10 foods to fight stress

Food & Drink, Health

There’s no doubt that some days are more stressful than others, and those days have us wanting to reach for the M&Ms and Ben & Jerry’s. But actually, you’d be doing your mental and physical self a big favour if you reached for these stress-busting foods, instead…

The science

“Unfortunately you can’t always avoid stressful situations. Stress can affect how we feel emotionally and mentally, but it can also have an influence on us physically,” says Lisa Scheepers the nutritionist at meal delivery service Fresh Fitness Food. “When stressed, the body shifts to a ‘fight or flight’ response, activating the nervous system via a sudden release of hormones. The adrenal glands receive a signal to release adrenaline, cortisol, and epinephrine, also known as the ‘stress hormones’. The release of stress hormones induces a temporary increase in energy production at the expense of processes that are not required for immediate survival. When stress becomes chronic, this can have deleterious effects on weight, immune function, and chronic disease risk.

“There are numerous foods with antioxidants that benefit our health. The National Institute on Aging (NIA) developed a unit of measurement for antioxidant capacity in food, the ‘ORAC’ unit (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity). Foods with a higher ORAC score, have a greater antioxidant response against free radicals. The ORAC system has shown that plant-based foods introduce significantly more antioxidants into human diet than non-plant foods. Berries and colourful food and vegetables score very highly. My best advice for ensuring you are getting enough antioxidants from your diet is to make a really colourful plate.”

Citrus fruits e.g. lemons, limes and oranges

“High cortisol levels deplete vitamin C stores, essential for collagen production which has a role in keeping skin clear and the production of white blood cells to fend off infections. Citrus fruits will give the immune system a boost of vitamin C and help regulate cortisol levels following a stressful encounter.” – Lisa Scheepers, Fresh Fitness Food

“Consuming foods high in vitamin C, such as oranges or other citrus fruits can help to reduce stress and boost the immune system. This is because vitamin C helps lower cortisol levels. Cortisol is a hormone produced during times of stress, and is your body’s response to stress or danger, helping you prepare for a fight or flight response. Having too much cortisol in your body can impact sleep, cause weight gain and stimulate acne breakouts so making sure your cortisol levels are kept in check by consuming plenty of vitamin C rich foods is a must to keep your stress levels down”. – personal trainer and nutritional advisor Natasha Marcusfield

Dark green leafy vegetables e.g. spinach, kale, Swiss chard

“Pack in the greens, like spinach, kale and swiss chard, to build up magnesium stores. Cortisol and adrenaline use up significant amounts of magnesium because the body perceives itself to be in an ‘emergency’ situation, directing the hormones to take priority over the body’s normal use for these nutrients. Too little magnesium can trigger headaches and fatigue, compounding the effects of stress.” – Lisa Scheepers

“Rich in magnesium, Swiss chard makes an excellent precaution to managing stress levels. Used for centuries to cure stress related ailments, the magnesium in Swiss chard and other green leafy veg helps to balance the body’s stress hormone, cortisol.” – Natasha Marcusfield


“Brimming with health benefits, it’s no surprise that this superfood can also help to relieve stress. Rich in potassium, coconuts can help ensure that stress levels are kept to a minimum, as low levels of potassium can cause depression and anxiety. If you would prefer to avoid all the tricky prep which comes alongside consuming coconut, you could try something like Koko Dairy Free’s new Super Milk, which is derived from freshly pressed coconuts and contains nine key vitamins and minerals. – Natasha Marcusfield

Berries e.g. blackberries and elderberries

“Boosting your berry intake is a wonderful way to increase antioxidant levels to combat the effects of stress. For example, Elderberry contains antioxidants anthocyanins, bioflavonoids and polyphenols which protect against excessive oxidative stress. Studies have highlighted anthocyanins ability to protect our veins and arteries against oxidative stress. As damage to veins and arteries are a precursor to heart disease, this could be a beneficial botanical for cardiovascular issues. Furthermore, blackberries are small and mighty fruits, containing high amounts of vitamin C and K, which are powerful antioxidants, supporting the immune system and bone health.” – Henrietta Norton, founder of Wild Nutrition

“When we’re anxious or stressed, our bodies crave vitamin C to help repair and protect our cells, and blueberries are packed full of it. Small but mighty, blueberries are bursting with the antioxidants you need to live an anxiety and stress-free life.” – Natasha Marcusfield

Whole grains e.g. brown rice, buckwheat & quinoa

Gluten Free Oats

“When cortisol levels are high, B-vitamins are depleted. Whole grains are a rich source of B-vitamins, vital for energy production and mental function. Whole grain carbohydrate sources also prompt the brain to produce serotonin – the ‘feel good’ hormone. Optimising serotonin levels will help to boost mood and negate the effects of a stress.” – Lisa Scheepers

“Wholegrains, like wheat, oats, quinoa and brown rice, are rich in magnesium, selenium, and fibre. These might all play a role in lowering your stress levels.”- Aisling Moran, nutritional scientist at Thriva

Green ‘superfoods’

“If you make smoothies, add in a spoonful of the micro-algae chlorella or spirulina. These foods are extremely rich in a wide range of nutrients, including antioxidants, and are easily absorbed because they need little processing by the digestive system.” – Henrietta Norton

Lean meat, seafood and dairy

“Zinc, found in lean meat and seafood, plays a key role in immunity and prevention of infection. During stressful periods, when nutrients are depleted, we become more susceptible to picking up bugs. Supporting the immune system is key to remaining fit, well and ready to take on life” – Lisa Scheepers

Healthy fats

Photo: Caroline Attwood on Unsplash/Gousto

“During times of stress, optimising energy is key. To do this we need to look at optimising the vital micronutrients (e.g. vitamins, minerals, amino acids etc) needed for energy production within our cell’s energy factories, the mitochondria. We know that healthy fats play a huge role in mitochondrial function, providing them with their ‘fuel’. Making sure you increase oily fish in your diet, avocados, coconut oil, olive oil or flaxseed oil will help protect the mitochondria by providing anti-inflammatory support.” – Henrietta Norton

“As well as improving heart health, fatty fish such as salmon, tuna, halibut and herring, are a great option when trying to reduce stress levels, as they’re a good source of omega-3s which help ease depression and boost your overall mood because the nutrients easily interact with mood-related brain molecules.” – Natasha Marcusfield

“Salmon is a great source of the omega-3 fatty acids EHA and DHA. These types of fats help to regulate your body’s level of serotonin and dopamine — hormones that help you relax.” – Aisling Moran


“Packed with vitamin B2, vitamin E, magnesium and zinc, almonds contain a whole host of vitamins and minerals which are involved in the production of serotonin, the body’s natural stress reliever.” – Natasha Marcusfield

Dark Chocolate

“Not only does chocolate help lower blood pressure and cholesterol, it also contains several compounds which can help to boost mood; including phenylethylamine, a natural antidepressant chemical your brain produces. Dark chocolate is also packed with antioxidants, which help reduce stress by lowering the levels of stress hormones in the body.” – Natasha Marcusfield.

“Dark chocolate contains flavonols — a type of antioxidant. Flavonols are thought to help improve your brain function and help you cope better with stressful situations. The higher the cocoa solids in the chocolate, the better.” – Aisling Moran

By Charlotte

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