Are you stressed out? If so, you’re not alone. Many people feel stressed these days for a variety of reasons.  Unfortunately, all that tension and worry can have a negative impact on our physical and mental health.

Stress and its affect on the body

When our body is in a state of stress, we release a hormone, cortisol, to help us cope. A high level of cortisol in our body has many adverse affects, including high blood pressure, heart disease, depression, and excess belly fat (fat produced by cortisol is much more likely to be stored in the belly!) Sure we could combat these high cortisol levels by spending one day a week at the spa, or meditating for an hour a day, or lounging on the beach. But for most of us, that’s not a reality.

So what else can we do to fight stress?

Certain foods can actually help control our stress levels and lower cortisol. Of course, we need to make the distinction between foods that we think make us feel more calm in the short term, but are just junk, and instead focus on tension-tamers which support good health, too.

Here are my favorite 8 stress-busting foods:

Tuna – Tuna contains high levels of Vitamin B6. Vitamin B6 levels are lowered when our stress runs high, and we need this B vitamin to help us produce serotonin, which is a calming, feel-good neurotransmitter.

Lentils – One cup of cooked lentils provides us 90% of our daily value of folate. Folate helps our bodies make dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated in our brain with pleasure, which we need in order to combat high stress levels.

Wild Salmon – Fatty fish such as salmon are rich in Omega-3 Fatty Acids, which have been shown to combat stress and reduce anxiety.  Omega-3’s DHA and EPA are proven mood boosters.

Avocados – Avocados are high in potassium, which helps to lower blood pressure.

High blood pressure is directly related to high levels of cortisol, so eat your guac! @pamelasalzman (Click to Tweet!)

Dark Chocolate – Cocoa, found in higher amounts in dark chocolate, has been shown to be anti-inflammatory, lower blood pressure, and increase endorphin and serotonin levels. Keep sugar low and look for 75% or more cacao.

Oatmeal – This complex carbohydrate is extremely satiating and will leave you feeling fuller longer than most other breakfast options. This powerhouse grain can also boost your serotonin levels leaving you feeling calm and centered.

Pepitas – Pepitas, aka pumpkin seeds, contain tons of magnesium, a very calming mineral. Low levels of magnesium have been linked to increased anxiety and difficulty sleeping, both of which will only promote cortisol production.

Bell Peppers – Bell peppers are extremely high in Vitamin C, which is one of the main vitamins that supports immune function. Cortisol can actually decrease immune function over time, so we want to combat that with our daily dose of Vitamin C.

It’s encouraging to know that food can help counteract the negative affects of stress, but don’t rule out getting enough rest and exercise.

Pamela Salzman is a certified holistic health counselor. She shares her approach to nutrition through her natural foods cooking classes and website, a resource for her healthful, family-friendly recipes and nutrition tips. You can also visit Pamela on Facebook and Twitter for more information and great resources.

Image courtesy of Tine Bohler.