One of the more prominent leafy green vegetables, spinach already has a great reputation when it comes to nutrition and now it’s speculated that it could also play a role in combatting stress. This is because spinach contains a combination of folate, iron and magnesium; nutrients that can work to fight stress by combating fatigue, increasing our production of happy hormones such as dopamine and supporting our nervous system.
Magnesium especially is worth taking note of here; low levels are often associated with a greater susceptibility to stress.1 This can form a vicious cycle as stress in turn can deplete your stores of magnesium, making you more vulnerable the next time it strikes.2
My favourite spinach recipes:
Apple & Spinach Smoothie
Easy Chickpea and Spinach Curry
In addition to depleting your stores of certain nutrients, stress can also exact a toll on your blood glucose levels. Stress hormones such as adrenaline can suppress the action of insulin, the hormone responsible for transporting glucose (sugar) out of your bloodstream, meaning that your blood glucose levels will surge whenever your anxiety levels rise. Unfortunately, this also means that once your stressful episode is over, you will experience a ‘crash’ as your blood glucose levels subsequently plummet which can contribute to unhealthy cravings.
Oats are fantastic when it comes to this problem as they provide a slow, gentle release of energy rather than a rapid hit, plus it contains plenty of fibre, which can help to slow down the absorption of sugar. It also helps that the oats contain an amino acid known as tryptophan, which can be converted into serotonin to help relax the body and the mind. This is one of the reasons why oatflower is at the heart of our gentle stress remedy AvenaCalm.
My favourite oat recipes
Healthy Banana Oat Cookies
Spiced Porridge Two Ways
In recent years people have gone crazy for avocados and this is one trend that might not necessarily be a bad thing, at least not for your stress levels. Avocados contain plenty of healthy fats that can aid the production of certain hormones, plus they also hold a decent amount of energy-boosting B vitamins.
When it comes to your mood, B vitamins matter as they are actually needed to produce feel-good hormones such as dopamine in addition to helping maintain your nerves and blood cells. Avocados also contain a secret weapon against oxidative stress, a process that can degenerate your cells affecting numerous areas of your body, including your nervous system. An amino acid found in avocados, glutathione, is believed to be capable of blocking our absorption of certain free-radical promoting fats that can contribute to this process, lowering our levels of oxidative stress and inflammation.3
My favourite avocado recipes
Spicy Avocado Dip
Pineapple & Avocado Smoothie
Oranges are best known for their content of vitamin C, a nutrient that is often linked to supporting the immune system and maintaining a healthy production of collagen. However, vitamin C can also be linked to our production of cortisol too, as our adrenal glands use this nutrient to produce the steroid hormone.
In times of stress, this means that our stores of vitamin C are often used up by the adrenal glands to produce more cortisol which can make us more vulnerable to infections and viruses. This is significant as experts are now starting to theorise that vitamin C could play a role in lowering cortisol levels. One study that exposed participants to a stressful situation found that those who had taken a vitamin C supplement generally displayed lower cortisol levels than those who did not, implying that vitamin C could help to regulate our cortisol levels and thus our response to stress.4
My favourite orange recipes
Easy No Bake Orange Oat Bars
Chocolate Orange Boost Balls
Walnuts definitely won’t be the only nut-related entrant on this list (keep reading for more!) but I’m placing them first because they’re quite an unusual choice when it comes to fighting stress. However, walnuts are a useful addition to a stress-busting diet as they enable your body to cope better with the physical effects of stress such as inflammation and elevated blood pressure levels.
Studies have found that walnuts could help to positively influence your blood pressure levels which, in addition to their natural anti-inflammatory action, can help to support your body when stress strikes.5 Walnuts are also a good vegan-friendly source of omega-3 fatty acids which are also known to help support healthy cognitive function, helping your brain as well as your body!
My favourite walnut recipes
Spicy Nut Roast
Coffee & Walnut Banana Roast
Turmeric, like avocados, is definitely in vogue at the moment and this is in no small part due to a beneficial compound the spice contains called ‘curcumin.’ Curcumin, amongst other things, is known as a powerful anti-inflammatory which can help in times of stress as this emotion often raises your body’s levels of inflammation, causing additional problems with your digestive system, skin and muscles and joints.
