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. When you eat meat, eat only 3 to 6
ounces. Three ounces of meat is about the size of a deck of cards. 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
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.
Yogurt or cottage cheese with a piece of
A breakfast bar with a glass of 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
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
Add extra fiber to your diet, and drink juices,
particularly prune juice, 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
How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.