Whenever I'm having a night where I feel especially stressed out, I tend to gravitate toward the foods I love most, like gnocchi, or just about any kind of taco ever invented.
And while I have no qualms about filling my body with things I enjoy, eating foods that don't have a ton of extra nutritional value doesn't always make me feel less anxious, especially when I'm having a particularly rough day.
Thankfully, experts say there are plenty of ingredients that relieve stress, that can easily be added into the meals you already love to prepare for yourself. For instance, the next time I'm craving gnocchi after a hard day, I might just add some spinach on the side to help me chill out even more (more on the stress-relieving powers of this leafy green in a bit).
1. ROASTED SUNFLOWER SEEDS
According to Eboli, sunflower seeds are a great ingredient to add to a dish if you're trying to reduce your stress levels. This could be because the food is packed with magnesium, which "has been shown to help alleviate depression, fatigue, and irritability," Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD, a nutritionist, personal trainer, and health educator, told CNN in April 2015.
Personally, I love sprinkling sunflower seeds on salads or toasting them to garnish a bowl of pasta — the extra crunch is delicious. If you aren't a huge sunflower seed fan, though, cashews, pumpkin seeds, and almonds are also wonderful for keeping stress at bay.
You might not have heard of this ingredient before, but it really packs a punch, so be sure to look for it in your local grocery store.
"Ashwagandha is an ancient plant that has been utilized and revered in India for thousands of years," says Erin Stokes, a registered naturopathic doctor and medical director at MegaFood. "I find that its ability to strengthen the nervous system and soothe anxiety is unparalleled."
The herb is often available in a powder form, so try adding a small amount to your next smoothie, mixing it with coconut water for a refreshing drink, or mixing it into your morning yogurt.
Eboli suggests using CBD in your meals if you're struggling with stress. The hemp oil, which is a legal type of cannabis that doesn't actually get you high, can be used to make anything from cookies to a breakfast sandwich, and it can reduce your stress levels in a matter of minutes.
While the ingredient has some calming benefits, check with your doctor before you experiment with it if you're worried about any potential side effects.
"Green leafy vegetables like spinach contain folate, which produces dopamine, a pleasure-inducing brain chemical, helping you keep calm," Heather Mangieri, RDN, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, told Health.
For those days when you just don't feel like eating a pile of raw spinach, try blending some of the veggie into a smoothie, or stirring it into a tofu scramble. If you don't love the taste of the greens, it's totally fine to mask the flavor a little bit by combining it with some of your other favorite ingredients. Plus, the fact that spinach wilts down to practically nothing when you heat it up makes it even easier to eat plenty of the veggie.
If you're a chocoholic (girl, I totally feel you), tackle your stress by snacking on a few pieces of your favorite bar. Eboli explains that this decadent ingredient is great for keeping your stress to a minimum, especially if it's of a dark variety.
Of course, you can mix in the sweet treat with just about any dessert you make, but I personally love unsweetened chocolate as a savory ingredient. Try your hand at a rich chicken mole if you're ready to embark on a journey that brings chocolate into every meal.
Now go forth and be happy, healthy, and stress-free!