The benefits of curcumin don’t stop here though – there is also some research to suggest that it could work as a natural anti-stressor helping to reverse some of the cellular damage done by stress and anxiety. When pitched against a placebo in a stress-related study, the results were such that participants who had been taking a curcumin supplement experienced significant improvements in quality of life, stress reduction and fatigue.6
My favourite turmeric recipes:
Spinach & Potato Curry
Coconut, Spinach and Red Lentil Dhal
7. Bell peppers
Just like oranges, bell peppers contain a hefty amount of vitamin C so for that reason alone they’ve earned their spot on this list. However, in addition to this content of vitamin C, bell peppers can also contain a flavonoid compound called ‘quercetin.’ Quercetin not only acts as an anti-inflammatory, human trials found that it could help to suppress the synthesis of cortisol in stressful situations, thereby negating some of the negative effects this hormone can have on your body and mood.7
My favourite pepper recipes:
Three Bean Chilli Stuffed Peppers
Tomato & Pepper Salsa
8. Oily fish
Stress is more than capable of raising your blood pressure levels which, understandably, can have an impact on the health of your heart. The NHS already recommend that we all eat at least one portion of oily fish in our diet a week for the sake of our heart and research definitely stands by this advice. It’s believed that the omega-3 fatty acids found in oily fish such as salmon, mackerel etc. could actually help to protect your heart from the effects of mental stress8, even working to reduce our production of adrenal hormones such as adrenaline, which help to encourage our stress reaction.
My favourite oily fish recipe:
Grilled Honey Lemon Sardines with Herbed Rice
Celery is very popular with those that detox as it’s known to help support the digestive system and is full of soluble fibre. When it comes to stress though, the benefits of celery are not widely recognised which is a shame as this green vegetable contains a decent amount of magnesium, a natural stress-busting mineral, plus it’s also rich in tryptophan, a precursor to serotonin, and has natural anti-inflammatory properties to boot! Not too shabby! It definitely wins points for versatility too as you can incorporate this into a range of meals, from smoothies to stir-fries to soup!
My favourite celery recipes:
Celery & Potato Soup
Cucumber & Avocado Smoothie
I did say that walnuts wouldn’t be the only nut-related entrant on this list! Cashews definitely earn their spot too – they are essentially small nutrient powerhouses, containing plenty of mood-boosting magnesium, iron, B vitamins, amino acids and omega-3 fatty acids, in addition to protein. This puts them in a strong position when it comes to fighting stress as they can help to support your nervous system and energy levels, making you less susceptible to fatigue and even encouraging your production of calming neurotransmitters like serotonin.
My favourite cashew recipes:
Cashew & Banana Smoothie
No Bake Banana & Cinnamon Mini Cheesecakes
Garlic is famous for its antiviral and antifungal properties (there is actually some truth to the idea of garlic easing a cold or flu!), plus it can also act as an anti-inflammatory, helping to ease inflammation and encourage balanced blood glucose levels – very useful for enabling your body to cope better with stress! However, like celery, garlic also contains that powerful flavonoid compound quercetin, which as I previously mentioned, can help to lower your synthesis of the stress hormone cortisol.
My favourite garlic recipes
Tomato, Garlic and Chickpea Soup
Three Bean Curry
12 – Pistachios
Thus far I’ve mentioned how stress can affect your heart and raise your levels of inflammation but what about your circulatory system? If you’re constantly experiencing stress then that’s going to elevate your heart-rate which, over time, can damage your blood vessels, causing them to harden. This can make it more difficult for blood to reach your heart but pistachios can lend a helping hand here. Pistachios contain plenty of antioxidants such as lutein, zeaxanthin as well as protein and healthy fats. It’s this nutritional content that perhaps contributes to their ability to strengthen your blood vessels, helping to lower your blood pressure in instances of stress.9
My favourite pistachio recipes:
Healthy Pistachio Flapjacks
Banana and Pistachio ‘Nice’ Cream
6Pandaran Sudheeran S, Jacob D, Natinga Mulakal J, et al. Safety, Tolerance, and Enhanced Efficacy of a Bioavailable Formulation of Curcumin With Fenugreek Dietary Fiber on Occupational Stress: A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Pilot Study. J Clin Psychopharmacol. 2016;36(3):236-43.