Topic Overview

Stress can make mental health problems worse. You can help your body deal with
stress by avoiding certain foods and eating a balanced diet.

Things to avoid

  • Avoid or limit caffeine and “power drinks.” Coffee, tea, some soda pop, and chocolate have caffeine.
    Caffeine causes you to feel “wound up,” which can make stressful situations
    seem more intense. If you drink a lot of caffeine, reduce how much you drink
    gradually. If you stop drinking caffeine suddenly, you may have headaches and
    find it hard to focus. Power drinks, such as Red Bull, also have ingredients
    that keep you on edge.
  • Don’t skip meals or eat on the run. Skipping meals can make stress-related symptoms such as
    headaches or stomach tension worse. Use mealtimes to relax, enjoy the flavor of
    your food, and reflect on your day.
  • Don’t eat to relieve stress. This can lead
    to overeating and guilt. If you tend to do this, replace eating with other
    actions that relieve stress, such as taking a walk, playing with a pet, or
    taking a bath.
  • Don’t turn to alcohol if you feel stressed. Alcohol can make you feel worse and may change how well your
    medicines work. Try not to drink or drink only on special occasions. At these
    times limit yourself to 2 drinks if you’re a man and 1 drink if you’re a woman.

Eat a balanced diet

A balanced diet includes:

  • Breads, cereals, pasta, and rice. Choose whole-grain breads, cold and cooked cereals and grains,
    pasta (without creamy sauces), hard rolls, or low-fat or fat-free crackers.
    Watch out for grain-based foods that have added fats and sugars, such as
    pastries, granola, snack crackers, and chips. These may cause weight gain or
    raise your cholesterol levels.
  • Fruits and vegetables. Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables. They have little if any
    fat and lots of nutrients. Eat at least 2 cups of fruit and 2½ cups of
    vegetables every day.
  • Meat and meat alternatives. Meat is a good source of protein. Choose fish and lean
    poultry instead of red meat and fried meats. Beans, tofu,
    and nuts are also good protein sources.
  • Milk and milk products. Choose low-fat or fat-free products. If you have problems
    digesting milk, try eating cheese or yogurt instead, since these foods are low
    in lactose.
  • Fats and oils. Limit fats and
    oils, including those you use in cooking. Choose oils that are liquid at room
    temperature (unsaturated fats), such as canola oil and olive oil. Avoid trans
    fats, which are found in margarines, crackers, cookies, and snack foods. Save
    sweets and high-fat snacks for special occasions.
  • Water. Drink water when you are thirsty. For most people that
    means about 8 to 10 glasses of liquid a day.

Other food tips

  • Eat healthy snacks. These include:
    • A piece of fruit with a few crackers and
      one piece of cheese.
    • Low-fat yogurt or low-fat cottage cheese with a piece of
    • A breakfast bar with a glass of low-fat milk.
    • One or two
      carrots or stalks of celery with peanut butter or cream cheese.
  • If you have a tendency to gain weight:
    • Space the times you eat and drink
      throughout the day.
    • Eat and drink slowly and don’t do anything
      else, such as watch TV, while you are eating.
    • Put your food on a
      smaller plate.
    • Drink one 8 fl oz (250 mL) glass of water half an
      hour before each meal.
    • Eat foods that are low in calories, such as
      fruits and vegetables.
  • Take daily vitamins if you have not been eating a
    balanced diet.
  • Add extra fiber to your diet by choosing whole-grain breads and cereals that have at least 2 grams of fiber in each serving and by eating cooked dry beans and legumes. Drink plenty of water,
    if you get constipated easily or are taking a
    medicine that causes constipation.

Some medicines may require you to change your diet. Talk
with your doctor or pharmacist about whether you may need to make

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ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Kathleen Romito, MD – Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Lisa S. Weinstock, MD – Psychiatry

Current as ofMay 4, 2017