Top 10 De-Stress Foods

celery1. Celery 

Celery has a long history as a calmative that helps calm the nervous system and support sleep. Research has shown that eating four stalks a day can lower raised blood pressure, a common stress-related symptom and a sign that a heightened chronic stress response – ‘constant alert’ – may well be implicated, as well as low levels of the mineral potassium that celery provides in large amounts. It also contains tryptophan to help us create the mood and sleep brain chemical serotonin, adding to its effects as an insomnia and anxiety reliever. It is often recommended in weight loss programmes as takes lots of chewing so promotes feeling of fullness. It is the perfect bedtime snack to support quality sleep and recovery with stress, whilst keeping blood sugar levels constant throughout the night to prevent sudden night-time waking.

  1. Ko FN et al. Vasodilatory action mechanisms of apigenin isolated from Apium graveolens in rat thoracic aorta. Biochim Biophys Acta. 199;1115(1):69-74

garlic2. Garlic

Garlic has been used by most culinary and traditional medicinal cultures for thousands of years, with research backing up its potent antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal properties. These protective qualities help support an immune system lowered by stress and it is also known to help reduce inflammation, support circulation, aid blood sugar balance and encourage detoxification, all of which can become compromised in the face of stress. Garlic is a key feature in the traditional Mediterranean diet of Crete, that shown to add a year to life expectancy alongside plenty of vegetables, fruit and olive oil – all rich in antioxidant nutrients that protect body cells and tissues from stress-related damage. Along with its allium family member, the onion, when cooked with them it also helps to break down the anti-nutrients beans and grains that inhibit human absorption of essential minerals zinc and iron.

  1. Simopoulos AP. The Mediterranean Diets: What Is So Special about the Diet of Greece? The Scientific Evidence.  J. Nutr. 2001;131:3065S-3073S
  2. Gautam, S et al. ‘Higher bioaccessibility of iron and zinc from food grains in the presence of garlic and onion’, J Agric Food Chem 2010; 58(14): 8426–29
  3. Block E. The Chemistry of Garlic and Onion. Sci Am 1985;252:94-99 

broccoli3. Brassicas vegetables

This is the illustrious family aka cruciferous vegetables, that includes broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, kale, collards, pak choi, horseradish and mustard leaves. They contain well-research sulphur compounds called glucosinolates that help us detoxify and support immunity, including cancer prevention. These chemicals allow us to produce antioxidant enzymes in the liver that are both anti-inflammatory (key in the face of stress) and work over and over again long after eating these veg. Another sulphur compound indole-3-carbinol appears to lower oestrogen in women, thus helping to prevent the common stress-related ‘oestrogen dominance’ that the most predominant form of modern PMS and associated with endometriosis, fibroids, depression and acne. Also eat these cooked though or they can interfere with thyroid function – also lowered by stress.

  1. Verhoeven DT et al. A review of mechanisms underlying anticarcinogenicity by brassica vegetables. Chem. Biol. Interact. 1997;103(2):79–129 
  2. Shin JS et al. Indole-Containing Fractions of Brassica rapa Inhibit Inducible Nitric Oxide Synthase and Pro-Inflammatory Cytokine Expression by Inactivating Nuclear Factor-κB. J Med Food. 2011 [Epub ahead of print]
  3. Karen-Ng LP et al. Combined Effects of Isothiocyanate Intake, Glutathione s-Transferase Polymorphisms and Risk Habits for Age of Oral Squamous Cell Carcinoma Development. Asian Pac J Cancer Prev. 2011;12(5):1161-6

licorice-egyptian-tea4. Licorice

Licorice has a long history as an adrenal support, used to buoy up flagging energy reserves. We now know this is because it keeps the stress hormone cortisol circulating. This may not sound an attractive proposition but this hormone is needed to get up in the morning and keep up blood sugar levels. Long-term stress can deplete its morning production, having us turn to sugary breakfasts, caffeine or stress to provide motivation. Licorice is a great alternative and makes for delicious teas, but as it is so stimulating, not past 2pm or can affect sleep or for those with high blood pressure. It is also used traditionally for digestive ailments commonly caused by stress, as it supports the protective membranes that coat the digestive tract, effectively soothing the gut and acting as a mild laxative. It inhibits the bacteria Helicobacter Pylori, responsible for stomach ulcers whilst also healing the stomach wall.

