Ever think there must be a better way to fix your body?
A surefire way to lose body fat?
The perfect method of feeling inspired every time you train?
The big fat truth is that stress is a huge daily reality that’s keeping you from reaching your potential.
Did you know that people who cope with stress by consuming “comfort foods” rich in fat and sugar gain weight, and that the amount of weight gained is greater than the amount expected based on the calories consumed?
The good news is that by avoiding certain foods—refined, processed, and all high-sugar, high-fat foods—and choosing others, you have one incredibly effective method of fighting stress and optimizing your body.
Real food has an amazing power to counter the metabolic damage and inflammation that stress wrecks on your body. Use this list of 40 pleasurable and nourishing (and affordable!) foods to ease stress and improve body composition.
1. Dark chocolate—the darling of the superfoods—has been found to reduce the risk of a number of stress-related diseases: lower heart disease risk, a measurable drop in melanoma skin cancer rates, a lower diabetes risk, and better cognition in older people.
2. Coffee is packed with antioxidants that make it one of the healthiest beverages on earth. In addition to being beneficial for athletic performance and brain function due to the caffeine, coffee decreases disease risk, including cancer (lung, prostate, breast, endometrial, pancreatic, stomach, and colon), heart disease, diabetes, and metabolic syndrome.
3. Tart Cherry Juice has been found to significantly enhance sleep quality by raising the hormone melatonin, and it accelerates recovery from exercise due to its high antioxidant content. It’s especially good for folks who can’t sleep due to mental stress because it reduces the buildup of inflammatory factors like IL-6, which can spiral out of control when you experience a lot of anxiety.
4. Coconut oil has taken the underground nutrition world by storm because it is anti-inflammatory and can moderate blood sugar. It’s a useful fat to cook with, being not easily oxidized at high temperatures.
Avoid drinking it in very large quantities daily since, like all fats, it is energy dense and contains a rather whopping dose of saturated fat, which is safe in reasonable amounts, but should not be over consumed.
5. Red wine is famous for containing the antioxidant resveratrol that has been shown to reduce muscle soreness after exercise, lower cancer risk, and promote insulin sensitivity. Along with red grapes and grapeseed extract, high-quality red wine has the ability to fight stress when consumed in small quantities and it also improves estrogen metabolism.
6. Beef liver is nutrient dense, but low in calories and fat. It provides an array of protective nutrients in a source that the body can easily absorb, including phosphorous, potassium, vitamin A, zinc, copper, iron, folate, and choline.
7. Organic bison, or buffalo, is high in anti-inflammatory compounds including omega-3 fats, and the amino acids, carnitine, glutamine, glycine and glutathione. It’s also got the potent cancer fighting antioxidant CLA, and provides conditionally essential amino acids that are protective in times of stress.
8. Brazil nuts are high in selenium, zinc, and the vitamins B and E—a combination of antioxidants that enable enzymes needed for glutathione, the immune regulator. Brazil nuts may also enhance androgen hormone production.
9. Bananas are a nutrient-rich food that have the ability to raise the sleep hormone melatonin as well as significantly improve blood antioxidant levels. Plus, they contain prebiotics, which are compounds on which the beneficial bacteria in your gut thrive, making them an excellent regular anti-stress food.
Why exactly bananas have gotten a bad rap is unclear—maybe it’s the 5.7 or whatever percent fructose, the 105 calories, the starch, or just the carbs, but it’s all nonsense and there is no reason to banish bananas.
10. Almonds are high in phytonutrients, vitamin D, protein, fiber, and beneficial fats. Even though they are abundant in calories, fascinating research shows that when people supplement with almonds in addition to their normal diets they don’t gain fat, which is likely due to something called uncoupling proteins. Uncoupling proteins raise body temperature as they are metabolized, leading to greater energy expenditure.
11. The antioxidants in balsamic vinegar improve nutrient partitioning so that carbohydrates get stored in muscle as glycogen instead of as fat. Vinegar also moderates blood sugar and improves pancreatic function, making it a valuable addition to any higher carb foods.
12. Cold water fish—salmon, mackerel, smelt, chad, perch, sardines, and anchovies—provide an array of amino acids to reduce the breakdown of lean muscle tissue that occurs with high cortisol levels. They also provide those wonderful anti-stress fish oils, DHA and EPA. In fact, supplementing the diet with fish oil has been found to reduce cortisol levels and improve body composition.
13. Whey protein raises glutathione, which is the internally produced antioxidant that helps improve the entire anti-inflammatory cascade. Whey is the superior protein source for elevating protein synthesis and tissue repair after exercise.
14. Fenugreek is a spice that deserves special attention because it’s filled with protective compounds, is anti-diabetic, and improves energy use in the body. It acts at the insulin receptor level to help remove sugar from the blood, making it a useful addition to any foods high in carbs, or to aid in the loading of nutrients like creatine or carnitine into muscle.
15. No surprise that blueberries and related dark-colored fruits like raspberries and blackberries are on this list.
What you may not know is that they are one of the most useful foods for building muscle and strength because they accelerate recovery. They help remove the waste products or “garbage” produced by intense training. Eat them alone or add them to high-glycemic carbs for better insulin sensitivity.
16. Lentils of all colors contain the highest phytonutrient levels of all legumes making them protective of many stress-related diseases including heart disease, high blood pressure, and inflammation.
17. Yerba Mate and Green Tea come from different plants, but they both contain extremely high levels of catechin antioxidants that promote fat loss. The catechins inhibit lipase, decreasing fat absorption, and can suppress food intake.
