Healthy Eating

10 Stress-Reducing Superfoods to Add to Your Diet

Tasty, nutritious, and backed by science!

By: Lexy Parsons

Let’s face it, symptoms of chronic stress are no fun. Unwavering stress can lead to anxiety, insomnia, irritability, fatigue, a weakened immune system…  The list goes on and on. We know chronic stress is bad for our health, but managing it? Not always as simple as it sounds. Sure, meditation, exercise, and adequate sleep are all science-backed ways to support our stress levels. But, when we’re busy and well… stressed, implementing them into our day-to-day routine can feel difficult. A stress-reducing hack that may feel more manageable? Boosting your diet with stress-reducing ingredients! Don’t get us wrong — we 100% recommend balancing your day with the aforementioned stress management techniques. But keeping it simple and focusing on your diet is a great place to start. And good news — there are so many nutrient-dense foods that contain stress-reducing properties, and they’ve even got the research to prove it!

Ahead, the best stress-reducing ingredients to add to your diet for a happier, healthier you.

Stressed? Load Up Your Diet With These Stress-Reducing Superfoods! 

Backed by science, here are the best foods to support your stress levels for improved mental, physical, and emotional health.  

#1 Cacao

If you turn to chocolate during times of stress and anxiety, you may be on to something. Yep, it turns out cacao, the main ingredient in chocolate, is one of the best superfood ingredients to bust stress. According to research, consuming cacao powder or cacao-rich (70% or greater) chocolate can positively benefit stress, mood, memory, mental health, inflammation, and even immunity! Rich in flavonoids (potent antioxidant compounds), cacao has been shown to fight free radicals, repair oxidative damage, and even boost the brain’s response to stress. That said, if you want the stress-busting health benefits, the type of chocolate you choose is extremely important! For the most concentrated source, you’ll want to reach for pure unsweetened cacao powder. The next best thing? Pure dark chocolate made with minimal sweetener or milk (if any). While you’ll want at least 70% cacao, the higher the cacao, the better! 

For pure cacao powder, we love Navitas Organic unsweetened cacao. As for healthy store-bought chocolate, Hu Kitchen and Endangered Species are some delicious and nutritious brands.

How to enjoy it:

  • Add a spoonful of raw cacao powder to your smoothie
  • Mix cacao nibs into your baked goods recipes
  • Sprinkled chopped paleo chocolate chunks onto your yogurt bowl or chia pudding
  • Enjoy a serving as a healthy snack along with mixed nuts and berries

#2 Ashwagandha 

By now, you’re probably all too familiar with adaptogens. But, if you’re new to this topic, no worries! All you really need to know is that adaptogens are some of the best stress-regulating nutrients backed by science. Just as you’d imagine, adaptogens help the body ‘adapt’ to stress and bring the body back to a state of balance (or homeostasis). Among the top plant and botanical sources (including Reishi mushroom and Ginseng) is Ashwagandha.

When used consistently, ashwagandha has been shown to alleviate stress and anxiety, benefit sleep, and improve overall well-being. This plant compound contains various flavonoids and phenolic compounds that help lower cortisol and moderate the activity of the HPA axis to reduce stress levels and support the nervous system. 

But, like most things, it’s not a one-and-done type of deal! Adaptogens like ashwagandha take time to work, so it’s best to incorporate them into your daily routine. 

Some ideas? Try adding a serving of ashwagandha powder to your smoothie or mixing a serving into your protein ball batter for a superfood boost. 

RELATED: Swap Your Coffee With These 13 Stress-Busting Drinks

#3 Oats

What aren’t oats good for? Aside from being one of the tastiest breakfast foods (we’re looking at you, overnight oats and baked oats), they’re also a powerful stress-reducing ingredient! They’re loaded with fiber to balance your blood sugar and full of B vitamins to benefit your energy — two factors that play a big role in stress!

While there are endless ways to enjoy oats, here are some of our favorites:

  • Use oat milk as the base for your smoothie or chia pudding
  • Prep a batch of overnight oats for a healthy, stress-reducing breakfast
  • Use them as a healthy flour alternative in your banana bread or baked goods
  • Make a quick and easy baked oats or oatmeal mug muffin recipe

Stressed and short on time? Kick off your day in a healthy and stress-free way with this 2-Minute Blueberry Oatmeal Mug Muffin.

Ingredients:

  • 1 egg white
  • ⅛ tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 tsp maple syrup
  • ⅓ cup banana
  • ¼ tsp cinnamon
  • ⅓ cup blueberries
  • ½ cup oats
  • ½ tbsp flaxseed meal
  • ⅓ cup unsweetened almond milk

Directions:

Step #1: Spray a large mug with cooking spray. Use a fork to mix together the milk, mashed banana, egg white, maple syrup, and vanilla extract. Stir in the oats, flaxseed, and cinnamon. Then fold in the blueberries.

