How to Lower your Stress Levels through Diet

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Anxiety is something that is often accepted as a normal part of living in a modern and stress-filled world. Dietary changes can help reduce the stress response. Roy-Byrne’s research in 2015 showed that only 50%-60% of people respond to medication and psychotherapy, and only a quarter of patients have complete resolution of their symptoms. The National Institute of Mental Health states that anxiety disorders were the most common mental health disorder in the United States, about 3 times more common than depression, before the COVID-19 pandemic. The Express Scripts survey showed that 37.7% more prescriptions were being filled for antianxiety medications in mid-March 2020 than usual, suggesting that people were experiencing more anxiety because of the pandemic. It is important to not only rely on traditional medications and therapies to improve mental well-being during a pandemic but also to think about other ways to positively affect mental health. Our dietary choices are more crucial than ever, according to research by Opie et al. in 2015. This column looks at foods and substances that can help manage anxiety.

Foods and Substances That May Contribute to Anxiety

It is important to know which foods and substances will make your symptoms worse, so you can avoid them. Three major categories include caffeine, alcohol, and artificial sweeteners.


While caffeine can make you feel more awake, too much of it can cause anxiety. Caffeine overstimulates regions of the brain that process threats. Then, they measured the participants’ alertness, anxiety, and blood pressure every hour for six hours. An experimental psychology research study in 2011 gave either 250 mg of caffeine or placebo capsules to 14 healthy male volunteers and then measured the alertness, anxiety, and blood pressure of the participants every hour for six hours. They then examined how much blood was flowing to different regions of the brain as subjects looked at threatening or neutral faces. They found that caffeine activated the midbrain periaqueductal gray matter, which is the region of the brain that is responsible for the fight or flight response. To make things worse, caffeine also shuts down a brain region that typically helps regulate anxiety, which can lead to feelings of panic. How much caffeine is safe before it becomes problematic? Most research indicates that consuming less than 100 mg of caffeine has little to no effect on anxiety levels. The results of taking between 100 and 400 milligrams of the drug are mixed. The majority of studies show that taking more than 400 milligrams a day significantly increases anxiety. For those who enjoy caffeine,400 mg per day is generally the limit. This means that if you’re drinking a brand of coffee with a high concentration of caffeine, you should drink less of it to stay within the daily limit. If you’re looking for a coffee that won’t give you too much caffeine, Nespresso is a good option. One capsule makes 1 ounce of coffee with 50-80 mg of caffeine. Even though decaffeinated coffee has small amounts of caffeine, it is still a good choice for those who want to reduce their intake. There are many types of mushroom powder that can be used as a caffeine-free alternative to coffee, such as reishi, lion’s mane, chaga, and cordyceps. These can be mixed with hot liquid and enjoyed. For those who want to cut back on caffeine, it’s important to do it slowly to avoid withdrawal symptoms.


There are many people in my practice who have stressed lives. Many people who work hard during the week often drink heavily on the weekends as a way to relieve stress. People who drink alcohol regularly may have poorer sleep quality, especially if they have anxiety. The “relaxation” alcohol provides comes with a significant price, including the fact that alcohol is one of the leading preventable causes of death in the United States.

The cycle of social anxiety disorder can be very vicious for sufferers. Anxiety in social situations leads people to drink more alcohol to ease their nerves, which in turn increases the risk of developing an alcohol use disorder by more than four times. I ask anxious patients who drink if they are using alcohol in an unhealthy way to cope with something they are trying to avoid. I suggest they moderate the amount they drink. It is important to recognize that patients who show signs of alcoholism may experience heightened anxiety when they stop drinking. Creating a plan to manage alcohol withdrawal symptoms safely is crucial and should be done with the help of a psychiatrist or doctor. Other issues include the fact that people consume extra calories and sugar when drinking cocktails (simple syrup, which is sugar, and added liqueurs and liquors). A less frequently consumed cocktail that is less dirty may be an option. To make fresh squeezed orange juice, you will need a lemon, lime, or orange. Do not use store-bought orange juice because it has a lot of added sugar. Sugar can worsen anxiety. Alcohol can worsen both anxiety and depression.

Artificial Sweeteners

Artificial sweeteners contain no nutritional value and can actually increase levels of harmful gut bacteria. This can in turn lead to negative changes in mood and increased anxiety levels. Sweeteners like aspartame have been linked with anxiety and should be avoided or used in moderation.

Foods and Substances That May Decrease Anxiety

Eating the foods that are promoted on the Mediterranean diet can help you to cope with stress better. These include: fish, poultry, fruits, vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and healthy fats. Barth states that patients will experience a plethora of benefits by following a Mediterranean diet, including reduced stress levels.

According to Barth, the best way to lower cortisol in the body is to focus on an anti-inflammatory diet. “That means fewer processed foods and more whole foods.”

The goal is to eat foods that reduce inflammation in your body, which will in turn reduce cortisol levels. There are some foods which may help to lower your cortisol levels and combat stress.

Dietary Fiber

Dietary fiber can help to reduce inflammation throughout the body, including in the brain. The evidence suggests that inflammation plays a role in anxiety and that diets high in fiber may help to reduce the risk of depression, anxiety, and stress.

This study found that people with anxiety disorders have elevated levels of certain markers that denote inflammation. Dietary fiber has been shown to help with anxiety by decreasing the brain’s and body’s inflammatory responses. Vegetables, fruits, lentils, beans, nuts, seeds, and healthy whole grains are all rich in dietary fiber. Fiber is only found in plant-based foods, so eating more vegetables can help the gut microbiota prosper.

