A balanced diet that delivers all the nutrients your body needs to function at its optimum level is essential for dealing with stressful situations.

Cutting back on stimulants like caffeine and sugar and depressants like alcohol and nicotine will keep your blood sugar levels constant and help you to avoid mood swings. If your anxiety is spiraling out of control or you feel your stress levels rising, food should be your ally, not your enemy. With that in mind, here are 10 foods that will help relieve your stress.

Almonds

These are great stress relievers: they're packed with vitamin B2 (riboflavin), vitamin E, magnesium, and zinc. B vitamins and magnesium are involved in the production of serotonin, which helps regulate mood and relieve stress. Zinc has also been shown to fight some of the negative effects of stress, while vitamin E is an antioxidant that destroys the free radicals related to stress and heart disease.

However, you should only eat a small handful at a time since almonds are high in fat. Although it is mostly healthy fat of the unsaturated variety, it could still make you pack on the pounds.

Fish

Most types of fish are replete with all-important B vitamins, particularly the renowned stress fighters B6 and B12. In fact, B12 is one of the most important vitamins involved in the synthesis of the "happy" brain chemical serotonin; a vitamin B12 deficiency can even lead to depression.

For lunch, try a tuna salad or sandwich (with light mayo). A good dinner option is grilled salmon or mackerel with a side of leafy greens and whole-grain rice; see below for more on the stress-fighting benefits of these foods.

Broccoli

Yet another food that is chock-full of stress-relieving B vitamins, broccoli has the added benefit of containing folic acid, which is also part of the B vitamin family. Folic acid helps relieve stress, anxiety, panic, and even depression.

Try broccoli as a simple accompaniment to fish or chicken, or toss it into a stir-fry along with a few other vegetables.

Whole-grain rice or pasta

It's a good thing carbohydrates are finally back in style. Carbs boost serotonin levels and thus have a calming, soothing effect. While all carbs will give you this kick, try to include more whole-grain bread, rice and pasta (complex carbs) which are digested more slowly and will thus keep you feeling fuller - and conceivably happier - for a longer period of time.

Sushi

Aside from the benefits of fish described above, the seaweed in maki (rolls) also has anxiety-fighting properties. It is packed with stress-relieving magnesium, as well as pantothenic acid and vitamin B2 (riboflavin).

Pantothenic acid is crucial, as it contributes to the health of the adrenal glands, which play a vital role in stress management. In times of stress, a deficiency in pantothenic acid can lead to feelings of anxiety and increased vulnerability to infection, illness and chronic fatigue.

Milk

In addition to vitamins B2 and B12, milk also contains antioxidants that help destroy free radicals associated with stress. Use skimmed or semi-skimmed milk as part of a healthy diet.

Cantaloupe melon and cottage cheese

Cantaloupe melon is an excellent source of vitamin C, which is crucial in combating stress. In fact, prolonged periods of stress deplete levels of vitamin C in the adrenal glands, so it's important to consume foods that contain high levels of it.

Since cottage cheese is a good source of vitamins B2 and B12, mixing it with cantaloupe for breakfast or a midday snack will help you banish your feelings of anxiety.

Beef

A great reason to indulge in a big steak - it will chill you out thanks to the iron, B vitamins and zinc it contains. Of course, beef does contain unhealthy saturated fat, which increases your risk of coronary heart disease and other illnesses. so pick the leanest cuts of beef.

Fortified breakfast cereal

These days, many breakfast cereals are fortified with a slew of essential vitamins and minerals, so they can be a great one-stop source of stress-fighting B vitamins, folic acid, vitamin C, and fibre.

Blueberries

These little blue miracle workers are jam-packed with antioxidants and vitamin C, which are potent stress busters. As an added bonus, they're low in calories, and are also a good source of fibre, which can help relieve the cramps and constipation that can occur in times of stress. Mix them with some cottage cheese or eat them on their own as a snack or dessert.