Nothing can magically make the stressors in your life disappear. But as it turns out, the right foods can seriously help.
No, they won’t give you more time in the day. Or make your job easier. Or improve your relationships.
But they can indeed help you better deal with all of life’s problems. After all, anxiety might just seem like a state of mind, but the uneasy feelings and negative thoughts it causes are a response to hormone levels and chemical reactions occurring in your body.
And just as pharmaceutical therapies can help, so can nutrients from healthy, natural foods. Because science.
Here are six foods that studies show can deliver the vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants you need to help you calm down, sleep better, and feel less anxious.
1. Pumpkin seeds
Its sunflower sister gets all the love, but pumpkin seeds are the best-kept secret in health food. That’s because they’re the top source of magnesium, a mineral that studies show can increase the duration of your deep sleep—a key to reducing anxiety—and lower your levels of the stress hormone cortisol. That helps you feel calmer, all day long.
Look for them in the nuts aisle or in the health food section of your grocery store. Sprinkle the hulled seeds over your oatmeal or salad, or blend them into a smoothie. They’re also delicious by the handful, which provides you with nearly half of the amount recommended daily.
2. Herbal Tea
Many herbal teas are famous for their calming and sleep-inducing properties. But chamomile is most widely recognized for these benefits—and with good reason. Research shows it has sedative effects, induces deep sleep, and reduces mild to moderate anxiety.
For a tea that’s all-natural and delicious, try our organic Sleepy Tea blend. It contains chamomile to help you relax and sleep, but also organic ingredients that are rich in vitamin C and folic acid, as well as biotin, which helps strengthen your nails and give you healthier hair.
Also: Always let your tea steep for at least 3 minutes. That’s the amount of time needed to ensure you get the most healthful antioxidants in the finished product.
Scrambled, over-easy, or baked: It doesn’t matter. Eggs help you the fight negative effects of stress and anxiety. How? By helping you rest better. That’s because they’re high in glycine, an amino acid vital for neurotransmission and sleep quality. In fact, one study found that taking a dose of 3 grams of glycine before bed improved sleep in people with insomnia and lack of sleep.
One egg contains around 1 gram of glycine, so three eggs would be enough to obtain the same amount that appears to be effective. (Researchers also found that taking glycine in the morning didn’t make you sleepy during the day.)
4. Dark chocolate
There’s a reason people crave chocolate when they’re under stress or depressed: Dark chocolate helps boosts your mood. One study found that eating 40 grams of dark chocolate daily for two weeks significantly reduced stress hormone levels. And while dark chocolate decreases cortisol, it simultaneously increases serotonin, a hormone that makes you feel happy.
The obvious question: How much is 40 grams? It’s about the size of a typical dark chocolate bar, and also equal to nine Hershey’s dark chocolate kisses.
Of course, while delicious, a daily chocolate bar may not be the best approach for your diet. Our suggestion: Start with a couple of dark chocolate kisses, or one-third of a bar. That may be enough for you to experience benefits, and it’s the same amount that’s been shown to significantly reduce blood pressure, which can be another indicator of stress.
Everyone has heard about the tryptophan in Thanksgiving turkey. The big cliché, of course, is that tryptophan—an amino acid—is what makes you sleepy after your meal. News flash: It’s actually the dump truck of food you eat that leaves you drowsy. But that’s a story for another day.
Here’s the reality: Tryptophan does help you sleep because it increases melatonin. And like dark chocolate, it also boosts serotonin, the feel-good hormone that helps you feel calmer and happier. So it attacks anxiety and stress in two ways.
But turkey doesn’t contain any more of this amino acid than other meats. And calorie for calorie, spinach is actually a better source. For a big health dose, whip up a big salad with grilled chicken or fish and use spinach as the “lettuce” base. Then chill out on the couch, and look forward to sweet dreams.
It’s no coincidence that flaxseeds are touted in every “best foods you aren’t eating” story. That’s because they’re an excellent source of ALA, a type of omega-3 fatty acid. Omega 3s are essential for a good sleep because they help convert serotonin—the happy hormone—into melatonin. Balanced melatonin levels are needed for a healthy sleep-wake cycle.
Flaxseeds also reduce blood pressure and cortisol levels during stressful situations. What’s more, they’ve been shown to reduce anxiety in healthy young adults.
You can enjoy these benefits by eating flaxseed meal, flaxseed oil, flaxseed milk, or blending the seeds into smoothies. It’s perfect for breakfasts—to help you tackle the day calm and centered—and for evenings, so you can lower your stress levels easily.