Step #2: Cook on high for 2 minutes and check. Then continue cooking in 30-second increments until puffed up and cooked through.

#4 Kiwi 

Along with other vitamin C-rich foods such as strawberries, citrus, broccoli, guava, bell pepper, and papaya, you’ll want to load up your diet with kiwi fruits! Kiwis are one of the highest fruit sources of vitamin C, one of the best stress-busting nutrients. 

In addition to strengthening the immune system and supporting healthy aging, research suggests vitamin C can help regulate stress hormones. In a recent 2022 study, vitamin C supplementation was found to improve blood pressure, cortisol, and subjective stress responses. And because vitamin C is a potent antioxidant, loading up your diet with kiwi can help fight free radicals in your body and prevent future damage!

Enjoy sliced kiwi mixed with your favorite yogurt, add it fresh or frozen to smoothies, juice it in your green juice mix, or snack on it plain alongside nuts or mixed berries.

#5 Chamomile

Feeling stressed? Pour yourself a calming cup of chamomile tea. Though light and dainty, this medicinal flower packs a powerful stress-reducing punch. According to research, chamomile may help reduce anxiety, improve sleep, and induce a feeling of calm. 

The next time you’re feeling stressed or anxious, brew a cup and enjoy it with a drizzle of honey or splash of lemon. You can even make a warming chamomile latte by blending chamomile tea with your favorite steamed non-dairy milk, such as almond or oat milk!

#6 Broccoli Sprouts

If you thought broccoli was a top superfood, wait until you hear about the benefits of broccoli sprouts. While it may be the ‘baby’ version of broccoli, don’t let that fool you — broccoli sprouts contain up to 100 times the amount of sulforaphane than mature broccoli. Why is this important? Well, as a potent phytonutrient (found in various cruciferous veggies), sulforaphane contains some major health benefits. And, as you may have guessed, it’s beneficial for stress! Sulforaphane has been shown to exhibit antidepressant and anxiolytic-like effects while also decreasing inflammation and lowering cortisol. 

So, mix them into your salad, add them as a topping to toasts, sandwiches, and wraps, and stir them into dips or spreads. However you enjoy them, you’ll want to load up on this stress-busting green! 

#7 Turmeric

Whether you’re looking to reduce stress, soothe anxiety, calm inflammation, or support overall mood and mental health, turn to turmeric. Thanks to curcumin, turmeric’s active compound, loading up your diet with this bright and beneficial superfood could be a simple solution to combating stress and more. By boosting blood flow to the brain and increasing the levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor, curcumin may help alleviate and repair the effects of chronic stress and prevent future occurrences by improving the body’s stress resilience.

Need some stress support? Try this tasty Golden Milk latte made with superfoods like turmeric, cinnamon, and ginger.

Ingredients: 

  • 1 ½ cups dairy-free milk (we love using a blend of almond and coconut, or coconut and oat milk)
  • ¾ tsp ground turmeric
  • ¼ tsp ground cinnamon
  • ½ tsp ground ginger
  • ½ tsp vanilla extract
  • 1-3 tsp maple syrup
  • Dash of black pepper
  • 1-2 tsp coconut oil, optional 

Directions:

Step #1: Combine all the ingredients into a saucepan over medium-high heat, using a whisk to stir until smooth. 

Step #2: Add all of the above ingredients to a high-speed blender. Blend on medium-high for 1-2 minutes until creamy, smooth, and slightly frothy.

Step #3: Pour into a mug and serve warm with optional coconut whip

#8 Matcha

Unlike coffee, which can actually induce a stress response, matcha appears to have the opposite effect. That’s right, it helps to keep us cool, calm, and collected! Rich in brain-boosting properties like L-theanine and EGCG, matcha has been shown to benefit mental health. According to research, matcha has been found to benefit mood and mental health by activating serotonin and dopamine receptors in the brain. From soothing stress and anxiety to boosting concentration, focus, and memory, there are so many reasons to mix matcha into your diet. 

RELATED: I Swapped Coffee With Matcha For a Week & Here’s What Happened to My Energy 

#9 Salmon 

Rich in vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids, salmon is a tasty and effective way to combat feelings of stress. Both vitamin D and omega-3 fats are linked to increased serotonin, our aforementioned ‘happy hormone.’ Vitamin D is needed to help convert tryptophan into serotonin, while omega-3 fatty acids (as those found in salmon) help the body utilize it. 

