Healthy eating for stress and anxiety management

Published - Oct 13, 2022

Healthy Eating for Stress and Anxiety Management

By Kaitlyn McCurdy, marketing intern at IRG Physical & Hand Therapy, 

Content reviewed by Julie Mahler, MS, RDN, CD, registered dietitian nutritionist at IRG Physical Therapy – Murphy’s Corner


Preparing for important meetings or final exams can be stress inducing and lead us to reach for the chip bag or a candy bar. Why is that? When our bodies react to a stress response, we release a hormone called ghrelin, also known as the hunger hormone. Increased levels of ghrelin leave us hungry and craving those comfort, easy to reach for foods.

Stress and anxiety regulating foods to incorporate into your diet


This tiny fruit packs a big punch of vitamin C, which diminishes cortisol (the stress hormone) that is released by the body during a stress response. When this hormone is released, any food that is rich in vitamin C would be a great snacking option to reduce the symptoms of stress and anxiety. Other options include kiwis, oranges, broccoli, red bell peppers and many more.


Bananas have high levels of potassium, which is linked with management of stress and anxiety. Low levels of potassium can be caused due to a high sodium diet. Individuals with lower levels of potassium have also been shown to experience greater feelings of stress. Bananas are also a great source of magnesium, which helps the body combat stress symptoms. When we are stressed, the body tends to lose this nutrient, and bananas are a wonderful way to replenish it.


Salmon is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which helps diminish feelings of anxiety, alongside its ability to aid in brain health. Ample amounts of potassium and vitamin B12 can also be found in salmon, making it a great go-to food when stress levels begin to rise. Other fish that are good sources of omega-3, include sardines, herring and tuna. If you aren’t a big fan of fish, omega-3 fatty acids can also be found in walnuts, soybeans and kidney beans.


Water is not only important for the maintenance of physical health, but for mental health as well. By staying hydrated, the body will be able to regulate higher levels of cortisol better than if it were dehydrated, in turn leading to less feelings of stress. Keep in mind, it is important to drink water throughout the day and not just when nervousness and anxiety seem to be arising.

Tips to Make the Switch

Making the mental adjustment to opt for healthier options rather than junk food can seem like a big task, especially when we are so used to going for comfort snacks when stress creeps in. However, there are many tricks to make the transition easier:

  • Choose one day per week to meal prep when your favorite show is on. This will make the prep time fly by, and it is a time that has already been set aside.
  • Keep healthy snacks in individually packed grab-and-go bags or containers. Rather than grabbing a chip bag or a candy bar, this will allow the healthy snacks to be just as convenient.
  • Exchange normal pastas and breads to whole-grain alternatives. Whole grains reduce the feeling of stress within the body and taste just as great as other options.
  • Purchase chips that are lower in sodium.
  • Don’t like the trail mix in store? Buy the ingredients to make your own customized mixture. Some great ingredients for this are dried blueberries or cranberries, almonds or cashews and 70% dark chocolate.

If you are looking for guidance on ways to manage stress and anxiety through your diet, IRG’s registered dietitian nutritionist, Julie Mahler, MS, RDN, CD, can help. With specialized training in obesity and weight management, Julie can help counsel you for many nutritional needs. Click here to learn more about nutrition services offered at IRG. Call IRG Physical Therapy – Murphy’s Corner to learn more at 425.337.9556 or click here to request an appointment with Julie today.

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