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06-09 Foods to snack on when you’re stressed

Posted in Nutrition, Recovery, stress

Foods to snack on when you’re stressed

When the going gets rough, many of us have the urge to chow down on our favorite snack. Food can be immensely comforting, especially in times of stress.

But why?

As it turns out, many of the nutrients contained within certain food groups can actually soothe the brain. Here is a list of food groups that can help naturally reduce stress levels.

  1. 1. Complex carbohydrates

All carbohydrates naturally increase the brain’s stash of serotonin, a feel-good neurotransmitter that has been implicated in depression.

If you want a little more serotonin in your life, your best choice is to eat complex carbs such as whole-grain breads, pastas and oatmeal. Since complex carbs take a long time to digest, your body benefits from their serotonin boost for a long time.

Simple carbs, such as candy or soda, can provide you with a quick spike in serotonin. Unfortunately, they’re less healthy for you and their mood boost quickly fades.

  1. 2. Magnesium

Magnesium deficiency, like many other kinds of vitamin deficiencies, can be easy to miss. In fact, some experts call it the invisible deficiency.

Too little magnesium can increase anxiety and irritability, so if you’re already feeling stressed out, it’s a good idea to get a little more magnesium in your system. Foods high in magnesium include spinach, cooked soybeans and salmon.

  1. 3. Omega-3 essential fatty acids

Omega-3 fatty acids are well-known to act as mental health boosters, especially when it comes to combating depression. Omega-3 fatty acids are also necessary for keeping the brain healthy and active.

“Omega-3 fatty acids support synaptic plasticity and seem to positively affect the expression of several molecules related to learning and memory that are found on synapses,” said Fernando Gómez-Pinilla, Ph.D., a professor at UCLA. “Omega-3 fatty acids are essential for normal brain function.”

Omega-3 fatty acids can be found in fish such as salmon or tuna. For people who aren’t a huge fan of seafood, flaxseed and English walnuts make good alternatives.

  1. 4. Potassium

Potassium has been found to reduce blood pressure, which can be particularly helpful when you’re in a stressful situation.

“There has been a lot of publicity about lowering salt or sodium in the diet in order to lower blood pressure, but not enough on increasing dietary potassium,” said Susan Hedayati, M.D., an associate professor at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas.

Bananas are the food most people associate with high levels of potassium, but avocados are an even better source of this nutrient. Chips and guacamole — while seemingly unhealthy — can provide an excellent boost of potassium.

The next time you’re dealing with excessive anxiety or stress, try to avoid the usual potato chips and candy, and instead snack on some of the food on this list. You might just be pleasantly surprised.

Sovereign Health of Rancho San Diego provides adolescent treatment programs designed to address mental illness and addiction by treating them at their source — the brain. Our revolutionary brain wellness program teaches patients ways to achieve proper nutrition, sleep hygiene and healthy living in the real world. For more information on our programs for adolescents and teens, please contact our 24/7 helpline.

About the author

Courtney Lopresti, M.S., is a senior staff writer for the Sovereign Health Group, where she uses her scientific background to write online blogs and articles for a general audience. At the University of Pittsburgh, where she earned her master’s in neuroscience, she used functional neuroimaging to study how the human cerebellum contributes to language processing. In her spare time, she writes fiction, reads Oliver Sacks and spends time with her two cats and bird. Courtney is currently located in Minneapolis. For more information and other inquiries about this article, contact the author at

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