When we want to feel energized, we think about caffeine. But what comes to mind when we want to feel calm? 

After the boom of the energy drink industry, it stands to reason that the next beverage craze is going to be the stress relief drinks. In the end, there is a yin and yang to everything.

The problem with most energy drinks is they don’t come with just one ingredient. Instead you get plenty of ingredients that would not please a nutritionist. The same thing happens with the stress-less beverages. One of the most popular drinks in this category has more than 14 ingredients.

Lauren O’Connor, MS, registered dietitian, explains that these types of specially formulated beverages also contain additives, including sugars and/or sugar substitutes, dyes and stabilizers. In fact, two very popular beverages have crystalline fructose (sugar) as the second ingredient.

There are some that are more similar to herbal tea, but these may also contain sweeteners such as maltodextrin and honey.

Even though the drinks that seem harmless and all “natural,” O’Connor says “they may not have listed the amounts of each substance included, such as sugar or additives, just the total amount of the proprietary blend.”

De-stress with the right food

When analyzing the ingredients of the most popular stress relief drinks, there are some minerals, amino acids and herbs that have been shown to promote relaxation and enhance mood.

Hence, grab the whole food, which will provide the best quality nutrients without the added sugars, chemicals and dyes. In fact, our diets are already sugar loaded, which increases inflammation and oxidative stress.

Most popular ingredients in the stress relief drinks are:

a) L-Theanine is an amino acid that can be found in tea; it has been shown to reduce stress physically and mentally.

Where to find it? Chamomile and green tea. Don’t take more than 20mg/day.

b) Phosphatidylserine is a substance that regulates the stress hormone cortisol. Some experts say that 200 mg, three times a day is considered safe.

Where to find it? Fish, poultry, meat and soybeans.

c) Melatonin is a hormone that regulates sleep/wake cycles. Supplementation may be safe at low doses.

Where to find it? Melatonin can be found in some plants such as St. John's Wort. Nevertheless, consult with your doctor before adding this supplement since it may interact with some anti-depressants and other drugs. Cherries, sunflower and flax seeds have traces of this hormone.

d) Tryptophan is an essential amino acid that acts as a precursor of serotonin – the feel-good chemical – and can be converted to melatonin, eliciting relaxation and pleasure.

Where to find it? Milk, yogurt, cottage cheese, chocolate, oats, nuts, eggs, fish and poultry.

e) Magnesium is a very important mineral that acts in over a hundred of the processes in our bodies. It is necessary for metabolic function, heart beat regulation and helps maintain normal muscle/nerve function and is said to prevent stress.

Where to find it? Spinach, squash, broccoli, wheat bran, halibut, almonds, cashews, soybeans, legumes, shredded wheat, oatmeal, bananas, and even in dairy products, chocolate and meat.

f) Chamomile is extracted from the flowers of the chamomile plant. It has been historically used to ease anxiety and calm the nerves and may also help ease digestion.

Where to find it? As a tea, recommended limit three to 4 cups a day.

This is what O’Connor recommends to put on your plate to release stress while keeping a healthy diet, adequate exercise, enough sleep and plenty of water.  Her favorite anti-stress and nourishing concoction is a smoothie with ingredients such as low-fat milk or yogurt, bananas, blueberries, flax, oatmeal, almonds, and a little bit of unsweetened cocoa.

Marta Montenegro inspires people to live healthy lives by giving them the tools and strength to find one’s inner athlete through her personal website MartaMontenegro.com. She created SOBeFiT, a national fitness magazine for men and women, and the Montenegro Method DVD workout series – a program she designed for getting results in just 21 days by exercising 21 minutes a day . Marta is a strength and conditioning coach and serves as an adjunct professor of exercise physiology at Florida International University.

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Marta Montenegro is an exercise physiologist, certified strength and conditioning coach and master trainer, who teaches as an adjunct professor at Florida International University. Marta has developed her own system of exercises used by professional athletes. Her personal website, martamontenegro.com, combines fitness, nutrition and health tips, exercise routines, recipes and the latest news to help you change your life but not your lifestyle. She was the founder of nationally awarded SOBeFiT magazine and the fitness DVD series Montenegro Method.

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