They also enhance energy expenditure via greater thermogenesis, improve liver function, promote the use of fat for fuel rather than carbs, and lead to the death of fat cells (apoptosis).
18. Asparagus is nutritionally rich, containing folate, vitamins A, C, E, and K, and chromium, which is often low in the modern diet and will reduce sugar cravings and stress eating. It’s also high in glutathione, that super antioxidant that is at the core of the immune system.
19. Rainbow Chard contains some of the most exotic antioxidants, which are linked to cancer prevention, an increased immune response, and better wound healing. Eating it regularly will improve blood sugar and it’s known in Turkey as an anti-diabetic.
20. Seaweed—nori and kumbu are particularly high in antioxidants—is a major condiment in Asia that is protective against aging, stress, and disease. It’s also a rich source of amino acids, with red seaweeds containing 47 percent protein, which is noteworthy for plant foods.
21. Walnuts may be the healthiest nut because they are eaten raw with the skin on and have a superior fat profile. Their numerous antioxidant compounds play out well in association studies that show people who eat nuts regularly have better body composition, overall health, and longer lives.
22. Kombucha tea is a fermented beverage made from green or black tea and it’s often brewed with fruits like pomegranate, ginger, or blueberry. The combination of anti-stress compounds from the tea leaves, the phytoplant-rich fruits, and the fact that it contains probiotics makes it a much sought after beverage to promote wellness and optimal body composition.
23. Kim Chi is a probiotic food that improves gut health, and insulin sensitivity. It’s made from some of the most protective anti-stress ingredients available: The main ingredient is cabbage, which improves detoxification, and it’s seasoned with hot pepper, garlic, onion, and ginger, which together make up a group of powerful antioxidants.
24. Avocado is called an “anti-obesity” food by scientists because it’s jam-packed with nutrients and antioxidants that can produce a lower body weight and waist circumference, as was seen in an analysis of the diets of 17,567 Americans.
25. Ginger is sweet, spicy, and abundant in anti-inflammatory effects that are therapeutic for the stomach, the joints, and supportive of the body’s internal antioxidant cascade. It’s very versatile—sauté with slices of this root, blend it in a protein shake, drink it in tea, or flavor dishes with the ground spice.
26. Eggs are a perfect protein, highly affordable, and packed with the antioxidants selenium, lutein, and zeaxanthin. Eating 3 eggs a day as part of lower carb diet has been shown to produce fat loss, decrease insulin, and shift the body into an anti-inflammatory state.
27. Red palm oil contains some of the most powerful antioxidant compounds such as chlorogenic acids and catechins, as well as fat soluble vitamins, all of which have been found to significantly reduce oxidative stress.
28. Turmeric is a spice that contains the active compound curcumin. It's best known for improving energy use and accelerating the clearance of waste products from alcohol use, intense exercise, and other toxic compounds like BPA.
29. The pomegranate is impressively high in rare antioxidants, ellagic and tannic acids, which have multiple fat loss effects, inhibiting fat absorption and suppressing energy intake. The pomegranate has also been shown to improve cardiovascular health by reducing inflammation, making it a superior anti-stress food.
30. Black pepper raises the metabolism by stimulating central nervous system and hormone activity. It’s rife with powerful compounds that reduce inflammation, aid digestion, and it’s proven well in preventing the growth of tumors.
31. Cinnamon is a wonder spice that improves the removal of sugar from the blood, while reducing oxidative stress from inflammatory foods that are high in fat in carbs. It’s also been found to boost brain function and cognition due to better glucose use.
32. Broccoli is a well-known, cheap superfood that reduces oxidative stress, aids in estrogen metabolism, and protects against the big diseases like cardiovascular, cancer, diabetes, and aging.
33. Stevia is a non-caloric sweetener that comes form the stevia plant and its phytochemicals improve glucose tolerance and insulin sensitivity. It also reduces oxidative stress in the liver and kidneys. It’s a beneficial addition to whey protein, carbs, or fatty foods because it reduces inflammation caused by lipid peroxidation.
34. Onion and scallions are nutrient powerhouses that also act as prebiotics for anti-inflammatory gut bacteria to gnaw on.
35. Beets, like dark colored berries, are composed of the most exotic and effective antioxidants for stress reduction. Beets improve blood flow by improving nitric oxide in the body for improved exercise performance. Eat them raw, baked, or blended in a workout shake.
36. Shiitake mushrooms, long used in Asia for superior flavor and nutrition, and other wild mushrooms, improve immune function and have been found beneficial for preventing cancer.
37. Quinoa has anti-inflammatory properties from quercetin and kaempferol and is composed of an exceptional balance between oil, protein, and fat, making it beneficial for brain function and cell membrane health.
It’s technically a seed, gluten free, and contains a nice dose of carbs and is highly nutritious, if energy dense. Great for a post-workout meal or when carb cycling, eat quinoa with fruits, vegetables, or spices that enhance glucose uptake.
38. Sweet potatoes and yams are a higher sugar plant that are packed with antioxidants, fiber, and vitamins, making them a delicious go-to carb source post-workout or when you just need something sweet.
39. Plums are a more economical superfood than blueberries but they have equal amounts of protective antioxidants. Of interest, plums, in particular, dried plums have a unique ability to improve glutathione and enhance bone metabolism—women who eat them regularly have greater bone density and less risk of osteoporosis.
40. Spinach and tomatoes have complementary antioxidants called carotenoids that work synergistically to give the body extra disease protection. Other superfood combinations are nuts and Greek yogurt, garlic and fish, lamb and rosemary, and lemon and kale.