Aged, Fermented, and Cultured Foods

Eating fermented foods can improve your gut health and reduce anxiety. Examples of fermented foods include yogurt with active cultures and kimchi.

Dairy or nondairy yogurts that contain probiotics can be beneficial to your diet, but you should be aware that yogurt that has undergone heat treatment does not provide the same benefits because the probiotics are killed by the high heat. One example of a food that has no beneficial bacteria left is yogurt-covered raisins. You will only get the benefits from yogurt if you eat it in its natural form, without any added sugar. Although cereal bars and other packaged foods that say they are made with real yogurt may contain small amounts of yogurt powder, they are unlikely to be beneficial.

There are many types of fermented foods, including kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, miso, tempeh, and apple-cider vinegar. In addition to fermenting fruits, you can also ferment vegetables such as carrots, cauliflower, green beans, radishes, and broccoli.

Many people are experiencing more anxiety at this time. What you eat can affect how you feel during times of stress. There are many stress-reducing foods that can help you lead a calmer, happier life.

Foods high in vitamin B

Whole grains and animal sources that are fortified can contain high levels of B vitamins, with B12 being particularly beneficial for those looking to regulate their cortisol metabolism. Try:

  • Beef.
  • Chicken.
  • Eggs.
  • Fortified cereal.
  • Nutritional yeast.
  • Organ meats.

Foods high in omega-3 fatty acid

These foods reduce inflammation. Although fatty fish is the best source of activated Vitamin D, Barth says that it can also be obtained from some plant sources. Such foods include:

  • Anchovies.
  • Avocados.
  • Chia seeds.
  • Flax seeds.
  • Herring.
  • Mackerel.
  • Olive oil.
  • Oysters.
  • Salmon
  • Sardines.
  • Tuna.
  • Walnuts.

Magnesium-rich foods

Magnesium is extremely beneficial at reducing inflammation, managing cortisol levels, and relaxing the body and mind,” Barth says. She suggests:

  • Avocados.
  • Bananas.
  • Broccoli.
  • Dark chocolate.
  • Pumpkin seeds.
  • Spinach.

Protein-rich foods

It is good for your blood sugar levels to eat foods such as meat, fish, poultry, beans, and legumes, Barth says. Specifics include:

  • Almonds.
  • Chicken breast.
  • Eggs.
  • Lean beef.
  • Lentils.
  • Peanuts.
  • Quinoa.
  • Turkey breast.
  • Tuna.
  • Salmon.
  • Shrimp.

Gut-healthy foods

A large majority of our immune system is determined by the state of our gut, so by improving our gut health, we greatly improve our immunity, Barth explains. These probiotic-rich and fermented foods can help balance blood sugar and reduce cholesterol:

  • Greek yogurt.
  • Kefir.
  • Kimchi.
  • Kombucha.
  • Sauerkraut.

If you need to de-stress in a hurry

Stress management through food is not a quick fix to make you feel relaxed. It is a long term strategy. Although magnesium-rich foods may help you relax, they are not guaranteed to work.

According to Barth, high-magnesium foods are the best way to treat a problem. ” Magnesium can help to reduce stress by relaxing the body. Magnesium is a mineral that is essential for many bodily functions, including maintaining a healthy heart rhythm, strong bones, and normal blood pressure. It can also help to reduce the risk of chronic diseases.

She suggests either eating pumpkin seeds or letting dark chocolate melt in your mouth as a quick snack. This could be a good way to wind down at the end of the day.

What cortisol does

Cortisol plays a number of roles in the body, including:

  • Regulating sleep cycles.
  • Reducing inflammation.
  • Increasing blood sugar.
  • Managing how the body uses carbohydrates, fats, and proteins.
  • Controlling blood pressure.

Cortisol is known as the stress hormone because it is generally released when the body is under stress. Staying calm during times of stress is key to helping your body manage its fight-or-flight response, which is beneficial.

“But too much cortisol for too long has been linked to damage to the hippocampus, which is essential for learning and memory.” Barth explains that cortisol is only beneficial for a brief amount of time before it starts to cause damage to the hippocampus, which is necessary for cognition and memory. The cortisol surge provides energy to help you deal with a stressful situation.

Too much cortisol in your body over a long period of time creates stress, which leads to more inflammation and increases your blood pressure.

According to Barth, the best way to lower cortisol levels is to manage stress.

Eat well and eat consistently

One way to reduce stress is to make sure you don’t skip meals. Eating at regular intervals helps to keep your blood sugar levels balanced. Having a chronic low blood sugar level is stressful for your body and can increase the level of the hormone cortisol. Maintaining a balanced blood sugar level can help reduce stress on your body.

Even though it is tempting, do not take supplements to get the vitamins and nutrients your body needs.

Barth states that the impact of nutrition on the body is known, whereas supplements are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. “I always tell people: Go with food first.”

Don’t rely on food to de-stress

These foods may help reduce your cortisol levels, although they will not have a significant impact if you do not manage stress in other ways.

If you eat healthy but don’t manage stress or get enough sleep, you won’t see the results you want from diet changes alone, Barth says.

A whole-body approach that includes exercising, getting enough sleep and managing chronic diseases like diabetes, hypertension, and obesity is the key to lowering stress. All of these can put your body in a prolonged state of inflammation.

We cannot stop our genes from happening or our environment, but we can help make our bodies better by eating healthy.

This means that we have the power to choose what we eat and how it affects our bodies.


Happier Healthier Life