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Feeling stressed? Try these 21 foods to ease anxiety

Fruits, vegetables and whole grains contain nutrients that can help boost your mood.
/ Source: TODAY

We all deal with stress and anxiety in one way or another. And the choices you make about what to eat can help ease — or exacerbate — those feelings, experts say.

“Eating a balanced, plant-forward diet can’t take the stress out of your life, but it can help mitigate the negative results of stress and help you feel more balanced," Frances Largeman-Roth, a registered dietitian and author of "Smoothies & Juices," tells

Along with other healthy behaviors, like staying physically active and getting good sleep, eating nutritious meals and snacks can help support your mental health.

"Managing stress and anxiety involves a lot of things — some are uncontrollable, others are controllable," Grace Derocha, a registered dietitian and spokesperson for The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, tells

You may not be able to keep anxiety-inducing emails out of your inbox, for example, but you do have control over what you snack on throughout the day. And opting for certain fruits, vegetables, lean proteins and whole grains when you have the chance can be a delicious way to keep stress in check.

Foods that reduce anxiety and depression


"Cashews are a great source of zinc, a mineral that plays a major role in managing the body and brain’s response to stress," registered dietitian Keri Glassman tells And walnuts contain alpha-linolenic acid, which is the essential plant form of omega-3 fatty acids, Largeman-Roth says.


Whether you have it on toast or in zesty guacamole, avocado is a great source of monounsaturated fatty acids and many other compounds that help fight inflammation, Glassman explains.

In particular, avocados are also rich in alpha-linolenic acid, which “are known to help boost mood and reduce stress,” Derocha says.

Dark chocolate

"In its super dark, most natural state, dark chocolate has been associated with higher levels of serotonin," Glassman says. Serotonin is a chemical neurotransmitter found in the gut and brain involved in regulating many bodily processes, including mood.

Dark chocolate also contains magnesium, Glassman says, which may reduce anxiety. 


We've all heard jokes about turkey putting us to sleep on Thanksgiving, and "it’s true that the high levels of the amino acid tryptophan in turkey are helpful for making you feel calm," Largeman-Roth says.

That's because the body uses tryptophan to make serotonin and melatonin, both of which can contribute to feelings of relaxation. If you're not a turkey fan, there are plenty of other foods that contain tryptophan, including milk, seeds, eggs and cheese, MedlinePlus explains.

Citrus fruit

Citrus fruits like grapefruits and oranges are high in vitamin C, "which has been shown to lower levels of cortisol in the body and reduce the physical and psychological effects of stress," Glassman says. Vitamin C is also helpful to support the immune system, Derocha adds.

Leafy greens

Glassman and Derocha both suggest incorporating dark leafy greens, like spinach, kale and broccoli rabe, into your diet. They're "filled with folic acid, a nutrient that helps maintain normal levels of serotonin," Glassman says.

Complex carbs

Foods containing complex carbohydrates are thought to boost serotonin in the brain, contributing to a calming effect, the Mayo Clinic explains. To get more of these, look to whole grain bread and cereal, as well as quinoa and brown rice.

In particular, the experts recommend eating oats and oatmeal to get complex carbs. Oats also contain tryptophan, "making them a great way to start or end your day," Largeman-Roth says.

Fatty fish

"The omega-3 content, as well as the vitamin D, in fatty fish can help regulate the production of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that helps us feel calm," Largeman-Roth explains. Adding more of these types of fish — like salmon, tuna and sardines — to your diet can be "smart for your heart as well as your mood," she says.

Herbal tea

Just thinking about drinking a cozy mug of warm tea on a dreary day can be calming. But some types of herbal tea, like those containing soothing chamomile or peppermint, actually can contribute to feelings of relaxation, Largeman-Roth says.


Eating artichokes is a great way to get healthy fiber, but these veggies also contain prebiotics called fructooligosaccharides, Derocha explains, "which feed the good bacteria in the gut." Some research in mice suggests this compound can reduce the effects of stress on the body.


"Broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables contain magnesium, vitamin C and folate," Derocha says, which can help manage symptoms of depression. "Broccoli is also rich in sulforaphane, a sulfur compound that has neuroprotective properties and may offer calming and antidepressant effects," she adds.


Look to seeds, especially pumpkin seeds and chia seeds, for magnesium, Largeman-Roth says. Magnesium can help with sleep, serotonin levels and mood, explained previously.


Berries are a great source of several important mood-boosting compounds. "Blueberries are high in flavonoids, an antioxidant that has anti-inflammatory properties," Derocha says. "They may help reduce inflammation related to stress and protect against cellular damage related to stress as well."

Strawberries, which contain melatonin and vitamin C, are also a great stress-busting option.


Matcha tea contains caffeine, so it won't put you to sleep. But it's also "rich in L-theanine, which is a non-protein amino acid with powerful stress-relieving properties," Derocha says. You can even replace your morning cup of coffee with a frothy mug of matcha.


Oysters provide a surprisingly high amount of zinc, which has antioxidant properties and, therefore, can reduce the effects of stress in your body, Derocha says.


Yogurt is one of a few foods rich in vitamin B-12, which “regulates cortisol,” Largeman-Roth says. “So getting enough of this nutrient in your diet is smart for reducing stress.”


Just like those dark leafy greens and hearty green vegetables, Derocha notes that beets contain a large amount of folate, a compound that can support serotonin production.


Chickpeas are a good plant source of tryptophan, "which our body needs to produce mood-boosting neurotransmitters," Derocha says. Down the line, these can help reduce stress and anxiety.

Black beans

Fiber- and protein-filled black beans are also a great source of mood-boosting magnesium, Largeman-Roth says. Magnesium "can also help you relax by reducing levels of the stress hormone cortisol."


Another great source of stress-reducing vitamin B-12, as well as many other nutrients, eggs are a great way to start your day on the right foot.

Worst foods for anxiety

"Diets made up of mostly processed food, with little fresh fruits and vegetables are associated with higher levels of stress," Largeman-Roth explains. But when you're tired and overstressed, it's tempting to turn to sugary foods for an energy boost.

That boost might last for a little while, "but when your blood sugar levels drop, you’ll be reaching for another quick snack, and the cycle repeats itself," Largeman-Roth says.

Instead, reaching for nutrient-dense fruits, veggies, nuts, seeds, lean protein and whole grains like those listed above will help keep you fueled yet calm.

But "these are just a few examples of specific foods to include in a diet," Derocha says. "At the end of the day, remember to choose a variety of nutrient-dense foods. Balancing food groups, including a colorful diet and keeping portions controlled (depending on) your health goals, is key."

Keep in mind that "everything works together," as Largeman-Roth says. And getting a more nutritious diet supports your ability to work out and get better sleep — all of which can help you tackle stress and anxiety more effectively.