  1. Al-Qarawi, A et al. ‘Liquorice (Glycyrrhizaglabra) and the adrenal–kidney–pituitary axis in rats’, Food Chem 2002; 40(10): 1525–27

Chamomile-tea-for-anxiety5. Chamomile

Chamomile tea is well-known as a soothing drink and sleep aid and is through the raising of the amino acid (protein part) glycine. We use this compound to produce sleep neurotransmitters and it can calm a stressed, heightened nervous system in its own right. Less well-known is that chamomile raises levels of a substance called hippuric acid in the body, the same substance in cranberries and blueberries that fights infection, great protection for the stressed. It may also help regulate digestive issues like stomach cramps and constipation – common symptoms for those with stress-related Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). Regularly drinking the tea has shown to help these effects long-term, to help relieve colds and menstrual cramps and the used tea bags also make great compresses for puffy, tired eyes with dark circles.

  1. Wang Y et al. A metabonomic strategy for the detection of the metabolic effects of chamomile (Matricaria recutita L.) ingestion. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry 2005;53(2):191-6

chocolate_bar6. Chocolate

Before Europeans added sugar to chocolate, the bitter bean was famed amongst the Aztecs for its health-giving properties, its Latin name theobroma even means ‘food of the gods’. This gives name to theobromine, one of the stimulating chemicals it contains, alongside caffeine – good for an energy lift but usually come alongside sugar which can add to blood sugar problems associated with stress. So why is chocolate in this list? Well, when it comes to a treat, dark chocolate can be a good snack choice to stave off cravings for less healthy choices. Research has shown that 40g a day can help us cope with stress and it has four times the antioxidants in green tea and twice that in red wine. We still don’t fully understand the chemical effect it has on the brain, but it may release ‘happy chemicals’ beta endorphins that help us cope with stress and some may even be sensitive to the ‘love molecule’ PEA (phenylethylamine) also in the smell of roses and said to evoke feelings of pleasure and euphoria. Raw chocolate has become popular because it has less less agitating caffeine effect and higher antioxidants than usual roasted beans.

  1. Martin FP et al. Metabolic Effects of Dark Chocolate Consumption on Energy, Gut Microbiota, and Stress-Related Metabolism in Free-Living Subjects. J. Proteome Res 2009; 8(12):5568–5579

nuts in shells_lowres7. Nuts

Nuts are the perfect little nutritional package, providing the potential needed for new plant life to grow. This makes them great sources of the nutrients we need to help us cope with stress – B vitamins, zinc, magnesium and omega oils – that are ironically quickly used up in the stress response. Nuts can cleverly help break this vicious cycle as they naturally balance blood sugar levels and have shown to both reduce sugar cravings, regulate appetite and support metabolism. The fats they contain – omega oils and monounsaturated fats – have shown to help curb overeating cycles and contrary to some health messages, those with nuts in their diet have shown to be more successful at weight management. They would have been a key component of our ancestor’s hunter-gatherer diet and so we have evolved with them to help support our immune regulation. They provide crucial protein for vegetarians, especially those who are stressed.

  1. Tey SL et al. Nuts improve diet quality compared to other energy-dense snacks while maintaining body weight. J Nutr Metab. 2011:357350
  2. Cassady BA et al. Mastication of almonds: effects of lipid bioaccessibility, appetite and hormone response. Am J. Clin Nut. 2009;89:794-800

olive_oil8. Olive oil

Olive oil – alongside garlic, nuts, avocadoes, vegetables, fruits and red wine – forms the cornerstone of the aforementioned healthy Mediterranean diet. It has shown to be protective in many areas where long-term stress can have detrimental health effects. A newly discovered compound it contains, named oleocanthal has shown to have the same anti-inflammatory effects as ibuprofen without the side-effects. The monounsaturated fats, flavones, quercetin and omega 9 oils (oleic acid) are a recipe for cardiovascular protection; vital when oxidative stress is an underlying cause of heart disease. Inflammation and oxidative stress in body tissues are now known to be at the root of most disease processes, so preventing these helps staves off the ravages of stress. Olive oil on salads and vegetables also helps us to absorb the fat-soluble nutrients like vitamins A and E and carotenoids that protect fatty areas like brain, heart, liver, eyes and skin from damage.

