In need of a little calming influence? Try eating food that helps you relax naturally.
If you’re experiencing nervousness, racing thoughts, difficulty getting to sleep, or even panic during the coronavirus pandemic, you’re not alone. This is an extremely stressful time; it’s only natural that we’d feel a little amped and uneasy.
If you’re having trouble relaxing, avoiding sugar and caffeine is a must. These ingredients can further stress our bodies and set us up for anxiety. On the flip side, there are foods that can help support our nervous system, increase our resiliency to stress, and even make us feel calm right after we eat them.
As we move through this crazy time, let’s lean on these 9 foods that promote relaxation.
A fermented drink that falls somewhere between yogurt and milk, kefir is a great addition to your social distancing routine. It can be made from dairy milk or nut milk and contains high amounts of beneficial bacteria, which support a healthy gut microbiome. At first glance, our gut health might seem unrelated to our nervous systems, but it’s actually quite the opposite. Studies have shown not only that stress can alter the microbiome in undesirable ways, but that anxiety could actually be alleviated by regulating gut bacteria.
You can drink kefir plain or use it as a creamy base for recipes like in this Chilled Avocado, Cucumber, and Kefir Soup recipe by Julie Smolyansky.
Fatty fish like salmon are full of omega-3 fatty acids, which have proven to be extremely beneficial for calming the nervous system. In fact, a systematic review of 19 clinical trials—published in JAMA Open Network—showed that improvements in anxiety symptoms were associated with omega-3 fatty acid treatment. Try this Maple Mustard Grilled Salmon recipe from Christine Gallary and add salmon to the menu a few times a week.
3. Tart Cherries
Tart cherries contain high levels of various phytochemicals, including melatonin. You’ve probably heard of melatonin before; it’s known as the “sleep hormone” because our bodies release it in the evening to help us get to sleep. Well, studies have shown that consuming tart cherry juice increases melatonin levels and can improve sleep quality and duration. If you’re having trouble winding down at night, tart cherries might be the perfect food to lean on. For other foods that can help you sleep, read this.
Have you ever wondered why cucumber water is so popular? It could be because the smell of cucumbers has natural stress-relieving properties. And it’s not only the smell, either; this low-sugar fruit also contains B vitamins, which help support our central nervous system. In fact, studies have shown that a B complex vitamin can improve anxiety symptoms compared to placebo.
Plenty of studies have found interesting links between vitamin C and mood. In fact, one study on 42 high school students showed that vitamin C actually lowered anxiety levels. Citrus fruits—like lemons, limes, oranges, and grapefruit—are one of the best ways to get vitamin C in your diet. Here’s how to segment citrus for easy, mess-free eating.
You might not think of Vegemite as a health food, but one study, published in 2018, showed that people who consume yeast-based spreads—such as Marmite, Vegemite, Promite, and Aussiemite—have lower levels of anxiety and stress. According to the researchers, the B vitamin content in these spreads is likely to thank for their anxiety-reducing powers. To start using Vegemite, try spreading it thinly on one side of a grilled cheese sandwich. It adds a bitter, salty flavor that you may just learn to love.
Onions are one of the best sources of prebiotic fiber, which helps to feed healthy gut bacteria. As we now know, a balanced microbiome is essential for optimal mental health. Other sources of prebiotic fiber include leeks, bananas, garlic, and apples. Try adding raw onions to salads or whips of this Easy Caramelized Onions recipe from Aida Mollenkamp.
8. Pumpkin Seeds
Pumpkin seeds are one of the best sources of magnesium, which is often referred to as the “relaxation” mineral and is one of the top stress-relieving nutrients. Many of us are deficient in magnesium, as processed foods are virtually devoid of this mineral, but luckily, pumpkin seeds provide more than 150 mg of magnesium per cup, which is almost 50 percent of your daily recommended intake. Try this Homemade Pumpkin Seed Milk recipe, from the book “Magnesium Everyday Secrets.”
9. Dark Chocolate
Lucky you: Research published in the Journal of Proteome Research found that eating about 1½ ounces of dark chocolate per day can actually lead to lower levels of cortisol, which is one of our primary stress hormones. For extra relaxation benefits, dark chocolate also contains significant levels of magnesium. Just make sure you opt for dark chocolate and if you’re not sure what to buy, these are the best dark chocolate bars out there.
Focusing on these foods can help promote relaxation, peaceful sleep, and a sense of calm despite what’s going on outside. Luckily, most of these foods are also affordable, delicious, and can be prepared in any number of creative ways.
The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.