Dine to Unwind

Your food choices can help you feel calm and collected

When you’re stressed, you may crave a candy bar, but your body needs something more substantial. “It’s an old trite statement, but a well-balanced meal is important,” says Carolyn Snyder, an ambulatory dietitian at Cleveland Clinic’s Digestive Disease Institute. “That’s the best dietary defense against stress.”

Besides, can a Snickers bar brighten your mood? Well, yes, but the lift is only temporary. Healthful foods, on the other hand, sustain you over the long haul.

That doesn’t mean you have to give up the carbohydrates you so dearly love. “Eat fresh fruit, fresh vegetables, whole grains,” Ms. Snyder suggests. “You’re getting carbs; plus, you’re getting fiber, vitamins and minerals.”

Some foods contain high levels of nutrients that can help you with specific concerns. Here, courtesy of Ms. Snyder, are four categories of foods to eat if you are sad, angry, run-down or are having trouble sleeping.

Foods for brightening your mood: Choose foods high in B vitamins, such as a handful of almonds, pistachios or walnuts; some low-fat yogurt; or seafood salad with salmon or shrimp.

Foods that help you deal with anger: These contain potassium, which is an electrolyte that helps lower blood pressure. They include avocados, bananas, black beans, corn, potatoes and white beans.

Foods for immunity: Containing high levels of vitamin C, these foods include blueberries, broccoli, green bell peppers, kiwi, strawberries and tomatoes.

Foods that help you sleep better: These have higher magnesium content, which is “sort of a natural tranquilizer,” Ms. Snyder says. They include chickpeas, lentils, oatmeal, pumpkin seeds and spinach.

Four General Nutrition Tips
  • “Always have breakfast with protein,” Ms. Snyder suggests. “It will give you a more consistent mood and serve as a buffer to prevent food cravings.”
  • Eat smaller meals more frequently. “It’s kind of like keeping your gas tank full all day long,” she says. Have frequent snacks of complex carbohydrates and protein: a peanut butter sandwich on whole grain bread; yogurt with a small amount of fruit; or fresh vegetables with low-fat cheese.
  • Drink this, not that. “You become more fatigued as you become dehydrated, so drink plenty of water,” Ms. Snyder says. On the other hand, limit your intake of caffeine and alcohol. “Caffeine is a stimulant. It gives you an extra boost, but that’s only short term. What goes up must come down, and when it comes down, you’re even more fatigued.” She recommends having no more than 8 ounces of a caffeinated drink per day. As for alcohol, avoid it altogether if you’re feeling down as it will depress the central nervous system and contribute to depression, she says.
  • Take a daily complete multivitamin. Also, B vitamins stimulate the brain’s production of serotonin and will help you relax, she says.

To make a gift supporting the Digestive Disease Institute or any area of Cleveland Clinic, visit our secure giving site or call Institutional Relations and Development at 216.444.1245 or toll-free at 800.223.2273, ext. 41245.

Related Links

Cleveland Clinic Mobile Site