  1. Simopoulos AP. The Mediterranean Diets: What Is So Special about the Diet of Greece? The Scientific Evidence.  J. Nutr. 2001;131:3065S-3073S
  2. Iacono A et al. Effect of oleocanthal and its derivatives on inflammatory response induced by lipopolysaccharide in a murine chondrocyte cell line. Arthritis & Rheumatism 2010;62(6): 1675–1682
  3. Uematsu T et al. Effect of dietary fat content on oral bioavailability of menatetrenone in humans. J Pharm Sci. 1996;85(9):1012-6

salmon plate9. Oily fish

Oily fish are so-called because of the high levels of insulating oils they contain. Up to 30% oil helps protect them in the cold seas they tend to inhabit. They include mackerel, anchovies, salmon, trout and sardines. We have left tuna off the list as although as rich in the beneficial omega 3 oils, it is also high in toxic mercury – associated with headaches, insomnia and agitation. Oily fish are our richest source of omega 3 oils, which are much lower in modern than ancestral diets and are needed for brain function, heart health and how we cope with stress. Low levels have been associated with the poor appetite regulation shown with weight gain, negative blood sugar and energy regulation seen with chronic stress and stress-related issues with mood and concentration. Oily fish contain omega 3 oils in the direct forms DHA and EPA, which are difficult to convert from plant sources like nuts and seeds. DHA is needed for us to use the neurotransmitter serotonin for good sleep and mood and EPA helps us make the potent anti-inflammatory agent resolvin. They also contain B vitamins, zinc and magnesium needed to cope with stress and are dense protein sources to help reduce sugar addiction cycles.

  1. Micallef, M et al. ‘Plasma n–3 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids are negatively associated with obesity’, Br J Nutr 2009; 102(9): 1370–74
  2. Sawazaki, S et al. ‘The effect of docosahexaenoic acid on plasma catecholamine concentrations and glucose tolerance during longlasting psychological stress: a doubleblind placebo-controlled study’, J NutrSciVitaminol 1999; 45(5): 655–65
  3. Delarue, J et al. ‘Fish oil prevents the adrenal activation elicited by mental stress in healthy men’, Diabetes Metab 2003; 29(3): 289–95
  4. Piscitelli, F et al. ‘Effect of dietary krill oil supplementation on the endocannabinoidome of metabolically relevant tissues from high-fat-fed mice’, NutrMetab 2011; 8(1): 51
  5. Kiecolt-Glaser, J K. ‘Omega-3 supplementation lowers inflammation and anxiety in medical students: A randomized controlled trial’, Brain, Behavior, and Immunity 2011 [Epub ahead of print]
  6. Kidd, P M. ‘Omega-3 DHA and EPA for cognition, behavior, and mood: clinical findings and structural-functional synergies with cell membrane phospholipids’, Altern Med Rev 2007; 12(3): 207–27

10. Berries

blackberry_lowresThese little seed packages are one of the few fruits we now eat in the same form that our stone age ancestors would have; many other fruits have been bred with raised sugar content to satisfy the modern sweet palette. Berries are famed for their high antioxidant properties, with proanthocyanins that have shown to support circulation, vein integrity and brain function by these actions. Other antioxidants such as quercetin, catechins, gallic acid and salycilic acid have shown to help prevent premature ageing, often seen with chronic stress. Raspberries in particular have the highest levels of ellagic acid, which also helps move bile through the liver, thereby eliminating toxins and regulating cholesterol and female hormones. This and berries’ ability to temper the release of sugars into the bloodstream after eating means that they are the best sweet choice if you just have to have that dessert or sweet snack. Unlike other fruit they cause little fermentation and gas in the bowel, which can be seen when digestion is lowered by the stress response. The fact that we eat the seeds with the whole fruit provides some extra protein and essential oils too.

  1. Manzano, S, Williamson, G. ‘Polyphenols and phenolic acids from strawberry and apple decrease glucose uptake and transport by human intestinal Caco-2 cells’, Molecular Nutrition & Food Research 2010; 54(12): 1773–80
  2. Torronen, R et al. ‘Berries modify the postprandial plasma glucose response to sucrose in healthy subjects’, Br J Nutr 2010; 103(8): 1094–97