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Stressed? Here’s what you should be eating

Written by Jude Interino | Thursday, 28 January 2021

nutrition tips and advice

When we are under stress many of us tend to reach for comfort foods – convenient and readily available. Unfortunately, these “comfort foods” typically aren’t the healthiest option and while they may temporarily satisfy our cravings, overdoing it may not be the best for your overall health.

But we get it, everyday life can be stressful and sometimes the last thing we want to worry about is what to eat.

As a Nutritional and Dietetic Medicine student, I have learned through research and collected peer-reviewed studies that there are three tastes that we need to satisfy to relieve our stress levels. Yes, just three.

Studies shows that, sweet, salty and fatty foods are the most common tastes that we crave when we are under stress. According to Berg et al., these highly palatable foods that mainly consists of either sweet, salty and fatty tastes or a combination of each tend to stimulate the reward system process and is very likely to be consumed again by an individual (2018). This concept refers to the hedonic system which relates to a reward system in your body.

So instead of reaching for the nearest candy bar, here’s a run-down of what to reach for when your stress levels start to rise – according to science!


Highlighted in a study by Yun and Doux in 2007, individuals who are under stress are able to convert complex carbohydrates into a simple sugar in order to increase their energy availabilities (2007).

How do you get that sugar hit without chocolate? Increase your fibre intake by consuming fruit and vegetables daily (Taylor & Holscher, 2020). Research shows that the high antioxidant concentration and fibre found in fruit and vegetables may reduce the likelihood of depression and also may increase the synergistic benefit of gut health with bifidobacterium enrichment that can reduce inflammation (Taylor & Holscher, 2020).


Individuals who are under stress tend to prefer a more unsaturated fatty acid profile in their food consumption (Yun & Doux, 2007). Research shows that stressed individuals are more likely to exhibit a lower ratio of poly-unsaturated fatty acids in comparison to saturated fats (Yun & Doux, 2007).

Simply add 60ml of extra virgin olive oil and a handful of nuts to your diet. Doing this can provide up to 20% of total energy from monounsaturated fatty acids which can improve mental health and quality of life scores for those who have depression (Taylor & Holscher, 2020).


Growing evidence shows that salty foods are cellular stress response mediators that may operate the same way as simple sugars and fats – which play a key role in the sympathetic nervous system in humans (Yun & Doux, 2007). The thirst sensation is often triggered by the salty taste and hoarding water is a well-established response to stress (Yun & Doux, 2007). So, what can you do about this? Just drink water! It doesn’t have to be plain water either – having herbal tea, fruit and juice (but not too much) can all count toward your daily water intake.

At the end of the day, by including foods that are high in antioxidants and rich in fibre such as (you guessed it) fruit and vegetables as well as nuts and olive oil in your daily diet, while also keeping up your water intake, you’ll help keep the stress levels down.

So the next time you’re feeling stressed, try to incorporate these foods:

  • Seasonal fruit (including green apple, kiwi, mango, banana)
  • Vegetables (including green leafy vegetables and root vegetables)
  • Nuts (almonds, cashews, walnuts)
  • Oils (olive oil, avocado oil, coconut oil)
  • Increase your water intake (two to three litres)

Jude’s tip: Try this trick to help you eat more fruit!

Prepare your favourite fruit and cut them into small pieces (one to three variants are enough), cut the dragonfruit in half, scoop out the middle part and cut into small pieces. Mix the fruit and place into the dragonfruit peel, which will serve as a fruit bowl. Option to add in coconut flakes, mixed nuts and seeds for an extra boost. You now have a creative outlet to let go of your stress while nourishing your body. Enjoy!


Berg Schmidt, J., Johanneson Bertolt, C., Sjödin, A., Ackermann, F.,

Vibeke Schmedes, A., Lynge Thomsen, H., Marie Juncher, A., & Hjorth, M. F. (2018). Does stress affect food preferences? - a randomized controlled trial investigating the effect of examination stress on measures of food preferences and obesogenic behavior. Stress (Amsterdam, Netherlands), 21(6), 556–563.

Taylor, A. M., & Holscher, H. D. (2020). A review of dietary and microbial

connections to depression, anxiety, and stress. Nutritional Neuroscience, 23(3), 237–250.

Yun, A. J., & Doux, J. D. (2007). Unhappy meal: How our need to detect

stress may have shaped our preferences for taste. Medical Hypotheses, 69(4), 746–751.

Jude Interino

Jude is a Nutrition student at Endeavour, hailing from the Perth campus. His journey into the world of natural health began after he attended a seminar which explored the concept of food and medicine, and the rest is history! Alongside his passion for natural health and nutrition, Jude also enjoys photography and tending to his edible garden.

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