Diet & Nutrition | Wellness
dark chocolate and almonds

Tis the Season: Eat This, Don’t Stress About That

Food to reduce holiday stress and improve your mood

Stress can negatively affect your body in so many ways.

Neurotransmitters and hormones react to sugar, for example. It increases their levels and makes you feel better, at least temporarily, but it’s cyclical. That feeling goes away, and you need to eat more in order to feel better again.

Foods to reduce stress and improve mood

Hormone levels can be affected by what you eat. So certain foods and nutrients can help reduce stress, prevent blood sugar spikes and improve your mood:

  • Serotonin, a feel-good hormone, is increased by eating carbohydrates, but stick to whole grains and complex carbs to release it consistently throughout the day.
  • Cortisol, a stress hormone, is raised by high sodium and processed foods like chips and crackers. To help reduce cortisol levels, munch on unsalted nuts and carrots, peppers or cucumbers with hummus. Magnesium, found in nuts, dark leafy greens and beans, can help keep cortisol levels low and prevent headaches and fatigue.
  • Galanin, a neurotransmitter whose levels tend to rise in the afternoon, causes those cravings for high-fat, high-calorie sweet or salty snacks. Skip that trip to the vending machine and take a brisk walk instead. Physical activity reduces galanin levels, helping you to choose a healthier afternoon snack.

The do’s and don’ts to control holiday stress

Do eat these foods when you feel stressed:

  • Whole grains (oatmeal, brown rice, whole-grain pastas) help to stabilize blood sugars
  • Legumes
  • Milk (contains tryptophan, which the body converts to serotonin)
  • Blueberries
  • Avocados
  • Asparagus
  • Green tea
  • Dark chocolate (at least 70 percent cacao)
  • Almonds
  • Salmon, tuna, chia seeds, walnuts (Omega 3s reduce inflammation)
  • Red peppers, oranges and other foods high in vitamin C

Don’t eat these foods when you feel stressed:

  • Caffeinated coffee or tea
  • Spicy foods
  • Energy drinks
  • Cookies, cakes pies, candies
  • Sugary drinks
  • Deep-fried anything (cheeseburgers, French fries, etc.)
  • Processed foods (high in sodium and additives)

During the holiday season, use these smart food strategies and other stress-relieving methods — such as exercise and meditation — to help you ring in the New Year feeling sassy, not sluggish.

Tags: Catalyst, healthy diet, holiday season, stress

Kristin Kirkpatrick, MS, RD, LD, is a registered dietitian and wellness manager for the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute.

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  • John “O”

    Great tips!

  • Marques Manus

    awesome tips

  • robataka_neo

    I love that dark chocolate is a “do” ;-)

  • Barbara Burke

    I don’t know why you would want to give up spicy foods. All of the spices I know of are very healthy and beneficial. It’s always good to buy fresh and organic. Spicy foods should be on the to do list!

  • marinabreeze

    I think spicy foods are on the list because they can lead to heartburn or acid reflux, which is more of an issue when you’re stressed.

  • Steven Pierce

    Good advice , Barbara !