Stress-decreasing Foods

Dr. Tanya Hudson
Portland Naturopaths
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Our adrenal glands (AKA stress glands) make hormones (like cortisol) to keep us going day in and day out, but overtime, with even low levels of chronic stress, they can no longer keep up.  This makes us more vulnerable to the negative impact of stress, leading to exhaustion, anxiety, irritability, and sometimes increased body aches and pain.  

The good news is that we can elevate the stress on our adrenal glands, and our body overall, by choosing healthy, nutritious foods. In times of high stress, some foods are important in helping to maintain our stress shield and promote calm.

Whole grains and veggies

These are complex carbohydrates (think quinoa, brown rice, and whole wheat pasta), which tell the brain to make more serotonin, the anti-stress hormone.  They also help to stabilize blood pressure and blood sugars, creating a soothing effect, along with regulation of appetite.  It’s a win win!

Fruits and veggies

They contain antioxidants which boost the immune system.  Stress depletes antioxidants by making it harder for the body to absorb them.  So eat more apples, prunes, sweet cherries, berries, plums, kale, beets, broccoli, and artichokes!  You will also find antioxidants in pinto, red, black, and kidney beans.  As my boys say, “beans, beans, the wonderful fruit, the more you eat, the more you toot!”  

Foods with high levels of vitamins B and C

Vitamin C helps lower stress hormones and decreases blood pressure.  Oranges, strawberries, grapefruit, kale, red peppers, Brussels sprouts, and broccoli and all great sources of Vitamin C, so eat more of those!  Why are B vitamins also important?  These increase serotonin and dopamine, leading to feelings of “calm and content.”  So enjoy those avocados and almonds!

Oatmeal and fermented foods

Oatmeal decreases stress hormones and boosts serotonin.  Fermented foods such as yogurt, pickles, and sauerkraut have high levels of probiotics, linked to stress relief.  Probiotics are being studied as treatments for anxiety, depression, and social anxiety.  Remember, 95% of the serotonin receptors are in the digestive tract, making gut health crucial to mental/emotional health!  Part of the whole gut-brain axis!

Salmon, edamame, and leafy greens

These foods contain magnesium, which helps you avoid headaches and fatigue, making it harder to cope with stress.  Magnesium also improves sleep quality.  Remember, stress actually depletes magnesium, so make sure to get your magnesium foods daily.  Another win for leafy greens!  Zinc, found in cashews, eggs, liver, and oysters, is also fantastic for decreasing anxiety.  

Nuts and seeds

Nuts and seeds, such as pistachios, flaxseeds, walnuts, and almonds, contain high levels of omega 3’s.  Omega 3’s have been shown to decrease cortisol surges set off by stress and can help to decrease anxiety.


Turmeric contains antioxidant and anti-anxiety properties.  Curcumin, a key compound in turmeric, lowers cortisol levels.  Ginger contains the antioxidant gingerol, which may decrease inflammation that comes with stress.  And cinnamon, an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory, can help lower blood pressure.  

And which #1 food should you avoid??  

Drum roll….SUGAR (bet you could have guessed that).  Sugar is a simple carbohydrate, leading to sugar crashes, increased levels of stress hormones, and decreased serotonin.  The result?  Anxiety, depression, poor focus, and fatigue.  No thank you! 

“If you don’t make time for your wellness, you will be forced to make time for your illness.”

This is my favorite quote and it really emphasizes the fact that we must make time for our wellness.  We can’t exchange our body with another down the road, so we need to take care of it now. There is no time to lose!