foods to help combat stress and anxiety

The foods and drinks we consume can have a surprising impact on our abilities to deal with stress and anxiety. Too much caffeine, for example, can make you jittery and leave you feeling even more on edge. Here are some other changes you can make to feel less on edge.

When you’re stressed your breathing rate increases, you might sweat, and your muscles may tense. This is all normal and part of your "fight or flight" response.  In small amounts, this response is fine, but when stress becomes a part of everyday life, it can have a greater impact. 

It can be difficult to remove stress from your day, but good nutrition can improve your body's response to it. 

how can food help with stress? 

When we’re stressed, it can be tempting to eat food for comfort and convenience, focusing on processed foods and drinking more alcohol.  

However, this could mean there are fewer vitamins and minerals available to your body when you need them the most. 

To help you get back on track, try to make small changes to your diet - these will be easier to stick to than dramatic changes all at once. 

You could: 

  • reduce your caffeine intake 
  • drink more water 
  • eat at least three balanced meals per day 

foods to help you manage stress 

A balanced diet can help our bodies combat the physiological effects of stress.  

While it’s important to combat the cause(s) of stress, it can also help to eat the right foods to stabilise blood sugar levels, reduce anxiety, and maintain your energy levels. 

beans to boost energy levels 

Stress can cause your energy levels to decrease, which means vitamins and minerals are required in greater amounts to metabolise proteins, carbohydrates, and fats.  

Eating vitamin B sources like meat, wholegrains, lentils, and beans can nourish the nervous system and improve how you respond to stress.  

protein for energy and repair 

It’s estimated that we need 0.7g and 1.8g of protein per day depending on our body weight. 

Protein keeps you fuller for longer, which means you have sustained energy for longer. 

It also helps your muscles repair and can boost your immune system, which can weaken with long-term stress. 

So, make sure you get some protein in with each meal. This could come in the form of chicken, fish, eggs, beans, lentils, or tofu. 

If you’re vegetarian or vegan, make sure you eat more than one type of protein a day - soya-based sources of proteins are the only vegan sources which contain all the amino acids you need in your diet. So, if you’re not varying your protein sources you could be missing out on what your body really needs. 

unrefined foods to reduce blood sugar 

Refined sugars are in everything from bread to pasta to breakfast cereals. 

Where you can, opt for wholegrain alternatives like wholegrain bread, brown rice, and oats. These have more nutrients in them than their refined alternatives. 

citrus fruits for increased immunity 

Vitamin C helps with tissue repair, the formation of collagen, and helps your body to absorb other nutrients, such as iron.  

Some studies found vitamin C reduced anxiety levels in school children following 500mg day for 14 days.  

Others found that vitamin C reduced anxiety following 1000mg vitamin C over six weeks.  

200mg vitamin C a day can also reduce the duration of colds. A study on the effectiveness of vitamin C against colds found that it can reduce the duration of a cold by 8% for adults, and by up to 14% for children. 

Good sources of vitamin C include red peppers, broccoli, and citrus fruits.   

greens to keep you calm 

Stress can lead to the loss of magnesium, which is crucial for regulating our stress response as it helps regulate cortisol and blood pressure levels.  

Magnesium also assists with the release of GABA, which is a calming neurotransmitter.  

Foods which contain magnesium include dark, leafy green vegetables, nuts, and seeds.  

how we can help  

As an occupational charity, we help the ICAEW community thrive by equipping individuals with the practical, emotional, or financial tools to manage whatever’s in front of them, from everyday situations to exceptional life-changing circumstances.  

Our vision is that everyone in the ICAEW community can fully participate in life. 

All of our services are free, impartial and strictly confidential.  

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