22 juni 2022

Food for Your Nerves – How Certain Foods Can Help With Stress

Why do we have the tendency to eat more when we’re stressed? And can certain foods improve your nerve and stress resilience? We have the answers.

Nervennahrung – Was wirklich hilft

Eating the stress away?!

The to do list isn’t getting any shorter and the day starts fuelled by stress? Unfortunately, often times our days are controlled by stressful and hectic situations, leaving little room to relax. But thankfully, we have things like chocolate, nuts etc. that can act as a pleasant antidote and calm the nerves, even if just for a brief moment. Food for the nerves is a pleasant (and sometimes necessary) companion for any stressful day. Especially if you opt for nutritious foods and not always the bar of chocolate. We’ve put together our most useful tips to ease your stressful situations and bring some more relaxation and harmony into your day-to-day routine.

Contents of this article:

  • What is food for the nerves?
  • Stressful days and their effect on the brain
  • How to help improve stress levels
  • Which nutrients and vitamins help with stress?
  • What do we need nerve food for?
  • Lavender, Baldrian and Camomile: plant based stress helpers

What is food for the nerves?

If you hear ‘food for the nerves’ your brain probably automatically associates this with chocolate, chips or trail mix– and you're right! Food for the nerves is food that supplies our brain with a quick source of energy, which can positively influence our mood and reduce stress.

But why does food help in stressful situations? Simple: stress consumes a lot of your body’s energy, causing it to demand greater energy-supplies. This means, the general need for vitamins, minerals, complex carbohydrates, protein and fat increases. If you’re looking for a sustained and balanced source of energy, then you should avoid reaching for chocolates or chips, but rather opt for more nutritious options.


Stressful days and their effects on the brain

The issue with stressful situations is that they strongly influence our eating habits. We become ‘stress eaters’ and reach for unhealthy snacks to mitigate the feelings we’re experiencing. The brain, of course, is delighted because it gets a sudden spike in energy sources which allows it to function in this stressful environment. And because this works so well, your brain remembers this habit and craves the same foods, next time stress is rampant.

But what exactly happens in our body (and our brain) when we’re running from meeting to meeting or studying for an important exam? Well, the stress hormones (e.g. adrenaline or cortisol) are released. Simply put, these release glucose and supply your body with the energy it needs. This also means that you’re using up a lot of energy, which you need to re-supply your body with. The easiest way to achieve this is through carbohydrates, which contain sugars which are transformed into Glucose and serve as brain fuel. Serotonin is also released. The consequence is that you can think better, and fast, you can absorb information better, and your mood improves! However, this success is short-lived because quickly blood-sugar levels start to sink and what was once an energy boost, turns into a downer.

How to help improve stress levels

One thing we want to make clear from the beginning, is that stress is not always bad. If it comes in small doses, it can actually enhance performance. Chronic stress, however, should be avoided because it can really make you sick.

Anyone who wants to protect, and promote, their health and not mutate into a stress eater should pay attention to their nutrition and focus on a balanced diet, regular meals and healthy snack options. Ideally, you should include foods that strengthen your nerves (yes, they do in fact exist!). These include whole grains, legumes, fresh fruit, vegetables and nuts. You also don’t have to avoid chocolate, as long as it has a high amount of cacao. Last but not least, liquids! Our brain consists of about 80% water, so if we dont drink enough our body dehydrates faster, causing concentration and memory difficulties as well as headaches. You should drink at least 1,5 litres of water or unsweetened tea daily. Individuals who are physically active, should consume more than this. A sub optimal diet with nutrient deficits can also influence the brain and similarly cause concentration and memory problems, mood swings and even depression. Check out our article on a healthy and balanced diet, or brain food to get more details on which foods will lead to optimal brain function.

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Which nutrients and vitamins help reduce stress?

