When you're feeling low, anxious or stressed, it's all too tempting to indulge in a little comfort eating. But that temporary junk food high or sugar rush is unlikely to really help your mood - nor will it do your waistline any good.
Next time you feel your stress levels rising, reach for these stress-busting foods instead.
When stress triggers a high-fat craving, try an avocado. Not only does the smooth, creamy texture satisfy the hankering, but they are rich in monounsaturated fat, and contain plenty of potassium, which may help to lower blood pressure. Better still, the humble avocado contains B vitamins, a lack of which has been linked with feelings of anxiety.
Almonds, for instance, are packed with antioxidant vitamin E, which will give your immune system a boost during anxious times, and both pistachios and walnuts have been found to lower blood pressure. A handful is all you need.
A milky drink isn't just for bedtime - in fact, the white stuff is high in antioxidant vitamins B2 and B12, protein lactium, which lowers blood pressure, and calcium helps to reduce muscle spasms and ease the tension. And if you're watching your weight, you can get all that without reaching for the full-fat variety.
Too many of us turn to caffeine or alcohol when times get tough, when we should be reaching for a healthy-boosting glass of OJ. In just one short, sharp, fruity burst, you'll get a serious hit of vitamin C, which is not only a great friend to the immune system, but could also help to reduce stress. German research has found that the vitamin returned elevated levels of blood pressure and stress hormone cortisol quickly in those under pressure.
The key ingredient in Popeye's favourite is magnesium. Most of us don't get enough of the stuff, and when you're lacking, migraine headaches and fatigue can occur. The magical mineral helps to regulate cortisol levels, promoting feelings of wellbeing - and in one cup of spinach, you'll be getting 40 per cent of your daily dose.
It's not just your heart that will benefit from a diet that includes oily fish. The omega-3s help to keep cortisol and adrenaline levels under control when the anxiety rises. Try to get two or three servings into your weekly diet and you'll be better able to cope with the stress.
Get a head start on beating work stress by starting the day with a bowl of porridge. Oatmeal (and other carbohydrates) cause your brain to produce more serotonin, the feel-good hormone, and its slow release of energy will ensure you don't hit a junk food craving mid-morning. Opt for the old-fashioned coarse oats that you cook from scratch, as they're higher in fibre and take longer to digest, stretching out the calming effect for longer.
So next time you feel your blood pressure rising, step away from the fast food and eat yourself calm with an altogether healthier option.
Have you found certain foods reduce your stress levels? Let us know below...