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5 Healthy Foods That Help Relieve Stress

By Dr. Sharon Stills, NMD

There’s a connection between how well your body copes with adrenal stress and the foods you eat. If you’ve been wiped out and exhausted lately, making small changes to what and when you eat can go a long way towards helping you feel energetic, rested and way less stressed.

Check out my favorite foods for adrenal support — and also learn which energy-zapping “stress foods” to avoid.

5 foods for adrenal support

Healthy proteins

Protein in all of your meals and snacks will have a stabilizing effect on your blood sugar, which, in turn,  helps to reduce adrenal-draining cortisol spikes and cravings for caffeine and sugars. My favorite source of healthy protein is wild caught salmon. It’s low in calories and easily digested. Nuts, seeds, beans and other plant proteins can be good choices. Women typically need between 60-70 total grams of protein per day. Protein is especially important to get you started in the morning.

Dark leafy greens

Kale, Swiss chard, mustard and beet greens, and other dark leafy greens are amazing sources for magnesium. The mineral provides necessary energy for your adrenals — and every cell in your body — to function properly. Magnesium also has a soothing, relaxing effect. Try to eat organic greens when you can as they don’t have the toxic pesticides that add more stress to the body. Other sources of magnesium include fish, nuts, seeds and whole grains.

Foods that are rich in adrenal-building vitamins 

Vitamin C, Vitamin E and Vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid) are intimately involved with production of adrenal stress hormones. If you’re under chronic stress and you’re not getting enough of these micronutrients, it’s a recipe for tapped out adrenals and the fatigue, brain fog and other symptoms that go along with adrenal dysfunction.

For foods rich in Vitamin C, think red and orange colorful fruits and veggies, including red and orange peppers, carrots, apples, and so many different choices of colorful squashes. Foods rich in Vitamin E include avocados, hazelnuts, almonds and asparagus. For Vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid), egg yolks are great source and you can also try adding more lentils and split peas to your diet.

Brazil nuts

Selenium is an antioxidant that helps protect your cells from free-radical damage and is essential for thyroid and adrenal function; deficiency in selenium can be a contributing factor for adrenal fatigue. Brazil nuts are a great source for selenium — try eating two Brazil nuts a day to get the selenium you need. Other sources include tuna, organ meats, mushrooms, halibut and beef.

Oysters 

Zinc is important for balancing the body’s stress hormones. But stress itself is a natural foe of the mineral. As studies show,  prolonged stress may deplete zinc concentrations in the blood. So add a little more zinc to your diet when you’re stressed by eating zinc-rich choices like fresh oysters, sardines, beef, lamb, turkey, split peas, whole grains and sunflower seeds. All organic, please!

Foods to avoid for adrenal health

Caffeine can over-stimulate the adrenals and disrupt sleep patterns. But if you find yourself craving caffeine, it may be that your cortisol or blood sugar is low or that serotonin is imbalanced. In any case, you may not have much energy and your body probably needs a rest. Instead of cranking it up with another cup and having a caffeine crash later, take a mini-break and try deep breathing or a ten-minute walk.

Sugary foods create spikes and crashes in blood sugar levels which affects stress hormone balance. If you are craving something sweet, try some naturally sweet berries. Berries have a low glycemic index (meaning they probably won’t spike your blood sugars) and provide helpful antioxidants for oxidative stress protection.  In general, you want to spread out your meals and snacks throughout the day to maintain healthy blood sugar balance..

For more about how to tweak your diet to support your adrenal health, read our article on how to keep chronic stress levels to a minimum through food choice and meal timing.

Last Updated: December 10, 2023
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