Three Stress Relief Foods to Have on Hand

When we become stressed, all good intentions to eat well and feel we have some control over our choices, can fly out of the window in seconds. Research has shown that the fight-or-flight response very quickly leads to irregular meal patterns and high snacking habits. We become drawn to fatty snacks that might be described as more palatable; those that give us immediate brain satisfaction like cake, crisps and sweets. The ones that mix sugar and fat can really do it for us – cake and biscuits are the mainstay of office comfort foods and ice cream has a well-known reputation for soothing the lovelorn.

Researchers believe that these eating patterns may result from high levels of the stress hormone cortisol crossing into the brain and changing our appetite behaviors. This has been dubbed “drive induction hypothesis” and as other research shows that these foods further increase stress, we can caught in a vicious cycle we don’t want pretty darn quickly.

These foods are low in nutrients needed for energy that the stress response demands and can interfere with all body system functions, including neurotransmitter (brain chemical) production and regulation. They leave us unable to come down after stress and with more heightened and inappropriate reactions to the world around us.

Nutritional stress first-aid

It can be a life-saver to have foods to hand that help us actually regulate the acute all-body-and-mind responses that occur when we react to a challenge. Having the right nutritional package at the right time can be the difference to letting the response spiral off into anxiety and panic or finding a way to calm down and reaching a way-out that seems manageable. If those choices can also satisfy what the brain is seeking to calm itself, all the better.

There are three key foods I recommend to clients and always keep close by myself:


Three Stress Relief Foods to Have on Hand - Yovada Life

Of all the sweet foods on the planet, berries have the best effect on our blood sugar levels. These little seed packages are one of the few fruits we now eat in the same form that our Stone Age ancestors would have; many other fruits have been bred with raised sugar content to satisfy the modern sweet palette. They provide the satisfaction of sugary taste received but also deliver some essential oils and proteins through the seeds we eat too. They have also shown to temper the surge in blood sugar usual after a meal, so regulate highs and lows that can tend to happen from raised stress hormones.

Best ways to eat when stressed:

  • When the sweet hit ‘need’ is raging, a commercial berry smoothie can be a better choice than the cake close by in the coffee shop. Yes, they’re high in sugar but berries slow down this release and the antioxidants they contain help the damaging and ageing effects of stress.
  • Keep them frozen in the freezer to add to yoghurt or home-made smoothies with coconut milk for a combination with healthy and satisfying fats. Defrost in a bowl in some boiling water (like a bain-marie) for quick eating.
  • You can buy them dried in little bags in supermarkets now; how handy, just avoid any with added sugar…


Three Stress Relief Foods to Have on Hand Yovada Life

Nuts are the perfect little nutritional package, combining carbohydrates, fats and proteins in a way that ticks all of the boxes for the brain’s list of needs. They are great sources of the nutrients we need to help us cope with stress – B vitamins, zinc, magnesium and omega oils – that are ironically quickly used up in the stress response. Nuts naturally balance blood sugar levels and have shown to both reduce sugar cravings, regulate appetite and support metabolism. The fats they contain – omega oils and monounsaturated fats – have shown to help curb overeating cycles and contrary to some health messages, those with nuts in their diet have shown to be more successful at weight management.

Best ways to eat when stressed:

  • Always have to hand, I always have a tub in my handbag and mix and match; almonds as they have been shown to satisfy food cravings well, walnuts have anti-depressant qualities and cashews have a creaminess that is extremely soothing.
  • Sweet goods with nuts in help swing the nutritional balance towards the healthier side of the force. The nutty cake, biscuit or chocolate is still packed with sugar, but it does have some damage limitation.
  • Choose healthy snack bars with the highest nut content and least sugar.


Three Stress Relief Foods to Have on Hand - Yovada Life

It is a great snack to have around to satisfy sweet cravings and as a healthy fat source it can satisfy hunger and the urge to overeat. Coconut often gets a bad press for being high in saturated fat, but these fats are medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) and easy for us to burn off as energy. In fact they actually aid in weight loss we can’t actually store MCTs as fat, so they need to be metabolised immediately. Coconut also contains lauric acid which is protective against viruses and bacterial infections.

Best ways to eat when stressed:

  • Many supermarkets now sell fresh chunks of coconut in the sandwich fridge or sell bags of the unsweetened dried flakes in the nut aisle.
  • Add unsweetened, desiccated coconut to muesli, yogurt and porridge to sweeten.
  • Use coconut milk as a smoothie base, can be made more liquid with some cloudy apple juice.

De-Stress snack trilogies:

  • Simply mix equal amounts of nuts, dried coconut and dried berries and store in an airtight bag or pot.
  • Make a mousse with half a tin of coconut milk, a large handful of berries and a dessertspoon of ground almonds – you can add a little honey and cinnamon to taste.

Article originally published on Charlotte Watts Health. 

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Charlotte Watts

Charlotte Watts is a 500 hr trained Senior Yoga Teacher (Yoga Alliance) who teaches classes, workshops and retreats and co-teaches the module for Teaching Yoga for Stress, Burnout and Chronic Fatigue for Yogacampus. She is also an experienced, award-winning Nutritional Therapist and author of many books, her latest is The De-Stress Effect (Hay House 2015). You can read more about her work at her website and sign up for her free Calm Package including a 40 minute Somatic Yoga (grounding, moving meditation) video.