5 Foods That Will Help You Feel Relaxed Right Now, According to an RD

Eating these relaxing foods will up your chill factor.

Between helping kids with school, coping with financial concerns, or solving the ultimate quandary of how to keep your home clean while working full-time and raising a family, it's no wonder we're feeling stressed. Here's a little pick-me-up: The foods you put on your plate can help you feel a little more zen. We asked Joy Bauer, MS, RD, nutrition and health expert for NBC's Today and author of Super Food: 150 Recipes for Eternal Youth, for some insight. Check out her top relaxing foods that will help you de-stress.

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Salmon

Few feel-good foods are quite as effective as those with a high about of omega-3 fats, like salmon and other forms of fatty fish. "In addition to helping fight depression, studies have shown that these healthy fats are particularly useful in combating anxiety," Bauer explains. "Omega-3s helped reduce inflammation and anxiety by 20 percent in younger adults who experienced an everyday stressor known to trigger an anxiety-ridden response." Fatty fish is also rich in vitamin D; low levels of vitamin D are connected to depression, a condition associated with anxiety.

There are a ton of salmon recipes to try. Grill it, bake it, or add chunks to pasta, casseroles, salads, or frittatas. And don't forget about sardines—they're a super source of omega-3s, too.

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Chamomile Tea

Chamomile acts as a mild sedative, and it may ease muscle tension and tame anxiety or irritability. In one study, those who took chamomile extract for eight weeks scored lower on anxiety tests than those who took a placebo. "Chamomile is one of the most commonly used and best-known medicinal plants in the world. In fact, we sip more than one million cups each day," says Bauer. It's also caffeine-free, so you can sip it before you hit the sack.

For a more flavorful mug, try a recipe that blends chamomile with cinnamon, apple cider, and lemon.

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Chickpeas

Chickpeas (aka garbanzo beans) are rich in tryptophan, an amino acid the body uses to help produce serotonin, a feel-good chemical in the brain. Studies have shown that tryptophan depletion may be linked to anxiety. "It's just one amino acid (and the least abundant) that competes to get into the brain," explains Bauer. "And adding some carbs helps move the powerful amino acid along. Chickpeas provide tryptophan and slow-burning carbs, a winning combo for squashing stress in one convenient package."

The legume also contains folate, a B vitamin that helps regulate mood; a cup of cooked chickpeas provides more than 70 percent of the daily recommended intake. Plus, the high protein (14.5 g per cooked cup) and fiber (12.5 g per cooked cup) content can help steady blood sugars and stabilize mood.

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Steel-Cut Oats

A warm bowl of oatmeal has many health benefits. It delivers a solid dose of tryptophan, which helps the body produce the mood-boosting brain chemical serotonin. "All types of oats are terrific, but I'm a fan of steel-cut in particular because they're minimally processed, which results in a slower increase in blood sugar, which helps stabilize your mood," says Bauer. Oats also contain magnesium; people who are deficient may be more likely to suffer depression and anxiety.

Steel-cut oats take longer to cook than quick-cooking oats. Two shortcuts: You can use your slow cooker to whip up an overnight version, or you can prepare steel-cut oats in advance (on the stovetop or using the slow-cooker method), and freeze individual 1-cup portions.

When you wake up, just pop a container out of the freezer, microwave (you may need to add a splash of water or milk to thin it out), and enjoy like regular oatmeal. Think you'll get bored of this breakfast staple? There are several delicious oatmeal recipes that are as simple as mixing up a batch of oatmeal and changing out your toppings.

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Oranges

Oranges are rich in vitamin C—one orange contains 70 milligrams of the vitamin, filling almost your entire day's needs. Perhaps best known for its immune-boosting powers, vitamin C can help alleviate stress (even the aroma is calming).

In one study that subjected volunteers to a stressful task, those who took the vitamin fared better on measurements of stress than those who received a placebo. The vitamin had a subjective effect on participants (subjects reported feeling better), and it also worked on the cardiovascular (heart) and neuroendocrine (brain and hormones) systems.

"Start your day with an orange at breakfast or have one as a tasty afternoon snack paired with almonds or yogurt," recommends Bauer. "Add one to your salad for a bit of tart sweetness, incorporate one into salsa, or use one as a topper for chicken or fish. Try tossing orange sections into smoothies—it's great paired with other vitamin-C-rich fruits, such as strawberries, lemon, mango, pineapple, papaya, kiwi, or grapefruit."

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