatoes

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Glass of water on a pink background
Jenny Dettrick / Getty Images

While technically not a food, it is important to have sufficient water intake, as even a mild state of dehydration can stress your entire body. Keep your nerves steady by staying well hydrated. If drinking plain water is a struggle for you, trying adding a few slices of fruit or pieces of fresh herbs to infuse each glass with flavor.

Try it: Fruit-Flavored Water

Incorporating some or all of these foods into your diet regularly might just help bring back some of the calm you have been missing in your life. And if you find that these dietary changes are not working well enough for you, reach out to find out what mental health resources are available to you in your area.

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