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The Deconstructed Dish: Can you really manage stress with your diet?

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The Deconstructed Dish: Can you really manage stress with your diet?

Who has time to stay savvy about latest nutrition research these days? Besides, a nutritional breakthrough or wonder food makes headlines every Monday only to be disproved by Tuesday, right?  Even though you may be seconds away from tossing in the kitchen towel and just eating your favorite comfort foods because you’re so frustrated and confused, don’t yet.

Nutrition trends come and go, but I’m here to provide you with evidence-based, sustainable ways to improve your health.  Each month, I’ll focus on a nutritional hot topic, sift through tons of research, separate fact from fiction, and provide realistic solutions to help you improve your life.

Stress sucks, right?  Whether you’re losing sleep over managing your over-the-top workload or finding a way to tell a friend she’s not a bridesmaid in your upcoming nuptials, stress weaves its way into the fibers of our beings and wreaks havoc. And if you’re anything like me, you desperately search for ways to mitigate it when it does.

The majority of research supports making lifestyle adjustments, like doing exercise, meditation and yoga, to reduce stress; however, the correlation between stress and nutritional changes is a little less clear. While quick searches on the internet tout the benefits of a diet rich in whole foods, B vitamins and magnesium, and adaptogens, most articles don’t really explain why or how these specific nutrients manage the stress response.

So, I dove into the research.

Sifting through the research

While sifting through reputable research , most validate that whole, plant-based foods rich in nutrients like magnesium and Vitamin B, can help manage and calm the stress response.

Whole, plant-based foods

In general, processed foods are typically stripped of health-promoting nutrients. However, whole foods, like spinach, avocados, blueberries and flaxseeds, kept in their natural, unprocessed state, retain those nutrients and, when consumed, help the body adapt and manage stressful situations1.

B Vitamins and Magnesium

In a meta-analysis of research that evaluated the effectiveness of B vitamins and magnesium, researchers concluded they both were linked to a decrease in anxiety-related symptoms, especially when compared to the placebo group.2 Although the exact pathophysiology is unknown, it is believed that magnesium is utilized more during the stress response, and therefore, consumption of magnesium-rich foods or supplementation, especially with other vitamins and minerals, is needed to compensate for the accelerated losses.


Adaptogens, or adaptogenic herbs, when consumed, are believed to help the body better manage and “adapt” to stress.  Traditionally use in herbal medicine to support the body during an elevated stress, foods and herbs like maca, ginsing, ashwaghanda and rhodiola show great potential as adoptogens.3

To help manage stress, include these in your daily diet:


Whole, unprocessed, plant-based foods Leafy greens, lentils, seeds, nuts, the list goes on! If it’s a whole, plant- based food, enjoy!
Magnesium Spinach, squash, pumpkin seeds, beans, lentils, brown rice, avocados
B Vitamins:
Thiamin Macadamia nuts, sunflower seeds, green peas, acorn squash
Riboflavin Almonds, mushrooms, sesame seeds, spinach
Niacin Peanuts, brown rice, mushrooms, gluten-free breads and brown rice
Vitamin B6 Sweet potato, sunflower seeds, spinach, banana
Folate Lentils, pinto beans, garbanzo beans, asparagus, spinach
Vitamin B12 Nutritional yeast, fortified gluten-free cereals


Making dietary changes can help manage stress, and should be used as part of a stress management regimen. Embrace whole, plant-based foods and stress-busting supplements to help ease your mind.



  1. Higdon J, Drake VJ. (2012). An Evidence-Based Approach to Vitamins and Minerals: Health Benefits and Intake Recommendations. Thieme. 2nd ed.
  2. Lakhan, S., Vieira, K. (2010). Nutritional and herbal supplements for anxiety and anxiety-related disorders: systematic review. Nutrition Journal. 9:42. Accessed on 10/28/14 from: http://www.nutritionj.com/content/9/1/42
  3. Panossian A, Wikman G. (2009). Evidence-Based Efficacy of Adaptogens in Fatigue, and Molecular Mechanisms Related to their Stress-Protective Activity. Current Clinical Pharmacology.