Everyone experiences stress, anxiety or sleep difficulties on occasion. While you will need to address any medical conditions or other factors causing these problems, a healthy dietary lifestyle can make way for relaxation. No food or nutrient will put an end to life's stress, but certain foods and nutrients increase your body and brain's ability to promote calmness -- particularly if you incorporate them into a balanced diet. For severe or long-lasting symptoms, seek guidance from your doctor.
Carbohydrates are vital for relaxation because they allow your brain to produce the feel-good chemical serotonin. They also allow your brain readier access to tryptophan, an amino acid that promotes calmness. Rather than reach for refined carbohydrate sources, such as pretzels or candy, choose whole grains. As rich sources of complex carbohydrates, whole grains promote lasting blood sugar control, making blood sugar spikes and related mood swings less likely. Unlike refined grains, such as white flour, whole grains haven't been stripped of protein, fiber or B vitamins, which the University of Maryland Medical Center recommends for staying healthy and managing stress. Nutritious examples include quinoa, air-popped popcorn, brown or wild rice and 100 percent whole-grain breads, pastas and cereals.
Tryptophan Sources With Carbs
Although turkey is the best-known tryptophan source, many other foods provide this calming amino acid. Valuable sources include protein-rich foods, such as cheese, chicken, fish, eggs, tofu and milk; healthy fat sources, such as nuts, nut butter and seeds; and starches, such as popcorn. To promote bedtime restfulness, the National Sleep Foundation recommends having a snack containing carbohydrates and protein, such as peanut butter on toast. For a mix of carbs, protein and tryptophan, you could also have whole-grain cereal with milk, a scrambled egg on an English muffin or an almond butter-topped banana. Because your brain needs carbohydrates to use tryptophan, include a carb source when you rely on meat or eggs for the amino acid.
Vitamin B-12 Sources
Vitamin B-12 is a water-soluble vitamin that plays an important role in brain function. Teerawong Kasiolarn, a naturopathic doctor at Nova Medical and Urgent Care Center in Virginia, recommends emphasizing vitamin B-12 sources if you struggle with stress, mild depression or anxiety. To raise your vitamin B-12 levels, eat more seafood, such as clams, shrimp, scallops and salmon; meat, such as beef; and fermented products, such as miso, tempeh or tofu. Vitamin B-12 deficiencies are uncommon in the United States, according to the Office of Dietary Supplements, but older age, a vegetarian diet, pregnancy and gastrointestinal diseases, such as celiac disease, increase your risk.
In addition to eating particular foods, consuming small, frequent meals that contain complex carbohydrates and healthy fats can help minimize stress, says the University of Maryland Medical Center. Omega-3 fats, prevalent in fatty fish, walnuts and flaxseeds, are particularly important for brain function and positive moods. Limit sugary foods, which can disrupt blood sugar control and leave little room for nutritious and relaxation-boosting fare. Alcohol and caffeine can also interfere with relaxation. Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, which supply B vitamins and disease-fighting antioxidants, and stay hydrated. If you have difficulty meeting your nutritional needs through food alone, talk to your doctor about the potential need for supplements.
- National Sleep Foundation: Food That Could Help You Sleep
- Psychology Today: Do Carbs Keep You Sane?
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Stress
- Harvard School of Public Health: Carbohydrates and Blood Sugar
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Tryptophan
- Today's Dietitian: Fight Stress With Food? Yes, Really!
- Office of Dietary Supplements: Vitamin B12 Fact Sheet
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Omega-3 Fatty Acids