You might know the old saying, “you are what you eat.” But did you know this statement is true for your body AND your mind? As it turns out, there are actually certain foods, known as calming foods, which may actually help to ease stress hormones (and their symptoms) and promote a “zen” state of mind.
So, how do calming foods work?
Well, it actually has to do with your blood sugar levels more than anything else. Balancing blood sugar levels can do wonders for not only your physical health, but also your mental health.
Let’s Talk About Blood Sugar
Blood sugar is interesting. The only way to achieve harmony is to keep it in perfect balance. Too much or too little sugar in your blood upsets your body and your brain.
Too much blood sugar
Too much blood sugar may give you a temporary high, but long-term, it can be dangerous, affecting your body’s ability to make insulin properly.1
If your body is working efficiently, insulin will remove the excess sugar from your blood and store it in your liver, muscles and fat cells. But long-term, this can also lead to obesity and/or fatty liver disease.2
Too little blood sugar
Too little blood sugar leads to symptoms like a tired and foggy brain. But worse yet, low blood sugar forces your adrenal glands to kick in, ramping up your blood pressure and fight-or-flight response (hello, raised cortisol levels and anxiety). This is because adrenaline is also a blood sugar regulator.
When adrenaline kicks in, it converts glycogen (the glucose stored in your muscles and liver) back into glucose to bring blood sugar levels back up.3 This makes sense… if you’re trying to outrun a prehistoric mammoth. It makes much less sense if you’re just trying to get through your day.
Eating Foods That Calm Nerves
As it turns out, a diet that keeps your blood sugar levels balanced isn’t just helping you to avoid a myriad of health conditions. It’s also helping to keep you more zen.
Now, the key to foods that calm nerves is to focus on eating plenty of good fats and proteins at every meal and to avoid sugar and stimulants. And keep in mind, some foods also contain nutrients that have been shown to help with relaxation.
Let’s look at eight of the best calming foods to ease some of that daily stress.
1. Good Carbs
High-fiber carbs (think legumes, and starchy fruits and vegetables) and high-protein carbs (like legumes and dairy) keep you fuller longer.
They’re also more nutritious than those “empty” low-fiber carbs, like refined grains and sugar-filled treats.4
Dig into calming foods like sweet potatoes, plantains, brown rice, quinoa, beans, and lentils to help beat stress. And to boost your good fats, add a little grass-fed butter to your sweet potato, or avocado to your quinoa.
2. Green Leafy Vegetables
Green leafy vegetables are renowned for their health benefits. They’re an incredible source of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
Kale and spinach are rich in vitamins A, C, E, and K. Broccoli and bok choy are rich in the B-vitamin family. Dark leafy greens also contain high levels of fiber, iron, magnesium, potassium, and calcium.5
When it comes to calming foods, many contain magnesium. This mineral is especially important to replenish, because stress can zap your body’s supply. The higher your magnesium levels, the lower your cortisol levels.6
Note: Seek out foods high in magnesium, like leafy greens, beets, peas, wheatgrass, and nuts, to help keep your stress levels and blood pressure low.7 Drizzle your leafy greens with olive oil and add some avocado for a great boost of healthy fats.
Small but mighty, the slippery little oyster is a pretty incredible dietary food source. But in terms of calming foods, the oyster is incredible brain food.
Packed with selenium, magnesium, and protein, oysters have been found to improve mood. The high levels of iron and zinc in oysters may help to increase concentration and sharpen memory, too.8
Eggs have got your protein needs covered, but they’re also a great source of choline. Your brain needs choline for mood regulation and to keep your nervous system functioning smoothly.9
Eggs are very versatile, so it’s super easy to eat them regularly. You can hard-boil for a snack on the go, or scramble with a side of leafy greens for some extra zen and a boost of other calming foods.
Salmon is the king of omega-3 fatty acids. It’s great for your skin, hair, and organs. Omega-3s are also essential for brain and nervous system development. And, research suggests, they may also help to keep you zen. There’s a strong association between omega-3 fatty acids and mood.10
Salmon is also high in protein and contains vitamin D. Vitamin D deficiency has been linked to low mood.11
6. Fermented Foods
You may know that fermented foods – like yogurt, sauerkraut, kombucha, kimchi, and other vegetables you can ferment at home – are great for your gut. These foods provide plenty of probiotic friendly bacteria to help keep bad bacteria (and illness) at bay.
But there’s also an entire field of research dedicated to the gut-brain connection – with evidence that your gut health may well affect your mental health.12
One great example of this is that 90 percent of serotonin (the happy, stress-relieving hormone that calms your brain) is produced in your digestive tract.13
If coffee makes you agitated, or if you’d just like to add some extra zen to your day – go for some tea. A study out of London saw stress hormones fall by almost twice as much in tea drinkers compared with those given a “tea-like” placebo drink.
Although tea is packed with some wonderful antioxidant and amino acids, which have all been found to have an effect on neurotransmitters, researchers weren’t able to tell exactly which ones produced the calming effect.14
However, the amino acid L-theanine in tea has been linked in other studies to a non-drowsy relaxation effect.15
So, the next time you need to lower those pesky stress hormones, make time for tea.
Nuts, in general, are a great source of magnesium – and as you now know, magnesium-rich foods are ideal calming foods. But almonds are a particularly great food for relieving stress symptoms.
Almonds are an excellent source of protein and fat – amazing for blood sugar levels – and they contain vitamin E. Vitamin E is an antioxidant that not only protects against free radicals, but research shows that it may also calm stress levels and mood.16
Carry around a small bag of almonds in your bag for a healthy, anytime snack. They’ll keep your blood-sugar stable between meals. Or, incorporate some almond meal into your diet, instead of blood-sugar-raising grain-flours.17
Calming Foods – Feed Your Brain
Now that you know how low blood sugar can affect your mind, blood pressure, cortisol levels and daily stress, it seems like a good idea to bring more zen into your day by turning to calming foods.
So, the next time you feel the symptoms of an afternoon slump coming on, or if you’re feeling stressed out, try feeding your brain these calming foods. It could really change your day!
Learn More About Tea:
5 Reasons You Should Add Matcha Tea to Your Daily Routine
Why You Should Drink These Herbal Teas Now
Chaga Mushroom: Looks Ain’t Everything! (+ A Tea Recipe)