Take a Bite Out of Stress

For many of us, September is truly the “beginning” of the year:  back-to-school routines and a return to hectic business schedules.  As with all beginnings, stress settles in. Everyone has to deal with it and knowing how to handle stress is a powerful tool for wellness.

During prolonged periods of stress, the body releases the hormone cortisol, which weakens the immune and inflammatory responses, increases blood pressure, impairs blood sugar responses and increases abdominal fat. Our digestive system is also affected by chronic stress.  During these times, we tend to reach for more caffeine and alcohol, along with fatty and sweet foods, which sends us on an energy roller-coaster ride: bouts of high energy followed by times of weakness and lethargy.

The antidote to high cortisol is the hormone known as serotonin – the calming hormone.  Diet, among other strategies can help increase the release of serotonin and help us manage stress.

Here are some foods to help you stay strong and calmer during times of stress
Complex Carbohydrates Nothing settles the mood better than a bowl of hot cereal in the morning. Examples include: plain oatmeal, cream of buckwheat or gluten-free hot cereal.  Boost your protein and fibre intake by adding 1-1.5 tbsp of chia seeds and ½ cup berries for a breakfast that will tide you over until lunch! Of course, cereals are not the only sources of complex carbohydrates. Try comfort foods such as sweet potatoes and butternut squash and root vegetables such as carrots, parsnips, turnips and kohlrabi.

Lean Protein
Include a serving of lean protein at every meal and every snack to help stabilize blood sugar levels and increase your satiety.  Great choices include:  low-fat yogurt or cottage cheese, boiled egg, tuna or wild salmon, grilled chicken or turkey, tofu, beans or lentils.

Foods high in Vitamin C
This vitamin, along with other antioxidant vitamins and minerals such as vitamin A, vitamin E, zinc and selenium help strengthen the immune system and lower surges of stress hormones.  Excellent sources of vitamin C include:  citrus fruits (oranges, grapefruit), berries (strawberries, blackberries, cranberries) mangoes, cherries, grapes and dark leafy greens.

Foods rich in Magnesium
Magnesium is a muscle relaxant and many of us do not consume enough foods rich in this mineral.  Dark leafy greens, nuts and seeds, beans, lentils and some dried fruit such as apricots and  dates are great sources of this stress-busting mineral.

Foods high in Omega-3 fats
Omega-3 fats help ease inflammation in the gut and along the arteries. They also help prevent surges in stress hormones. Aim for 3-oz servings of salmon, rainbow trout, sardines or mackerel and other fatty fish, two to three times a week. Other sources of omega-3 fats include seeds such as flax, chia, sunflower, and oils such as linseed, sunflower and grapeseed.

Foods rich in Potassium
To help lower their blood pressure, adults need to consume about 4700 mg of potassium daily. Rich sources of potassium include fruits such as bananas, apricots and avocados as well as dried fruits, squashes, beans and lentils, dark leafy greens and sweet potatoes.

Boost your serotonin levels by consuming a small serving of high quality dark chocolate.  Studies show that people who consumed 1.5 oz of dark chocolate daily for two weeks reduced the levels of stress hormones in highly stressed individuals.

Here’s an example of a stress-busting daily menu:

  • 1 serving (1/3 – ½ cup dry) rolled oats or gluten-free hot cereal
  • 1 tbsp ground chia
  • 1 tbsp maple syrup
  • ½ a banana
  • 1 cup latte made with skim milk or fortified non-dairy alternative

Mid-morning snack (OPTIONAL):

  • 1.5 oz (14 g) dark chocolate
  • 1 cup water or brewed tea or iced tea (unsweetened)


  • 2 cups leafy greens
  • ½ cup cucumber (chopped)
  • ½ cup red, orange or yellow pepper (chopped)
  • 2.5 oz salmon (canned or leftover)
  • ½ cup white kidney beans

Salad dressing:

  • 1 tbsp grapeseed oil
  • 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • ½ cup cantaloupe
  • 1 cup water

Mid-afternoon snack:

  • 1 serving (100 g) guacamole with 10 baked blue corn tortilla chips
  • 1 cup water or brewed tea or iced tea (unsweetened)


  • 4 oz grilled turkey breast
  • ½ baked acorn squash
  • 2 cups grilled summer vegetables:  zucchini, mushrooms, eggplant, red, orange or yellow pepper
  • 1 tbsp grapeseed oil (for grilled vegetables)
  • 1 tsp. Italian Seasoning mix
  • 1 cup water
  • ½ cup grilled peaches with ½ cup vanilla ice-cream or non-dairy alternative

Nutrition Facts:

Calories 1686
Carbohydrates 193 g
Fibre 36 g
Protein 92 g
Fat 68 g
Saturated Fat 15 g (% DV = 71)
Trans-fats 0.01 g
Monounsaturated 16 g (% DV = 68)
Polyunsaturated 26.4 g (% DV = 124)
Cholesterol 208 mg
Vitamin C 313 mg (% DV = 418)
Magnesium 333 mg (% DV = 104)
Potassium 4060 mg (% DV = 86%)

Computer-assisted nutrient analysis was prepared using Food Processor® SQL, version 10.10, ©2012, ESHA Research Inc., Salem OR (this software contains over 35,000 food items based largely on the latest USDA data and the Canadian Nutrient File).