It’s been one of those days. Traffic was a nightmare. Your boss got on your case about something that was probably 100% out of your control. That coworker was spectacular in proving just how far your kindness and patience can stretch. So were your kids.
We get it. At the end of days like that you want to drown yourself in cookies and wine. Maybe something fried or smothered in grease. Everyone calls these consumables comfort food because, for the time being, they make you feel better. Nomming down on a slice of chocolate cake is arguably more pleasing than pulling out a handful of veggies.
While making healthier choices is better for your body physically, there are also mental health benefits to avoiding those go-to snacks when you’ve had a rough day.
Diets high in sugar, fats, alcohol, and processed foods not only wreak havoc on your digestive system, but are linked to higher anxiety levels based on a recent study in 2019.
While you might experience a sugar rush and the subsequent sugar crash after consuming a sweet treat, evidence shows that sugar weakens the body's ability to respond to stress. Your mind gets used to the sugar soothe and eventually becomes dependent.
So, we have put together a fabulously tasty list of healthier options that will still tickle your fancy without the unwanted after effects.
15 Health Conscious Foods to Reach For When You’re Stressed
That guacamole is more than just a precursor to fajitas and Spanish rice. Avocados being high in fiber can help control the absorption of sugar and may help improve blood sugar levels. This in turn, helps prevent the spikes and dips you feel after consuming sugary foods which can affect your anxiety levels.
Whether you prefer avocado toast, or slices of avocado in your power bowl, this fruit is a great choice to moderate your mood and keep you satiated.
Another high fiber food that helps balance out blood sugar levels - oats. Like avocados, oats are also high in B Vitamins which are very beneficial for your brain health. B Vitamins help produce dopamine and serotonin which are mood boosting neurotransmitters. If oatmeal isn’t for you, try using oat milk in your favorite warm beverages such as chai tea or a turmeric latte.
YOGURT & KIMCHI
Both yogurt and kimchi are probiotics that help repair any damage in your gut from inflammation caused by stress. Also, fermented foods interact with your gut in mitigating oxidative stress, therefore creating a link to positive mental health. Whichever you prefer for a midday snack is a lovely step toward a calmer, happier you.
Want to read more on how your gut is directly linked to your brain? Click here for a more in depth discussion.
Everyone knows that sweet potatoes are high in Vitamin C and that this helps support your immune system. But not everyone knows that Vitamin C can help lower your anxiety by lowering cortisol levels. One study on a group of high school students showed that Vitamin C reduced their anxiety levels and even had an effect on their heart rates compared to a placebo group. This leads scientists to believe that antioxidants in general can be a useful tool in treating symptoms of anxiety.
Maca is a known adaptogenic herb that supports your adrenal system by helping your body’s hormonal response to stress and fatigue. Maca contains the plant compounds known as flavonoids which is what scientists believe connects it to the reduction of blood pressure and depression in certain studies.
Maca is also rich in B6 and Vitamin C, which we already know help lower stress-induced anxiety. And as a bonus, it is easily incorporated into oatmeal, smoothies, and baked goodies.
These sweet berries are perfect for helping calm your sweet tooth. And bonus - they are also rich in flavonoids that may help stress-related cellular damage because of their antiinflammatory neuroprotective abilities. Layer these in with your probiotic yogurt and you have yourself a mental health parfait!
DARK CHOCOLATE & PARSLEY
Of course we’re not suggesting that you pair these together - yuck. But what they both have in common is that they are high in antioxidants that help combat oxidative stress within your body.
In addition to flavonoids, parsley contains carotenoids and ascorbic acid, increasing your cellular defensive systems. Dark chocolate is rich in polyphenols including flavonoids that we know help lower blood pressure and calm you down when your stress levels are high. Rich dark chocolate when things get rough? Yes, please.
SUNFLOWER SEEDS & TAHINI
Sunflower seeds and sesame seeds - which is what Tahini spreads are made with - are packed with antioxidants. Tahini contains tryptophan which begins the process of dopamine and serotonin secretion. Sunflower seeds are bursting with stress-reducing vitamins including selenium, magnesium, zinc, Vitamin D, B Vitamins. Deficiency of these nutrients are linked to depressive symptoms preceded by constant stress.
High in magnesium, Swiss Chard can contribute to reducing your stress levels. Although the relationship remains unclear, studies show that the link between magnesium and stress levels holds very strong. One cup of Swiss Chard actually holds about 36% of the recommended daily dietary intake for magnesium.
Is a triple threat against stress in that it contains magnesium, vitamin C, and folate which we know play a role in dispelling excess. A cruciferous vegetable just like maca, broccoli may help lower your risk of developing mental health disorders like depression that can be brought on by excessive stress.
Another powerhouse stress-preventing food. Brimming with stress-fighting minerals and vitamins like selenium, magnesium, zinc, and B Vitamins, chickpeas also contain tryptophan to help get those neurotransmitters flowing in times of high stress.
Matcha is thought to have stress-lowering properties due to its high content of theanine. It’s important to find matcha that has a low caffeine content to reap the benefits of this amino acid.
Health Choices Lead to Healthy Habits
The easy thing isn’t always the best thing. Train your body and your brain to respond positively to things that are nourishing for the long term. The instant gratification of that quick sugar fix is insignificant compared to the long-lasting feeling that comes with treating your body like a precious gift it is. Emotional eating is a real thing, and the healthiest way to prepare for hard days is to keep mind-healthy snacks at the ready.
Julie is a self-made writer on a forever journey of fitness and health. As a high school music teacher, she has seen and experienced the challenges of maintaining good health while simultaneously balancing a career and healthy relationships.
Julie has always lived a healthy and active lifestyle. She loves the outdoors, hiking, and camping. Over the years she has continued to learn smarter and better ways to take care of her body while continuing to do the things that make her smile. Naturally, all of her teacher friends wanted to know how she did it - what was her secret?
Julie found herself explaining over and over everything she'd learned in her research, and sharing her experiences through trial and error. Her friends would take her advice, try some new things, and then come back to ask how to take it to the next level.
"You should charge for this kind of information!" Became a constant phrase, and so began her career of writing to share her knowledge with the world through health and wellness companies looking to spread healing and healthy habits within their communities. Now Julie gets to combine two of the things she enjoys most - writing and wellness - and use them to affect change in a real way.
When not making music with her kiddos, or writing wellness tips for a higher quality of life, you can find her reading, hiking, drumming, and fitnessing