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Nutrition as a Medicine for Stress?

Food ingredient in a plastic container that resembles a pill to convey medication

It is an everyday reaction of our body when we face challenges or threats. The whole process starts in a small part of our brain, the hypothalamus, which activates the autonomic nervous system. This nervous system regulates involuntary body functions such as blood pressure, heart rate, breathing, and digestion. As soon as we experience stress, the "fight-or-flight" response is triggered, releasing hormones like adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones provide an energy boost and increased alertness but can also lead to inflammation and cell damage in cases of prolonged stress. Thus, it is essential to handle stress effectively to minimize its negative consequences on our health.

Stress impacts our nutrition in several ways, particularly when it comes to prolonged stress. This increases the body's energy needs, comparable to an engine. Just like the engine uses more gasoline at high speed, our body under stress consumes more nutrients more quickly. Stress can also lead to unhealthy eating habits, such as reaching for comfort food rich in fat and calories but poor in nutrients. Think of catching yourself 'accidentally' ordering an extra-large pizza for yourself. Moreover, stress leads to sleep disorders, resulting in daytime fatigue and the use of stimulants such as caffeine or calorie-rich snacks to boost energy.

Therefore, the importance of healthy and balanced nutrition for stress management should not be underestimated. A balanced diet aids in regulating blood sugar levels, boosting the immune system, and improving mood, which contributes to a more effective approach to stress. To achieve this, it's crucial to include varied and essential nutrients in our diet. By making conscious choices and combining the right foods, we build a more robust shield against stress and enhance our overall health, making us more resilient in the face of challenges. Several studies have shown that specific foods help reduce stress. Let's explore these foods together.

Firstly, foods rich in complex carbohydrates, such as whole grains, vegetables, and fruit, are important for stress management. They aid in the production of serotonin, a neurotransmitter contributing to a sense of calm and well-being. Brown rice, quinoa, sweet potatoes, beans, and lentils are excellent sources of complex carbohydrates.

Also, omega-3 fatty acids are crucial for nerve health and reducing inflammation, which helps combat stress. Fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, and sardines, walnuts, and flaxseeds are excellent sources of omega-3 fatty acids.

Moreover, protein-rich foods are essential for combating stress. They contain amino acids such as tryptophan, phenylalanine, and tyrosine, which are vital for the synthesis of serotonin and other neurotransmitters that boost alertness and vitality. Examples include chicken, turkey, eggs, nuts, seeds, yogurt, and legumes.

Vitamins also play a crucial role in stress management. Vitamin C and B vitamins, such as B5 and B12, are greatly important for maintaining the nervous system and supporting the body in handling stress-related symptoms. To ingest these vitamins, we can consume citrus fruits, bell peppers, kiwis, berries, meat, poultry, fish, dairy products, and whole grains.

Finally, minerals like magnesium and selenium are important for regulating stress and supporting overall health. Magnesium, which is involved in muscle relaxation, is found in foods like dark leafy greens, avocados, nuts, and seeds. Selenium, which contributes to energy production in cells, can be found in foods such as Brazil nuts, tuna, chicken, and whole grains.

Below, you can find an example of a stress-free 2000 kcal eating schedule. This menu is an example and can be tailored to personal preferences and dietary needs. By incorporating varied and healthy foods into a balanced diet, we can mitigate the effects of stress on the body and improve our overall well-being. This enables us to cope with stress more effectively and become more resilient in the face of pressure and challenges. It's important to remember that in addition to balanced nutrition, sufficient exercise and good sleep are crucial components of an effective stress management strategy.


Singh, K. (2016). Nutrient and stress management. Journal of Nutrition and Food Sciences, 6(4).

Stress and Health. (2023, February 2). The Nutrition Source.

Takeda, E., Terao, J., Nakaya, Y., Miyamoto, K., Baba, Y., Chuman, H., Kaji, R., Ohmori, T., & Rokutan, K. (2004). Stress control and human nutrition. The Journal of Medical Investigation, 51(3–4), 139–145.

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