Foods to Help You Stay Calm
In need of some soothing? Check out these 7 ingredients to help you stay calm, plus 14 stress-free, good-for-you recipes.
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Marisa Moore is a registered dietitian, nutritionist, and communications and culinary nutrition expert. Her integrative and practical approach to food and wellness with science-based nutrition advice is regularly featured in leading media outlets. You can find her in front of and behind the camera as a media dietitian, on-camera talent, and content creator at marisamoore.com.
If you’re like me, this year has been full of change and pondering what’s next — all from the comfort of your makeshift work-from-home office (AKA the kitchen table or couch). No one would have guessed that a trip to the supermarket would look the way it does today, or if you’d ever have to question when the store might get the next delivery of all-purpose flour (let alone toilet paper).
We’ve all had to make adjustments. If you’re feeling a little unnerved and wondering if what you eat can make a difference, read on.
Can foods help you feel calm?
No one food has the power to magically make you feel calm. And frankly the human research on foods to support anxiety relief is quite limited. But certain foods may help, and we’ll get into those shortly.
First, though, you might need to deal with what’s eating you, before turning to what you eat. Anxiety might be more common than you think, and it can take a toll on your health. Addressing it requires a multi-prong approach: taking care of yourself by getting enough sleep and exercise, eating well — including eating foods that are good for you and that you enjoy — and managing the source of anxiety if you can. If you are struggling with anxiety, it’s important to speak with a healthcare professional for help.
We can't always change the stressful times we are living in, but we can make food choices that support our emotional well-being. The following ideas might help empower you to nourish your body even when stress is at play.
After a long day navigating Covid-19, homeschooling while simultaneously working from home, and masking up to grab a few groceries, you probably want easy, stress-free recipes to get food on the table fast. Consider adding a few of these recipes to your meal plan this week.
1. Try turkey, but don’t forget the carbs
Chances are you’ve heard that turkey makes you sleepy. Well. That’s not altogether true. Like several other foods, turkey is a good source of the amino acid tryptophan. And eating foods with high levels of tryptophan, along with carbohydrates, might yield a boost in serotonin, which is a natural mood stabilizer known as one of the feel-good hormones.
That was a lot of words to ultimately say, enjoy your turkey with a carbohydrate such as bread or rice as in these speedy Turkey Stuffed Peppers.
For another turkey + carbs combination, savor turkey with potatoes in this slow-cooker turkey soup. With minimal prep, the soup is comforting and soothing on its own and bound to provide a relaxing way to end the day.
Fortunately, turkey is not the only tryptophan star. Several other foods are high in tryptophan, including chicken, eggs, cheese, fish, milk, tofu, and soy.
2. Go bananas
Bananas are a good source of B vitamins which are key in helping the body produce serotonin, which may help stimulate those sought-after feelings of calm and relaxation.
If you’re at all like me, the aroma of warm banana bread is an instant mood booster. Serve this vegan banana bread for breakfast or as a sweet snack or dessert. This recipe is egg- and dairy-free and makes a great gift for your friends and neighbors who could use a little boost, too.
Need a quick, cool, and creamy treat when you're in the mood to relax? This nice cream (meaning, a dessert based on bananas rather than dairy) is ready in 10 minutes if you already have frozen bananas on hand.
TIP: Instead of sending overripe bananas to the compost, peel and slice them and freeze in a single layer on a sheet pan. Transfer the frozen slices to a zip-top bag or container, and they’re ready for smoothies or this nice cream whenever you are.
3. Open up to oats
Whole grains like oats are a great way to get not only B vitamins, which help produce serotonin, but magnesium, a mineral known to encourage relaxation.
Pancakes on any day of the week can transport us back to simpler, fun times — such as brunch with girlfriends or slow Saturday mornings making breakfast with the family. It’s a plus that these pancakes don’t have any regular flour so you get all of the fiber-rich goodness of oats.
Whether poured into a bowl for breakfast or eaten by the handful for snacks, this Healthy Granola made with oats is an easy recipe that you’ll be glad you’ve stashed in the pantry for busy weeks.
No time to blend pancake batter or make granola? Grab a spoon. A simple bowl of oatmeal, maybe with a swirl of warm nut butter (another ingredient high in magnesium) and honey can provide plenty of comfort.
4. Serve some salmon
High in both vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids, salmon is chock-full of nutrients that may help promote brain health. In fact one study found that men who ate salmon three times per week reported lower levels of anxiety compared to those who ate other types of animal protein. And no matter how you’re seasoning it, salmon is a quick-cooking and satisfying option.
This top-rated 15-minute Baked Salmon with Lemon is as simple as it gets. You’ll only need salmon, butter, lemon, salt, pepper, and a hot oven to get it going!
Fresh ginger, garlic, and a couple of pantry Asian ingredients season this tasty recipe. After a 30-minute marinade, it's ready in 25 minutes. Add some roasted broccoli and rice, and dinner is done.
5. Sip (or slurp) a little green tea
Though it may seem counterintuitive considering it has caffeine, green tea may be a good way to introduce a bit of calm into the day. Research shows that the amino acid L-theanine found in tea leaves may positively impact brain health and reduce anxiety. Studies show drinking beverages with L-theanine might help decrease levels of the stress hormone cortisol and lessen some of the symptoms of anxiety such as increased heart rate.
Of course you can simply brew a cup of green tea leaves for your green tea fix. But green tea doesn’t always have to come from a mug. The green tea powder matcha is increasingly easy to find and can be enjoyed in lattes, smoothies, and even baked goods.
Combine brewed green tea with leafy greens, mango, pineapple, banana, and even some chia seeds for this refreshing and nourishing way to sip your daily green tea.
For another idea, Green Tea Ramen uses tea in the broth for a unique and satisfying soup base.
6. Chill with chamomile
Chamomile is an herb that’s commonly included in herbal teas — especially those meant for bedtime. And for good reason. Research suggests this herb might help ease anxiety due to its antioxidant content and anti-inflammatory effects.
Warm and inviting, this creamy tea latte is meant for winding down after a long day and welcoming a night of deep sleep.
If you want to use chamomile in a less traditional way, these chamomile macarons are just the right bite. The recipe has a good number of steps, but baking can be a fantastic distraction and escape from everyday life. Plus, the cookies are simply stunning!
7. Savor dark chocolate
If a piece of chocolate has ever seemed to melt the stress away, it might actually be all in your head. And that’s a good thing.
Dark chocolate contains flavonols, antioxidants that may improve blood flow to the brain. In one study, people who had dark chocolate twice a day for two weeks had better levels of the stress hormones that tend to be associated with anxiety. Plus, eating chocolate has been shown to increase levels of serotonin, which may help you feel more relaxed.
And while this is all well and good, we can’t ignore the main reason chocolate is in the house. It tastes good. Sometimes the stress seems to disappear along with the chocolate itself. At least for a minute.
Made with dark chocolate and coconut milk (plus optional vanilla and unsweetened cocoa powder) but no added sugar, these dark chocolate truffles flaunt a simple ingredient list and an easy process. They’re a treat that you can keep ready for anytime you need a boost.
The name says “basic,” but the flavors in this healthy vegan chocolate pudding are anything but. Avocado and banana make it creamy, unsweetened cacao or cocoa powder adds that rich chocolatey flavor, and then you have the choice of customizing it with vanilla, orange, or espresso powder. Craving cashews and chocolate? Try Cashew Chocolate Pudding.
More foods for wellness
Probiotics and fermented foods. Citrus fruits and vitamin C. Blueberries, turmeric, and antioxidants. There's a lot to learn about which foods can have a positive effect on our bodies. Here's to delicious and nutritious explorations.