Plus, salmon is a great source of selenium and vitamin B12, and vitamin E, essential brain-healthy nutrients that reduce oxidative stress and support mental well-being.

Try enjoying it in this easy-prep FitOn Pro Blackened Salmon with Garlic Zucchini Noodles recipe!

Ingredients:

  • 2 zucchini
  • ½ tsp garlic powder
  • 1 cup cherry tomatoes
  • 2 tsp smoked paprika
  • ⅛ tsp ground chili powder
  • ¼ tsp black pepper
  • ¼ tsp onion powder
  • ¼ tsp oregano
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1 lemon
  • 2 garlic, minced
  • 2 tbsp olive oil, divided
  • 1⅓ lbs salmon filets

Directions:

Step #1: Mix together the smoked paprika, salt, garlic powder, pepper, onion powder, oregano, and chili powder. Pat the salmon dry using a paper towel and press the spice mixture onto the salmon on both sides. (If your salmon has skin, just coat one side of the fish.)

Step #2: Prepare your zucchini noodles using a spiralizer, sharp knife, or vegetable peeler. If time permits sprinkle the zucchini noodles with salt and place in a colander. This will remove some of the moisture and result in a firmer noodle.

Step #3: Heat half the olive oil over medium-high heat in a heavy skillet. Cook the salmon for 3-4 minutes per side. Remove from the pan and set aside. Tent with foil to keep warm.

Step #4: Add the remaining olive oil to the pan along with the garlic. Cook for 1 minute. Add the zucchini noodles and tomatoes. Cook for 3-5 minutes until al dente. Season with salt and pepper.

Step #5: Serve salmon over the zucchini noodles with lemon.

#10 Pumpkin Seeds 

Jam-packed with magnesium, zinc, and tryptophan, pumpkin seeds may be the stress-busting secret you’ve been searching for. For starters, magnesium helps stimulate GABA receptors in the brain, inhibit the stress response, and soothe the nervous system as a whole. 

And if you’re ready to reduce stress, promote relaxation, and reduce fatigue, zinc and tryptophan can offer support.

All this to say, you’ll want to keep these small-but-mighty seeds on hand during times of tension! Add them to your trail mix, blend them in your pesto or smoothie, or use them as a soup, salad, or sandwich topper. 

Build An Anti-Stress Diet With A Balanced Plate 

A simple healthy diet hack to reduce stress? Keep your plate balanced! Whether you’re enjoying a meal or whipping up a snack, keeping your plate balanced is key. Here are the top nutrients to prioritize:

#1 Prioritize Protein-Rich Foods 

If you want to beat stress, load up your diet with protein-rich foods! High-quality protein sources, such as nuts, seeds, wild-caught seafood, and lean meat, can positively affect your mood and mental health with little effort. Aside from reducing cravings, boosting energy, and balancing your blood sugar, protein-rich foods help supply the body with essential amino acids needed for mood-boosting hormone and neurotransmitter production. 

#2 Add Healthy Fats 

Adding healthy fats to your diet (such as nuts, seeds, and avocado) can make for a calmer, less stressed you. Truthfully, healthy fats, like omega-3 fatty acids, are some of the most essential nutrients for brain health and mood. They’ve been shown to lower LDL cholesterol, reduce inflammation, boost cognitive performance, and of course, offer powerful protection against the long-term effects of stress. 

#3 Keep it Gut-Healthy 

By this, we mean prioritize fiber and probiotic-rich whole foods! While it may seem odd, gut-healthy foods are some of the best foods for stress and mental health. In fact, about 90% of our serotonin is produced in the gut, not to mention the 100 trillion (or more) microbes and bacteria living in our intestines. Between regulating GI function and other serious health conditions like stress, anxiety, and depression, the gut-brain connection has a major influence on mood and mental health! 

Some great options include: fruits, veggies, whole grains, probiotic-rich yogurt, sauerkraut, and legumes.

#4 Make Your Carbs Complex

When reaching for carbs, opt for a complex source like sweet potatoes or oats. Rich in dietary fiber, complex carbs help balance blood sugar and stimulate serotonin production. 

High-quality sources include: quinoa, millet, beets, oats, legumes, and sweet potatoes.

Is Your Diet the Secret to a Less-Stressed You?

Based on the research, loading up your diet with these superfood ingredients might just be the secret stress-supporting hack we all need. While stress is inevitable — and even healthy, in moderation — having ways to manage chronic, long-term stress is key to reducing serious health conditions and supporting overall health. And focusing on your diet is a simple, effective, and tasty trick! Ready to melt (or blend, chop, and cook) your stress away? Give these stress-reducing ingredients a try.