Frazzled? Avoid Burnout with These Stress Busting Foods.

Feeling Frazzled and Stressed

Feeling Frazzled? Avoid Burnout with These Stress Busting Foods.

For our distant ancestors, the stress response was a useful way to prepare the body for danger. Once a threat became apparent, the adrenal glands would increase the amount of cortisol they released, otherwise known as the stress hormone. This would trigger a chain of events within the body that diverted attention away from non-essential processes such as digestion and fertility, and boosted those required for fighting or fleeing from the danger, such as respiratory and muscle functions.

In modern day, civilised society, we are rarely in situations where the fight or flight response is required: but there are still many things that can trigger the stress response, such as poor health or too little sleep; anxiety about something like a speech, a social event, exams or money; and dealing with trauma, for example.

While a little stress can be helpful, the changes that occur within the body are designed to be short term; so problems begin to occur when the response is sustained. Too much cortisol can ultimately lead to a breakdown in the immune system, leaving us with a higher susceptibility to illness and infections; digestive system problems; disruptions in the nervous system, resulting in mood swings and increased anxiety; along with fertility problems, high blood pressure, trouble sleeping and extreme fatigue. These symptoms can also cause stress, resulting in a negative feedback loop – so the more stressed you are, the more stressed you become.

In order to break the cycle, it is vital that you become more aware about how to cope with stress. Among the many coping strategies are regular exercise (taking care not to overdo it as this can increase the amount of stress on your body); sufficient sleep and periods of relaxation; mindfulness – whereby you focus only on the present moment, rather than worry about the past or the future; and dietary changes, to replenish stores of nutrients lost due to the additional demands that stress places on the body.

This article focuses on the main nutrients required to support you through bouts of stress and the main dietary sources of these nutrients.

Stress Foods Chart


Lift Your Mood with a Serotonin Boost

Serotonin is a chemical known as a neurotransmitter, as it plays a role in relaying signals between cells, particularly in the brain. These messages are vital for normal brain and bodily functions, including our cardiovascular system, sleep and memory. Serotonin depletes as a a result of prolonged periods of stress, and serotonin deficiencies can result in anxiety, negativity, obsessive behaviour, depression and sleeplessness; all of which cause additional stress on the body, feeding a vicious cycle.

The key to topping up serotonin levels in the brain is through consuming foods which are a good source of tryptophan, an amino-acid that is one of the main building blocks of the neurotransmitter.

High protein sources of tryptophan will offer little help in boosting serotonin levels unless complex carbohydrates are consumed at the same time; or better still, a short while after. This is because the insulin released by the complex carbohydrates allows other amino acids in the food to be absorbed by cells in the body, leaving the tryptophan free to reach the brain uncontested.

Complex carbs also have the added effect of stabilising blood sugar levels, which can ensure the body is not put under additional stress from being out of balance.

Combine complex carbs such as wholemeal pasta, bread and starchy vegetables, with other good tryptophan sources such as salmon, tuna, peanuts, chicken, turkey, soybeans, tofu, black beans, seeds, lamb and beef (grass fed for the best quality proteins).

Another good way to boost serotonin levels in the brain is with dark chocolate. It also releases endorphins in the brain, a neurotransmitter which is know to reduce pain and help decrease stress levels.

Consuming foods that contain sufficient vitamin C is also vital for maintaining healthy levels of this brain chemical.

Brocolli for Vitamin C


Regulate Stress Hormones with Vitamin C

Vitamin C has been shown to regulate stress hormones; with one study demonstrating that taking vitamin C before performing a stressful task significantly reduced the physical signs of stress, such as elevated blood pressure and cortisol levels. It also helps ease the psychological effects, with the subjects of the study reportedly feeling less stressed than a test group who did not get the vitamin C supplement.

With so many studies reporting the benefits of vitamin C, it is hard to deny its effectiveness as a powerful stress management tool. The best way to boost your vitamin C levels though is naturally, rather than through supplement use alone. This is because including foods that are high in vitamin C will also bring other benefits from the combination of nutrients that you find in them.

