6 Foods to Eat for a Less Stressed New Year


Whether you’re still in the throes of holiday-related tension or are dreading returning to work, your diet can help your body manage stress.

Stress is caused by factors that are both external (like money and relationships) and internal (like your thoughts and feelings).1 Bouts of stress can be useful—for example, when it helps us avoid danger or motivates us to perform well in certain situations.

However, chronic stress can lead to trouble sleeping, poor appetite, and irritability with friends and family. Over time, not being able to manage stress effectively has been linked to negative effects on memory, cognition, immune health, cardiovascular health, and gastrointestinal function.2

There’s no way to ensure you’ll live a stress-free life, but some research has suggested that including certain foods in your diet may help you even in times of trauma or strife.

Along with adopting stress-busting lifestyle habits like exercising, meditating, and getting enough quality sleep, here are six foods that may help you naturally manage stress (or at the very least, nourish your body without making you more stressed out).


A stack of walnuts in the shell next to a nutcracker.
Oksana D/Pexels

Walnuts provide a satisfying crunch and delicious flavor to many recipes. Studies have shown that eating walnuts may also offer some benefits in the stress-management department.

When researchers compared two groups of college students (one who did not eat nuts and one who ate two ounces of walnuts a day for 16 weeks) they found that the nut-eaters experience:3

  • Improvements in markers of self-reported mental health status
  • A protective effect against some of the negative impacts of academic stress, including reductions in stress biomarkers and protection of the diversity of the gut bacteria in female students
  • Improved self-reported sleep scores in the longer term

While more research is needed to find out how eating patterns that include walnuts could influence the brain or affect mental health, we do know that walnuts have a unique matrix of bioactive nutrients and phytochemicals.

In fact, walnuts are the only nut that’s an excellent source of omega-3 ALA per serving (2.5g/oz), which could be one reason why researchers saw some mental health benefits in their study.4


Two slices of avocado toast on a white plate on a white background.
Polina Tankilevitch/Pexels

The ever-popular topping for ho-hum toast could also be one of the best foods to help lower your stress levels. Avocados are a natural source of magnesium and there is evidence that magnesium deficiency could make the body more susceptible to stress.5

You’ll be hard-pressed to find quality research data directly showing that eating an avocado will be your ticket to a stress-free day, but eating magnesium-rich foods like avocado could support that goal.

If you aren’t an avocado fan, dark chocolate, dairy milk, and nuts can fuel your body with this key mineral, too.


Close up of a person slicing raw salmon on a cutting board.
Huy Phan/Pexels

Salmon is one of the best dietary sources of DHA omega-3 fatty acids. Getting enough of this “healthy fat” in your diet is linked to better stress resilience and other positive mental health effects.6

You’ll also get plenty of other stress-management nutrients, including B vitamins and magnesium, in a serving of salmon.

Green Tea

A green teapot pouring green tea into a brown tea cup.
Maria Tyutina/Pexels

Green tea has natural plant compounds that support your health in different ways. One compound found in green tea is an amino acid called L-theanine that’s associated with improvements in mood, cognition, and reduced stress and anxiety-like symptoms.7

A cup of green tea is also a versatile beverage—it tastes great and provides you with these soothing compounds whether it’s hot or iced.


Squares of chocolate on white paper.
Vie Studio/Pexels

There might be a scientific explanation for why many people crave chocolate when they’re feeling stressed out. One study in 2014 found that consuming 40 grams of dark and milk chocolate daily for two weeks was an effective way to reduce participants’ perceived stress.8

The stress-reducing effect of chocolate might be related to its cocoa polyphenols, which have been shown to reduce stress in highly stressed people and people with normal stress levels.

That said, the color of chocolate choice matters—you won’t get those powerful polyphenols from white chocolate. Chocolate with a higher cacao percentage will give you those polyphenols and often have less sugar, too.

Fruits and Vegetables

An array of purple fruits and vegetables on a purple background.
Vanessa Loring/Pexels

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), only 10% of Americans eat the recommended amount of produce every day.9 There are plenty of health benefits to getting more fruits and vegetables in your day, and helping you deal with life’s stressors might be another to add to the list.

As far as the research goes, it doesn’t appear that choosing one fruit or vegetable over another has any major effect on stress levels. That said, eating more produce does seem to be associated with lower stress for some people.

For example, a 2021 study that looked at participants’ daily reports of stress and their produce intake found that higher stress levels appeared to be linked to eating fewer fruits and veggies that day.10


  1. Anxiety UK. Stress.
  2. Yaribeygi H, Panahi Y, Sahraei H, Johnston TP, Sahebkar A. The impact of stress on body function: a reviewEXCLI J. 2017;16:1057-1072. doi:10.17179/excli2017-480
  3. Herselman MF, Bailey S, Deo P, et al. The effects of walnuts and academic stress on mental health, general well-being, and the gut microbiota in a sample of university students: a randomised clinical trialNutrients. 2022;14(22):4776. doi:10.3390/nu14224776
  4. California Walnuts. Omega-3 ALA.
  5. Pickering G, Mazur A, Trousselard M, et al. Magnesium status and stress: the vicious circle concept revisitedNutrients. 2020;12(12):3672. doi:10.3390/nu12123672
  6. Madison AA, Belury MA, Andridge R, et al. Omega-3 supplementation and stress reactivity of cellular aging biomarkers: an ancillary substudy of a randomized, controlled trial in midlife adultsMol Psychiatry. 2021;26(7):3034-3042. doi:10.1038/s41380-021-01077-2
  7. Williams JL, Everett JM, D’Cunha NM, et al. The effects of green tea amino acid L-theanine consumption on the ability to manage stress and anxiety levels: a systematic reviewPlant Foods Hum Nutr. 2020;75(1):12-23. doi:10.1007/s11130-019-00771-5
  8. Al Sunni A, Latif R. Effects of chocolate intake on perceived stress; a controlled clinical studyInt J Health Sci (Qassim). 2014;8(4):393-401. PMID: 25780358
  9. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Only 1 in 10 Americans get enough fruits and vegetables every day.
  10. Gardiner CK, Hagerty SL, Bryan AD. Stress and number of servings of fruit and vegetables consumed: buffering effects of monetary incentivesJ Health Psychol. 2021;26(10):1757-1763. doi:10.1177/1359105319884620

Important Notice: This article was originally published at www.verywellhealth.com by Lauren Manaker MS, RDN, LD, CLEC where all credits are due. Fact checked by Nick Blackmer.


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