Dietitian-Approved! Top Stress-Buster Foods

You loved this destressing foods article when it first ran, so we're bringing it back!

Dietitian-Approved! Top Stress-Buster Foods

You loved this destressing foods article when it first ran, so we’re bringing it back!

-Jackie Newgent

A woman sitting on a park bench with her laptop and lunch

We’ve all been there. You’ve had a hectic morning, so you reach for a chocolate doughnut. A bad day at the office? That pint of ice cream is looking pretty good.

Don’t do it! Elisa Zied, MS, RD, spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association and author of Nutrition At Your Fingertips (Alpha Books/Penguin, 2009), says it’s better to choose the following foods, which can relax you and even make you healthier.

Whole wheat pasta
Nutrients provided by whole wheat pasta and other whole grain foods can help boost levels of serotonin, a mood-lifting neurotransmitter. One key nutrient found in whole grain foods that appears to possess antidepressant properties is magnesium; it’s a mineral that is also said to help regulate blood pressure. Whole grains are good anytime, but they’re especially important in the winter. Zied says, “Serotonin slumps in the winter because of less daylight and less sun, so consuming whole wheat pasta or brown rice can help you boost the ‘feel good’ chemical in your brain and better manage stress.”
Tip: Enjoy one whole grain food at each meal. Try banana-topped oatmeal for breakfast, turkey stuffed in a whole wheat pita for lunch, and, for dinner, whole wheat spaghetti with marinara sauce, or red beans and brown rice.

Read Dietitians Separate Good Food From Bad

Sweet potatoes
Choose orange veggies and fruits. (In fact, the color of your produce may be as important to your health as the quantity.) The orange color of produce like sweet potatoes, carrots and cantaloupe usually indicates the presence of beta-carotene, a form of vitamin A. According to Zied, powerful sources of vitamin A act as antioxidants and deliver a punch to free radicals (harmful molecules) that can be caused by stress and contribute to chronic disease. So eating foods rich in beta-carotene may play a role in protecting your health when you’re feeling frazzled.
Tip: Include one orange vegetable and one orange fruit every day, such as sweet potato soup with your lunch and cantaloupe cubes as a snack.

Grab a handful! These protein-packed powerhouses can help make pesky hunger pangs go away. Almonds are a terrific and tasty way to fill our vitamin E gap, too. “Without enough vitamin E,” says Zied, “your muscles will feel weak, you may have trouble with balance, and your vision may be adversely affected.” Talk about stress!
Tip: Savor one small handful of almonds (23, to be exact) every day.

Low-fat yogurt
With its soothing creaminess, yogurt can act as a comfort food. No studies are required to tell you that comfort foods can help you feel better almost instantly. Of course, yogurt contains a bounty of key nutrients, including calcium. Says Zied, “Calcium supports functions of proteins, including the formation of enzymes and hormones — and hormones can play a role in managing stress.” What’s more, the protein in yogurt can help to fill you up, squashing mid-afternoon munchies.
Tip: Have yogurt on hand as a mid-morning, afternoon or late-night snack.

Read 5 Healthy Snacks for Couch Potatoes

One of Zied’s favorite legumes (a kind of pea or bean) is lentils, since they’re versatile, great-tasting and a super source of folate. This B vitamin is important for women of childbearing age, including those who are pregnant. Experts say it can reduce the risk of some birth defects by up to 70 percent. Lack of folate can contribute to an array of unpleasantly stressful symptoms, including irritability, forgetfulness, disturbed sleep and muscle weakness. Other beneficial legumes include black-eyed peas and Great Northern beans.
Tip: Zied suggests pairing lentils with a whole wheat flour tortilla and some calcium-rich cheese to create a mood-boosting, nutrient-packed meal.

Jackie Newgent, RD, is a New York City-based nutritionist, author of Big Green Cookbook and The All-Natural Diabetes Cookbook, and healthy cooking instructor at The Institute of Culinary Education. Follow her on Twitter @jackienewgent.

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