Foods That Help with Stress Relief

A Healthier Michigan

| 3 min read

When considering lifestyle factors that can raise or lower stress levels, your first instinct might be to look at whether you are getting enough sleep, work-life balance, or how you exercise. But did you know that what you eat may have an effect on your stress levels and risk of chronic stress? 

How Food Affects Stress Levels

What and when you eat can influence how you sleep, how much physical activity or exercise you take part in, your mental health, blood pressure and heart health, which all affect overall stress levels. Diets with anti-inflammatory foods, omega-3 healthy fats, magnesium, and foods that are easy on the digestive system can all help to keep stress levels lower, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
Foods commonly correlated with high stress levels include “ultra-processed foods,” which are often sugary drinks, sugary foods, fast foods, canned foods, frozen foods, or processed meat. Ultra-processed foods are manufactured using food products but result in a food product with “little or no intact food” based on a 2021 study in International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.
Drinking alcohol and smoking are also correlated with high stress levels. High-risk drinking or binge drinking, which is described in the study as “four or more drinks for women and five or more drinks for men” in one sitting or on one occasion, is even more highly correlated with high stress levels.

Foods To Help with Stress Levels

Here are some foods that are likely to assist in helping to keep stress levels low and the symptoms of chronic stress and anxiety:

Foods High in Omega-3s

Foods high in healthy omega-3 fats are anti-inflammatory agents and can reduce the stress hormone cortisol. Foods that are high in omega-3s include:
  • Flax and chia seeds
  • Fatty fish such as mackerel, sardines, and salmon
  • Fish roe and krill oil

Foods High in Dietary Fiber

Diets rich in fiber can help to alleviate inflammation and lower the risk of developing chronic stress or anxiety. These would include foods like:
  • Fresh vegetables and fruits
  • Lentils and beans
  • Nuts, seeds, and whole grains

Foods High in Magnesium

Low levels of magnesium are associated with heightened stress levels, according to a study in Nutrients journal. Sufficient magnesium in your diet may be an effective strategy in preventing or alleviating stress and anxiety. Foods high in magnesium are generally anti-inflammatory, can reduce blood pressure, promote better sleep and help your muscles repair and recover according to a 2023 article in Frontiers of Psychiatry. However, more research is needed to fully understand the relationship between magnesium intake and stress. Here are some suggested foods high in magnesium:
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Beans and legumes
  • Dark and leafy greens
  • Dairy products
  • Fruit and vegetables
  • Dark chocolate
  • Some waters may be fortified with magnesium

Foods to Avoid for Stress

Avoiding foods that can heighten or worsen stress or anxiety symptoms is as important as actively including stress-friendly foods. Here are some foods to avoid for stress and anxiety:
  • Caffeine, especially in high-content drinks
  • Alcohol, especially binge drinking or multiple alcoholic drinks
  • Artificial sweeteners
  • Gluten

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A Healthier Michigan is sponsored by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, a nonprofit, independent licensee of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association.
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