Strawberries are a rich source of vitamin C, and also contain a flavonoid called pecargonidin which has been shown to be a mood booster. They contain their own natural sweetness, so if you are one who would normally reach for the sweets when you are stressed out, they are a great alternative.

Peppers are also an excellent source of vitamin C. Try having sliced peppers in the fridge to munch on when you need a boost.

Vitamin C is present in citrus fruits in large quantities, as well as papaya, broccoli and tomatoes. In fact, it's safe to say that eating a broad selection of fresh fruit and vegetables when you are feeling stressed will provide you with much of the vitamin C you need to manage it.

Spinach for Magnesium

Release More Energy with Magnesium

Many chemical reactions within the body require magnesium, including the sequence of reactions that allow energy to be released from cells. If magnesium is not present at any of these, then the energy release will not be effective. This is why you can feel fatigued when you have inadequate levels of this mineral. The effects of stress may be felt more acutely if you have no energy.

In addition to chronic fatigue, magnesium has also been linked to anxiety and depression, negative mood states which can be caused by or lead to stress, and can certainly compound its effects. Keeping levels of magnesium topped up is therefore essential for ensuring that you are able to fight stress effectively.

Good natural sources of magnesium include spinach and other leafy greens; various types of seeds, especially pumpkin seeds; and beans such as soybeans, black beans and navy beans.

Salmon for Omega-3

Reduce Anxiety and Depression with Omega 3 Fatty Acids

Omega 3 is a polyunsaturated fat, with a unique, double bonded chemical structure. It has been linked to nervous system activities, and a variety of cognitive processes, among other things.

Research led by JK Kiecolt-Glaser showed that stress and anxiety were reduced in a group taking omega 3 supplements. Other studies have also shown that mood profiles improved significantly when taking omega 3, with both anxiety and depression significantly reduced. A study in 2013 showed that omega 3 supplements had an anti-stress effect in rats, decreasing levels of corticosteroid.

Omega 3 can be obtained from eating oily fish, nuts and seeds. The main sources include flaxseeds, walnuts, sardines, salmon, beef and soybeans.

Sardines for B Vitamins


Replenish Your Lost B Vitamins for a Healthy Nervous System

B vitamins include folic acid, thiamin, niacin, pantothenic acid, vitamin B6 and vitamin B12. They work closely together in a range of complex biological processes, including energy production, as well as the maintenance of a healthy nervous system. Deficiencies in these vitamins have been linked to fatigue and mood disorders such as depression. It is also reported that B vitamins are rapidly depleted when the body is exposed to stress, so keeping your B vitamins topped up is essential.

Broccoli is not only a fantastic source of vitamin C, but also contains good quantities of many of the B vitamins. Other good sources include avocados, asparagus, spinach, peas, and beans. B12 is mainly found in meat sources such as beef and lamb; as well as fish such as cod, sardines and salmon.

Yoghurt for Calcium

Restore Balance with Calcium

Extra calcium is released into the blood stream during periods of stress, which has the effect of stimulating the nerves and increasing alertness. This can be useful in the short term, but over longer periods of stress, the bodily sources of calcium are depleted and will need to be replenished, otherwise stores of calcium in the bones will be called upon, which can lead to problems with bone density and other diseases.

Along with dairy products such as milk and yoghurt, you can also find good quantities of calcium in tofu, sardines and sesame seeds.

Beef for Zinc

Calm the Brain and Body with Zinc

When stressed, extra zinc is absorbed from the blood by the body, and is lost through saliva, urine and sweat, which can lead to a zinc deficiency. As zinc helps us pull minerals from food, and the digestive system is compromised during periods of stress, it is very important to get additional zinc into the diet so that deficiencies in other minerals are also avoided.

Zinc also has the effect of calming the brain and body, which can be very helpful when we are anxious or depressed; and this can often be the case when we are under a lot of stress.

Good dietary sources of zinc include beef, spinach, asparagus, lamb and various seeds.


Increasing our intake of the nutrients lost through stress will allow us to restore balance within our bodies, returning our internal processes back to normal more quickly, and enabling us to become more resilient to stress.

Some of the top stress-busting food types that will help you replenish your stores of lost nutrients include: