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The Best Foods to Eat When You’re Stressed According to a Dietician

Forget the chips and candy right now! Reach for foods that can balance hormones and calm you down.

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Why Do We Stress Eat?

If you reach for ice cream, candy and potato chips when stressed, you’re not alone. There is no doubt that stress influences when and what you eat. Long-term, chronic stress generally causes you to want sugar, fat and refined carbs, which can add up to a lot of extra calories. Why? Hormones.

When cortisol is coursing through your veins, the hormones that regulate hunger and fullness—ghrelin and leptin, respectively—are out of whack. Here are the stress-relieving foods to reach for instead.

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Turmeric

Whether solo or in curry powder, turmeric is an anti-inflammatory powerhouse. This orange-yellow root, which is used as a culinary herb, is believed to act as an adaptogen, a stress-relieving food. Its active compound, curcumin, is believed to help with a wide range of stress-related ailments, such a depression, skin disorders and infections, as well as autoimmune diseases. When looking for foods to reduce cortisol, sip turmeric tea or sprinkle turmeric in recipes to reduce stress levels.

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Creamy twice baked sweet potatoesTaste of Home

Sweet Potatoes

Eating sugar-laden food has been found to reduce the release of cortisol in the brain. Aim to get natural sugars from sweet potatoes and you’ll also get fiber and beneficial carbohydrates, which can boost serotonin, the feel-good chemicals in your body. That makes this root vegetable a stress-relieving food!

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Easy Glazed SalmonTaste of Home

Salmon

Do you eat fatty fish like salmon? You’re not only doing your heart and brain good, but research shows that eating docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), an omega-3 fatty acid found in salmon, may make it a stress-relieving food, too. Studies have shown that omega-3 fatty acids have a calming effect on your body, making salmon among the best foods to help reduce stress.

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Oranges

Like other citrus fruits, oranges are loaded with vitamin C, an antioxidant that has been shown to reduce the symptoms of stress, such as anxiety and high blood pressure. Peel an orange or a handful of clementines to help with stress.

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Pumpkin Seeds

Pumpkin seeds (aka pepitas) are a powerhouse of nutritional value and their high magnesium content has shown to a big player in reducing stress. Research has shown that magnesium alleviates stress in healthy adults with low magnesium levels, so sprinkle your salad with pepitas!

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Turkey

Turkey has a well-known amino acid, tryptophan, that has been shown to helps your body make serotonin, the feel-good chemical. Plus, it helps you make melatonin, the hormone that helps you sleep better. Put some turkey breast on your sandwich for a stress-relieving food that’s packed with protein, too.

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Spinach Salad with Goat Cheese and BeetsTaste of Home

Spinach

You know you need to eat leafy greens for total body wellness. But did you know that spinach has a high magnesium content that makes it a stress-relieving food, too? Studies have shown that magnesium is an important nutrient in foods to help with stress. Toss spinach into your daily salad for a calming effect.

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Yogurt

Probiotics may help reduce the effects of stress. Found in fermented foods like yogurt, probiotics reduce the effects of cortisol on the body, particularly as it relates to cognition and memory. Look for plain, unsweetened yogurt and add a drizzle of honey, agave nectar or all-fruit spread to get the sweet flavor without a lot of added sugar.

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Homemade SauerkrautTaste of Home

Sauerkraut

Sauerkraut is another fermented food that may play a role in balancing your hormones and reducing cortisol in your body. It contains probiotics that can help fortify the good bacteria in your gut microbiome. Your gut controls and deals with every aspect of your health—including food cravings and hormone balance. So, if you’re looking for stress-relieving foods, add some homemade sauerkraut to your meal plan.

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Almond Butter

Eating enough protein at meals and snacks can help balance your hunger and fullness hormones—the ones that get out of whack with stress. Almond butter can contribute to your overall protein intake, plus you get healthy fats and fiber, too. Eat 1 to 2 tablespoons of natural almond butter on whole-grain toast, with apple slices or in a bowl of oatmeal for a balanced meal or snack.

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A close up of a blooming artichoke plant in the summer.DebraLee Wiseberg/Getty Images

Jerusalem Artichokes

Jerusalem artichokes—also called sunchokes—are packed with a prebiotic fiber called inulin, which feeds the friendly bacteria in the gut. That makes ‘chokes one of the foods that reduce cortisol. A recent study revealed a decrease in the cortisol awakening response in the saliva of 45 healthy adults who were given prebiotics versus a placebo group over the course of three weeks. Eat these artichokes cooked or raw, marinated or pickled, for a tasty side dish or salad topper.

Vicki Shanta Retelny, RDN
A registered dietitian nutritionist, book author and speaker, Vicki has a passion for helping others embrace simple lifestyle habits that lead to health and happiness. When she is not in the kitchen whipping up tasty, nourishing meals for her family: two children, a husband and pet pug named Stella. Vicki enjoys a soothing face mask, Pilates and the occasional trip to their local sushi hotspot.

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