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What foods should I eat to improve my mood and lower stress levels?

We all have occasions of stress at some point, whether that be just those daily hassles of getting the kids out the door, or being anxious about something bigger like an illness or an important deadline. Whatever it might be, stress causes our cortisol to rise. This hormone, is commonly known as the ‘stress hormone’ and is responsible for our fight or flight mechanism. In menopause, it can really have a big knock on effect to other things, such as weight gain, sleeplessness, hot flashes etc.

One of the things this increased cortisol can then cause is a craving for certain foods. Often these foods tend to be ‘comfort foods’ such as sugar and carbs, which help us in the short term but lead to us craving even more of them and getting us in a bigger mood than we started with. And what’s more is that high blood sugar (from eating these foods) triggers the pancreas to release insulin and this tells your body to store fat – yay! These (fairly obvious) foods are the main ones you want to try and avoid in stressful situations

Top 6 Stress Fueling Foods

  1. Obvious sugar filled foods such as biscuits, cakes and sweets – they play havoc with your blood sugar levels, giving you peaks and troughs and the body needs to release cortisol to help regulate this. This increased cortisol can also cause sleep issues, headaches and decreased immune response. Rapidly fluctuating blood sugar levels can cause feelings that are similar to stress, including anxiousness and fear

  2. Foods that seem healthy such as fat free flavoured yoghurts – one of my bugbears - yes they’re fat free but they make up for that loss of taste with sugar, so better off eating full fat. If you need the sweetness then add actual fresh fruits rather than over-processed jams. Another one is Dried fruit - often over-eaten as they’re not particularly filling. But be careful as they generally have more sugar than their fresh fruit original self.

  3. High sodium foods – this makes the body attract liquid which puts extra pressure on your organs and makes you feel bloated leading to a sapping of energy.

  4. Processed carbs – white breads, croissants etc. These have no nutritional value and cause those fluctuating blood sugar levels too causing moodiness and irritability. They also often contain high levels of sodium.

  5. Caffeine – this stimulates your nervous system and having too much can put your body on high alert and lead to rapid heartbeat and higher blood pressure

  6. Alcohol - high in sugar, alcohol also increases your cortisol levels (stress hormone) and it tends to prolong any anxious feelings rather than getting rid of them

So what can you have instead? These foods are natural healers and will satisfy the hunger but in a far more positive way!

10 more relaxing foods:

  1. Asparagus – a great source of folate which keeps you cool!

  2. Berries – blueberries, strawberries, raspberries – all full of antioxidants and vitamin C which is shown to help stress levels

  3. Cheese omelette - a quick dish that’s rich in calcium, protein and the amino acid tryptophan, which your brain uses to manufacture the relaxing hormone melatonin.

  4. Oats - melatonin and complex carbs helping tryptophan flow to the brain. Yes, it’s a carb but it gives a slow release of energy and helps you stay fuller for longer

  5. Herbal tea - Camomile tea – a restful herb that is good to help you sleep and Peppermint tea - a natural antacid to relax your digestive system

  6. Chocolate – not one for excessive consumption but in moderation this is shown to be linked to mood. Dark chocolate is known to lower blood pressure and give you a sense of calm as well as having great antioxidants too

  7. Cantalope melon - natural source of potassium, a muscle relaxant that can reduce blood pressure. This type is also rich in vitamin A and C which improve the skin

  8. Salmon - high in vitamin B6, another building block for melatonin

  9. Kale, spinach and swiss chard - leafy greens are rich in magnesium, helping contribute to good sleep

  10. Full fat Greek yoghurt - potassium, which create digestive enzymes that break down food that calms your gut. Also has twice the amount of protein so keeps you feeling fuller for longer

  11. Almonds - naturally sweet and high in tryptophan, helps regulate your mood and appetite

For a truly stress-busting breakfast why not have some porridge topped with melon and berries, yoghurt and crushed almonds, alongside a nice green smoothie 😊


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