We are so used to satisfying our hunger by stuffing convenient, tasty foods into our mouths that we often fail to recognize how food impacts our well-being. Modern chemistry has shown us that the chemical constituents of certain foods encourage relaxation, while the components of other types of foods may initiate the body’s response to stress. While it is helpful to avoid foods capable of aggravating stress, choosing six items in particular can help maintain feelings of peace and calm.
According to New York City-based nutritionist Ariane Hundt, “Foods play a large role in our moods, energy and emotions. A poor diet, especially one loaded with junk food, is often a cause of depression.” With a little bit of investigation, it becomes clear that different types of foods (and drink) can impact how we feel. Examples include:
- overeating can make people feel bloated and lethargic
- drinking freshly squeezed juice can make people feel light and energetic
- eating a bowl of hot soup can make people feel warm and comforted
Many highly palatable, addictive, convenient foods are known to aggravate stress. With the goal of stress reduction, steer clear of the following:
- Caffeine – Caffeinated soda or coffee is a frequent culprit of unnecessary stress and anxiety. Caffeine stimulates the nervous system, which means too much can lead to a rapid heartbeat and increase in blood pressure.
- Alcohol – Although some mistakenly assume alcohol helps them relax, it actually stimulates the production of the same hormones the body produces when under stress.
- Foods High in Sugar – Associated with mood swings, high-sugar foods cause blood sugar and insulin spikes that lead to irritability, poor concentration and fatigue.
- Salty Foods – Commonly found in fast food and processed foods, excess amounts of sodium causes fluid retention, putting a strain on the heart and increasing blood pressure.
When it comes to our physical and mental health, finding ways to relieve or minimize stress goes a long way. Study after study has confirmed that emotional stress can create or compound just about every type of illness. As such, people turn to all kinds of stress-relieving solutions. Some popular avenues include:
- Massage therapy
- Hot tub soaks
- Deep breathing
Each of these stress-relieving approaches has valid, scientifically backed evidence demonstrating why it is valuable for stress reduction. However, few of us make the connection between what we eat and stress relief. Each with its own logical reason, the following six foods (and beverages) are beneficial to anyone that wants to veer towards relaxation:
- Celery – Commonly regarded as crunchy water or a vehicle for ranch dressing, celery in and of itself is a brilliant dietary secret. Historically, celery was regarded as an antidote for stress, with Hippocrates prescribing the vegetable as a tonic for those suffering from nervous tension. Today, nutritionists recognize the daily ingestion of celery as an effective plan to lower high blood pressure. Several theories explain the physiological mechanism behind celery’s effectiveness, but the connection between celery’s ability to lower blood pressure and relaxation is irrefutable.
- Oatmeal – As long as it is not filled with sugar, oatmeal aids in relaxation for several reasons. First, this complex carbohydrate enhances the absorption of tryptophan, which leads to the production of serotonin – a brain chemical that helps the body relax. In addition, oats are rich in Vitamin B6 – a known anti-stress vitamin and melatonin, a hormone that supports a healthful sleep.
- Milk – There is a reason for the folk remedy calling for a warm glass of milk before bed. Because it contains tryptophan, which converts to serotonin, milk can help with relaxation and sleep. According to a 2005 study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, a high intake of calcium and vitamin D (like in drinking a daily glass of low-fat milk) may reduce the depression and anxiety typical of pre-menstrual syndrome.
- Bananas – This fruit is loaded with potassium and magnesium, known natural muscle relaxants. Because relaxed muscles encourage the body to relax, sources of potassium and magnesium (like bananas) are a wise route towards easing physically mounted stress. In addition, bananas also contain tryptophan, which converts to the relaxing chemical serotonin.
- Green Tea – Although this beverage contains the stimulant caffeine, green tea is unique in that it contains high levels of L-theanine, an amino acid that reduces stress, promotes relaxation and enhances mood by stimulating the production of alpha brain waves. Our usual wakened state is associated with beta brain waves, while the calmer and more relaxed state is alpha brain waves. In addition, green tea can lower high blood pressure, a precursor to relaxation in someone with hypertension.
- Cold Water Fish – Cold water fish like mackerel, tuna, salmon, sardines and herring are high in omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3s help boost serotonin levels while suppressing the production of anxiety-related hormones cortisol and adrenaline. In addition, omega-3s have been shown to lower high blood pressure.
Incorporating salmon, green tea, milk, oatmeal, bananas and celery into your diet will not solve all of your problems, but it can help you achieve a more relaxed state. Carefully choosing the food that you eat can make a substantial impact on how your body reacts and adapts to everyday stressors. Especially when avoiding foods that aggravate stress and employing other techniques for relaxation, consciously eating the right foods contributes to your ability to relax.