Medically review by Kim Langdon
It's likely a no-brainer that food and the act of eating are notoriously good for making us forget about our problems, even if it's a brief period of comfort.
Unfortunately, many of us aren't breaking out the steamer basket for a bundle of asparagus when we're feeling a bit overwhelmed with life.
Instead, we opt for foods smothered in cheese or sugar to ease our woes, and the dialogue in our brains often becomes, "More, more, more."
In the end, you're feeling the stress brought on by eating foods that make you feel sick, guilty or both on top of what you were already grappling with.
Not a great deal, huh?
If you're looking for more of a bargain when it comes to eating for comfort, opt for some of these healthy stress-relieving foods instead.
These nutrient-dense choices have clear reasons why they're good for fighting stress and warding off anxiety.
Sure, avocado doesn't really do the mac and cheese craving justice, but you can feel good about medicating the all-natural way.
So what are the best anti stress foods that are also good for you?
Unsurprisingly, it's a good food for combatting stress, and not just because you can make chocolate pudding out of it.
Satiety is one of the main reasons avocado makes the list, as feeling full and having stabilized blood sugar can keep you calm under stressful circumstances.
Eating half an avocado at lunch can keep anxiety at bay, and prevent overeating at the same time.
It's a win-win since the stressed brain is good at fooling us into thinking we're hungry when we aren't! Try this nourishing green avocado dip.
Asparagus is tasty, versatile and low-calorie which means you can load up your plate and veg out on this veg.
Sure, it isn't exactly comparable to a bag of potato chips, but the benefits of this food are pretty stellar (besides the weird-smelling pee, of course).
Folic acid can help keep your mood nice and steady, even during times of stress. It helps the brain to produce proper amounts of serotonin which will boost that happy-go-lucky feeling you're after.
This can help balance out the release of stress hormones and even make them lower. Besides, eating fruits and veggies offer loads of vitamins for loads of benefits, no matter what your choice is.
Turkey breast is often overlooked beyond Thanksgiving dinner and deli meat, but you might want to make this a weekly ritual rather than an annual event.
And no, it's not just because it makes you sleepy because that's actually the key here. You could likely pin that need for a nap to the second slice of pumpkin pie, anyways.
Tryptophan, the "sleepy" chemical, can boost serotonin production. This amino acid won't just put you to sleep although it can help with that, too.
Nothing wrong with sleeping away a bad day though if it means sweet dreams!
Tryptophan can also help ease symptoms of PMS which inherently cause stress. This amino acid is not found naturally in the body, so it's important to supplement with foods that contain it.
Try this easy pressure cooker recipe for comforting turkey and gluten-free gravy.
Blueberries are a fruity favorite. Not too sweet or high in sugar, they're a great option for most people, even those who want to keep carbs pretty low.
Their high antioxidant content makes them one of the top fruits for longevity and healthy living.
The antioxidants that blueberries are known to be an incredibly concentrated source of are great for fighting off the negative effects of stress.
In conjunction with the phytonutrients, think of blueberries as a 'fighter' food.
They're working to defend your body from stress and the free radicals that come along with it.
This study has also shown blueberries to be effective at lessening symptoms of PTSD.
Try this blueberry chia pudding which should satisfy the sweet tooth.
We know that omega-3's are good for you, and it doesn't hurt that salmon is incredibly easy to eat.
Whether you opt for fresh, smoked, or canned salmon, you can expect to get the same nutrients and stress-fighting properties from this fish.
Omega-3's, salmon's most notable strong suit, can reduce stress by nearly 20% according to this research.
This equates to roughly 12-15 ounces of salmon, and the benefits extend to other oily fish and fish oil supplements (because 12-15 ounces is a lot for one day!)
To take full advantage, it's recommended to eat seafood at least three times per week, one of the rules we try to implement on the Happy Body Formula menu.
This smoked salmon, avocado and walnut salad is the perfect way to load up on stress-busting vitamins and minerals.
Oatmeal is fairly common comfort food, especially to begin cold mornings with.
This cozy food is highly customizable and is inherently gluten-free making it a good option for most people despite food allergies.
They're a good source of healthy carbs which our minds tend to gravitate towards when we're under pressure.
Complex carbs come in handy when you're looking for a little relief versus the simple carbs you'll find in cookies, cake and ice cream.
Oats offer up slow-digesting carbohydrates which means that the serotonin boost lasts a bit longer.
The high fiber content will also keep you fuller for longer, whereas a sugary slice of pie will leave you quite peckish. Read more about incorporating oats into a gluten-free diet.
It's no surprise that leafy greens end up on just about every list of foods you should be eating.
Like avocados, greens are a superfood staple that ought to appear in every diet, every day if you're seeking optimal health.
Folate is a stress-fighting B vitamin, and greens like spinach have plenty of it to give you a happy boost.
Essentially, folate is great for producing dopamine and serotonin which are important neurotransmitters, otherwise known as the "happy brain chemicals."
Research has shown that individuals who receive adequate amounts of folate have a lower risk of depression. In order to best absorb these nutrients opt for a green soup instead of green juice.
Nuts and seeds are a great way to ease a worried mind altogether, but pistachios are likely your best bet if you're really looking to nip your stress in the bud.
Besides the fact that they're delicious, they're also more difficult to overeat than most nuts because you have to crack the shell which reinforces mindful eating.
Cardiovascular health and the body's physical response to stress are closely related, and a handful of pistachios a day can make a huge difference.
These nuts can lower blood pressure which tends to rise when we're facing daily stressors, leading to chronic stress on the body and heart over time.
This source of healthy fats can really keep these factors under control. Try this recipe for matcha and pistachio bliss balls.
Red bell peppers
Red bell peppers are fairly sweet, but probably not quite sweet enough to be considered "comfort food," especially on their own.
If takeout is your go-to dinner after a long day, opt for a healthy and lean stir-fry including some sliced bell pepper instead.
It could go a long way in relieving that lingering anxiety.
Vitamin C is abundant in red peppers, even more so than oranges which are the most widely known source of the stuff. Peppers are actually the most concentrated food source.
Getting enough vitamin C can actually stop the production of cortisol aka the stress hormone, which our bodies produce when we're feeling frazzled.
Try these collard green rolls including red pepper for an easy, stress-fighting lunch.
Last but not least, we want to leave you with this one. Before you get too excited, we're not talking about the entire bar.
Sometimes, that's where our stressed brains will lead us, but that's something you want to actively avoid if you choose this indulgence.
A square or two on the other hand? We're all about it and here's why.
Anandamide is a neurotransmitter in the brain that wards off pain and depression, and it just so happens that chocolate helps to produce it and extend its life, making that moment of chocolate bliss last just a wee bit longer.
You're not just imagining that brownie is making you happier, it actually IS. Read more about whether or not chocolate is good for you.
How do you avoid comfort eating when you're under stress? Do you find any of these foods to help you manage anxiety? Share with us below or in our Facebook group and send this to a friend who could use a boost! Pin for later from here.
This article was fact checked for accuracy by Dr. Kim Langdon, MD. As always, this is not personal medical advice and we recommend that you talk with your doctor.
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Lopez-Garcia E, Schulze MB, Fung TT, Meigs JB, Rifai N, Manson JE, Hu FB. Major dietary patterns are related to plasma concentrations of markers of inflammation and endothelial dysfunction. Am J Clin Nutr. 2004;80:1029–35.
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Kimberly Langdon M.D. is a retired University-trained obstetrician/gynecologist with 19-years of clinical experience. She delivered over 2000 babies to mothers in a suburban Midwestern community.