9 Foods That Reduce Stress Levels

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The hectic demands of today's modern world can leave even the most composed person reaching for a candy bar or a bag of salty chips when hunger strikes. While the initial rush provides some temporary comfort, self-medicating with junk food can actually "amplify" anxiety and damage your health, Barbara Mendez, a nutritionist in New York City, notes in her recent "Inc." article. The good news, Mendez says, is that you can choose to eat foods that can help to offset the negative effects of stress.

Turkey for Tryptophan

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Turkey contains tryptophan, an amino acid that boosts serotonin production. Serotonin has been shown to alleviate stress, Mendez notes. She suggests adding turkey to an omelet at breakfast or slicing it into your salad at lunch.

Soothing Spinach

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This leafy vegetable is an excellent source of magnesium, a mineral that helps promote a sense of calm, according to Mendez. It also contains fiber, which boosts energy levels. Try it instead of lettuce in your lunch salad, she suggests.

Salmon for the Brain

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Salmon is chock-full of omega-3 essential fatty acids, which help to boost serotonin production, Mendez says. The DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) in omega-3 fats helps nourish the brain while fighting stress hormones. Omega-3s can also reduce inflammation and help blood flow, both of which are compromised when stress levels are high. Because salmon is so nutritious, it can be enjoyed up to three times a week.

Nuts and Seeds

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Like salmon, nuts and seeds supply omega-3 fatty acids. They also contain omega-6 fatty acids, Mendez notes, which can reduce stress as well. Walnuts are one of the best sources of omega-3s. Cashews and sunflower seeds, like turkey, contain tryptophan. Consider having a handful of nuts as an afternoon snack.

Morning Oatmeal

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Oatmeal contains complex carbohydrates that help to increase serotonin production. The oats have calming magnesium and potassium, which have been shown to help lower blood pressure, according to Mendez. She recommends having a bowl for breakfast sprinkled with cinnamon, which can stabilize blood sugar.

Citrus Fruits

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Oranges, grapefruit and other citrus fruits are a wonderful source of vitamin C, which studies have shown to reduce stress levels, notes Mendez. Vitamin C is also a powerful antioxidant that has immune-boosting qualities. Have an orange as an afternoon snack.

Sweet Potatoes and Carrots

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Sweet potatoes and carrots are both root vegetables and a great source of fiber and complex carbohydrates, which can boost serotonin production. They're also both slightly sweet, Mendez says, which can offset sugar cravings. Both good sources of vitamins and minerals, they're beneficial for blood pressure and heart health. Try having a handful of baby carrots with almond butter as an afternoon snack, or a sweet potato with dinner a couple times a week.

Beef up Your Diet

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Beef has a bad reputation, but it's actually a great dinner option if you're feeling stressed, says Tara Geise, a registered dietitian in private practice in Orlando, Florida, and a representative of the American Dietetic Association. Beef has high levels of zinc, iron and B vitamins, all known to help stabilize your mood. Geise suggests asking for a lean cut if you're concerned about fat content.

Dark Chocolate

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Chocolate is a proven stress buster, according to recent research. A 2009 study at the Nestle Research Center in Switzerland found that after eating dark chocolate every day for two weeks, people who rated themselves as "highly stressed" had lower levels of the stress hormones cortisol and catecholamines. Dark chocolate is also included in the University of Michigan Integrative Medicine's "Healing Foods Pyramid," which notes that it causes the brain to release endorphins, "feel-good" chemicals, as well as serotonin.