Life can be stressful. From careers and school to family and friends, we’ve become accustomed to spinning a lot of plates. All these priorities pulling for our time, energy and attention can drain our mental and physical health. But there’s a deceptively simple way of reducing stress: eating well.
Here are five stress-busting nutrients you should be putting on your plate:
Yes, that chocolate. The chocolate that the Mayans praised as “of the gods” centuries ago and loved around the world ever since. Dark chocolate fights stress in two ways—emotionally and chemically. First, it simply feels good to eat. And that indulgent feeling alone can help reduce stress. Second, antioxidant-rich dark chocolate has been shown to actually reduce the levels of stress hormones in the body. But keep in mind, if you’re planning on implementing dark chocolate as a way to improve mental health, choose a high-quality bar free of added sugars, which can actually increase stress.
According to research, carbohydrates can increase the level of serotonin—known as the “happy chemical” for its ability to boost mood and reduce stress. Just make sure to carb up with healthy foods and whole grains. Brown rice, oatmeal, popcorn and whole-wheat bread are all worthy options. Even many modern packaged snacks and entrées include stress-smashing healthy carbohydrates and whole grains.
Ah, nuts! But nuts are full of good-for-you nutrients. According to one study, pistachios may reduce your body’s response to the stresses of everyday life. But it’s not only these fun-to-break-open nuts that can benefit your mental health. Almonds and walnuts can help reduce stress and lower blood pressure. But remember, everything in moderation, and nuts are no exception. One-half cup of shelled pistachios with no salt added has 170 calories. And the same amount of walnuts packs about 260 calories. However, experts have been quick to point out that nuts, although high in calories, come with some serious essential nutrients.
From broccoli to oranges, an uptick in vitamin C intake has been shown to help reign in stress levels. Other studies have shown that vitamin C may actually decrease anxiety. Everybody knows oranges come packed with this natural disease-fighting antioxidant, but what are your other options when you’ve just had one too many glasses of orange juice? Tomatoes, spinach, green and red peppers, strawberries, sweet potatoes and kiwis are just a few of the whole foods that are rich in vitamin C.
One of the best ways to support a healthy gut is with probiotics. These good bacteria can help boost the immune system, protect against bad bacteria, aid digestion and improve the absorption of nutrients. So, what does gut health have to do with stress? Studies show that having good gut health has a direct correlation to improving anxiety, depression and mood. Anyone who has struggled with gut issues will understand a healthy and happy tummy means an improved mood. Yogurt, kombucha and kefir are all great food sources of probiotics, although it is also commonly available in supplement form.
Healthy YOU Vending
If you’re stressed, consider introducing or adding more of these nutrients to your diet. From the mood-enhancing benefits of dark chocolate to the gut-improving power of probiotics, natural mental health enhancers are all around you (and, really, who’s going to complain about adding dark chocolate to their diet?).
Healthy YOU Vending provides convenient access to healthy snacks, drinks and entrées in workplaces, gyms, schools and more throughout the country. If your workplace has a vending machine full of sugary sodas and greasy potato chips, request healthy vending instead. Your body and mind will thank you (oh, and your co-workers).