“Eating whole grains is beneficial when you’re feeling stressed,” says Jodi Greebel, MS, RDN, founder of Citrition, LLC, in New York. “Aside from being more nutritious, these foods have added benefits,” she notes.
“When people are stressed, the balance of serotonin in the brain can be off,” explains Greebel. Whole grains, such as brown rice, oatmeal, and whole-wheat bread, and other complex carbs, such as starchy veggies and legumes, can combat stress by releasing “happy hormones” in the brain.
They can also release serotonin, a neurotransmitter that is thought to benefit both happiness and wellness, says Greebel. “Eating complex carbs helps increase serotonin, whereas eating refined carbs like bagels, cookies, and white bread has the opposite effect,” she says.
“It’s human nature to want to eat those foods when we’re stressed,” adds Greebel, “but they only exacerbate stress rather than combat it. Then we feel guilty for eating them, which also exacerbates stress,” she says.
“If you’re going to have a junky snack, even whole-grain tortilla chips will help to combat the stress that you’re feeling.”