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It’s driving me crazy trying to decide what to eat!

There are too many “you-should-eat-like-this” diets!  Should I eat high fat or low fat? Should I eat Keto or Paleo? Should I eat free-range meats or go vegan?  It’s enough to drive you crazy and stress you out!

Fortunately, there is scientific research about a number of specific foods that have been shown to help reduce stress in our lives, and some of them might surprise you. Let’s look at five of the strongest stress relief foods in alphabetical order, along with one beverage that can help do the trick, too. Selected links to scientific research are included for those who want to read more.

Avocado

Avocados have always been thought of as a high-fat food, but they also come with nutrients like B-vitamins, potassium and fiber.  And–surprise–the fat in avocados is mostly monounsaturated fat, which researchers have determined in recent years supports heart health and weight loss while reducing inflammation. You may already know that the other monounsaturated fat “star” is olive oil.

Avocados are delicious in salads (try combining it with spinach, listed #4 below) and of course in guacamole. If you make guacamole from avocado, tomato, garlic and lemon juice, every ingredient in the delicious combination is bursting with health benefits.

Reference: Hass Avocado Composition and Potential Health Effects

Dark chocolate

Indulge in some dark chocolate and feel good about it! Dark chocolate reduces stress hormones such as cortisol while relaxing blood vessels, increasing feel-good neurotransmitters and improving mood. Dark chocolate is even being studied for its benefits in mental clarity and brain health, so enjoy a little bit each day!

Reference: Effects of chocolate on cognitive function and mood: a systematic review.

Pistachios in the shell

Pistachios contain a variety of nutrients that provide antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits in the body. This helps to support immune health, which is connected with stress levels.

The reason I recommend “in the shell” is three fold.

First, you might find the repetitive hand movements of cracking open the shells to actually be relaxing. Second, eating pistachios in the shells slows down the eating process so that calories are better controlled. Third, eating one at a time gives you the opportunity to savor and enjoy each bite, which in itself is stress reducing.

Reference: Nutrition attributes and health effects of pistachio nuts

Spinach & green leafy vegetables

Spinach and green leafy vegetables are high in the mood-booster magnesium.  They are also good sources of B-vitamins such as folic acid, as well as many other nutrients. Studies have shown that increased folic acid in the diet is correlated with lower risk of depression symptoms.

Reference: Nutrient intakes and the common mental disorders in women

Wild salmon

Wild salmon is an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids. These nutrients have been associated with lower stress and depression levels in several studies. Of course, salmon also contains lots of protein and some tryptophan, which is a precursor for the relaxing neurotransmitter serotonin.

Reference: Omega-3 supplementation lowers inflammation and anxiety in medical students: a randomized controlled trial

Wash it down with some green tea

Most of us have probably seen some reference on TV or in a magazine that green tea is the best stress-relief beverage. This is because green tea contains many antioxidants, as well as the calming amino acid known as L Theanine, which is the real star of the show.

L Theanine exerts anti-stress effects by increasing calming neurotransmitters such as serotonin and GABA in the brain. Studies have shown that it promotes relaxation without causing drowsiness.

Reference: L-Theanine reduces psychological and physiological stress responses

Now that you know the recipe to destress, kick back and relax with some dark chocolate and green tea right after your salmon avocado salad for dinner!

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