Your body has a lot to do in stressful situations. It needs more energy, more oxygen and more nutrients (vitamins and minerals). To ‘come down’ from a stressful situation in the healthiest way possible, you should replace comfort foods with nourishing options:

  • B-Vitamins. These aren’t known as the ‘nerve vitamin’ for nothing. They can contribute to normal functioning of the nervous system, protect your cells from oxidative stress, reduce fatigue and increase your mental performance. Avocados, lamb’s tongue lettuce, sesame seeds, mackerel and beef liver are particularly rich in B vitamins.
  • Magnesium. Is an important mineral to help reduce stress. Physical symptoms like nervousness or muscle cramping can be alleviated with the help of magnesium. Did you know that your body steadily loses magnesium with chronic stress? So its important to make sure you're supplying your body with enough magnesium. Found in broccoli, natural rice, legumes and nuts
  • Zinc. This is a life essential trace element which cannot be produced by the body itself. Zinc strengthens your cells and protects them from free radicals and oxidative stress. It also helps you perform throughout a stressful day.
  • Calcium. Is the most important structural component of bones. When you are under a lot of stress (as with magnesium), your body’s calcium consumption rises. If you do not supply your body with calcium in the form of calcium-rich food or supplements, your body will source the mineral from your bones. In the worst case, this leads to a loss of bone density and can make your bones fragile and brittle.
  • Antioxidants. Protects your cells from oxidative stress. Fruit, vegetables, high quality plans oils, nuts and legumes are rich in antioxidants.
  • Probiotics. These strengthen your gut health and your nerves! This has been researched in recent studies. Chronic stress damages our gut health which can also have negative effects on our mental health.
  • Serotonin. The happiness hormone. Chronic stress causes a reduced production of serotonin. If we are lacking in serotonin, we suffer from fatigue, lack of motivation, irritability, bad moods and even depression. Chocolate does in fact help in this case. Chocolate (more specifically cacao) contains the protein tryptophan. When tryptophan is processed, it creates serotonin. In addition to cacao, tryptophan is also found in meat, figs, dates and cashews.

What do we need nerve food for?

Simple: to support our mental and physical performance. As we’ve mentioned, the need and demand for micro and macronutrients increases in stressful situations. To function well, our brain needs specific nutrients. If we are lacking these nutrients, we can suffer from concentration issues which can potentially escalate to more serious conditions like depression. To avoid this happening, we’ve put a list together of important foods that support brain and nerve function.

FoodSuitable for...Nutrients
Nuts, Cores & Seeds Snack, Toppings (e.g. Salad, Muesli)B-Vitamins, Vitamin E and Magnesium, Calcium and Zinc
Green Vegetables: Broccoli, Spinach or MangoldSide, Oven vegetables, Stir-fryB-Vitamins, Vitamin C, Calcium
BananasSnack, Fruit salad, SmoothieVitamin B6, Magnesium, and Tryptophan
CacaoSnack (e.g. high quality and sugar free bitter or dark chocolate) Tryptophan and rich in Antioxidants (e.g. Flavonoide)
OatsPorridge or MuesliB-Vitamins (B1, B2, B6), Vitamin K, Vitamin K und Tryptophan, Calcium
LegumesAdd-on for salads or soups, breakfast (plant based alternative to yogurt or milk)Magnesium, B-Vitamins, Calcium and Zinc
MeatMain courseB-Vitamins (especially Vitamin B12!) und Zinc
Dairy productsBreakfast (Cheese, Milk, Yogurt), side dish, snackB-Vitamins (especially Vitamin B12!), Vitamin A, D, E, Calcium and Zinc

Lavender, Baldrian and Camomile: Plant-based stress helpers

You’re so excited you can’t sleep? A few drops of Baldrian can help. In addition to foods, there are also naturally occurring plants and herbs that have calming and nerve-strengthening effects. The most well known are baldrian, lavender and camomile.

  • Baldrian is a plant based sleeping aid, found in many people’s kitchens. You can consume it in the form of drops or pills to reduce nervousness and help you sleep.
  • Lavenders intense smell can have calming and anxiety-reducing effects. You can consume lavender as a pill, oil or as a fragrant sachet.
  • Camomile doesn’t just help with the flu, it can also help calm the nerves. The selection of purchasable items is huge: from teas, to dried flowers, pills and bath salts


In conclusion, all of us have stressful, chaotic days from time to time. This is normal and shouldn’t be a reason for concern. If you eat nutrient rich foods and supply your body with what it needs, you're equipping yourself well. A balanced diet with regular meals, healthy snacks and plenty of liquids is the key to success.

One final tip: stress is an external factor. Regardless if the source is your job, your friends or other situations. You are responsible for yourself, which also means you decide to which degree you let stressful situations into your life, and also how you manage them is up to you.

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