Not only is stress potentially taking a toll on your heart and your brain, among other areas of the body — it may also be the reason you’re gaining weight.

People with persistently high levels of the stress hormone cortisol weighed more and had a higher body mass index and larger waist than those with lower levels. That’s according to researchers from University College London. Their findings support previous research that shows stress can fuel obesity — in part because it’s been linked to “comfort eating.” Often we turn to foods high in fat and sugar when want to feel better.

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According to Dr. Pete Sulack, a stress expert and founder of, it’s nearly impossible to consistently make good food choices in America. The stress people appear to be under isn’t helping.

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“We have ‘urban deserts’ — impoverished living areas that are not served by healthful grocery stores and where there are no fresh fruits and vegetables. But even for the average American living in the land of plenty, there are so many non-nutritive choices that taste so good and are convenient, easy, and inexpensive that making good choices about food is a full-time job,” said Sulack.

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When we’re under constant stress, our bodies become ineffective and toxic. A healthy diet helps counteract the effects of daily stress. “Think about a busy morning. You get up late, you want or need to wear a particular shirt to work, but your closet is in disarray. You start throwing stuff on the floor in a desperate attempt to find that particular shirt. When you finally find it, you put it on and breathe a sigh of relief. Your cells are looking for food that nourishes — and everything else is just getting in the way of that process.”

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Also, “eat what you need, not what you want,” said Sulack. And consume things like lemons, cruciferous vegetables, and lots of pure, filtered water, which helps detoxify the body. “The more ‘good stuff’ you eat, the more energy your body will have.”

The following six foods, he said, are also great stress-busters:

1.) Dark leafy greens. These contain high levels of magnesium, which is critical for relaxing the body and combating stress. When your body is low in magnesium, you can experience headaches, anxiety, and restlessness. Eat them every day — raw if you can, and definitely organic.

2.) Avocados. These are high in omega-3 fatty acids and in B vitamins, which support the brain and central nervous system. Studies show that some depression and anxiety may be linked to a deficiency in B vitamins. Other studies show that adding omega-3 fatty acids to one’s diet may help relieve anxiety (mental stress).

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3.) Raw nuts. Almonds, cashews, and walnuts contain zinc and an abundance of good fats. Zinc is necessary to help relieve stress. It also increases the amount of BDNF (brain fertilizer) in our brains. Low zinc levels affect our immune systems and can lead to depression and anxiety.

4.) Dark chocolate. This may be everyone’s favorite healthy treat. It boosts our levels of serotonin, and the polyphenols in the chocolate can reduce stress.

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5.) Beans. A variety of beans are not only a good, lean source of inexpensive protein, but they are high in B vitamins that relieve stress and modulate mood. Many who choose a Paleo diet that eliminates beans and legumes are missing out on this great stress-busting food.

6.) Cruciferous vegetables. Cabbage, broccoli, asparagus, and other cruciferous vegetables are high in sulfur compounds (that’s why they stink when cooked), and in glutathione — which supports detoxification in the body.