“Cortisol plays a starring role when it comes to coping with stress in the short term by helping the body with a fight-or-flight reaction to trauma, inflammation, and very stressful situations, but in the long-term, too much cortisol release can actually create the opposite effect by increasing inflammation and blood pressure, impacting blood sugar levels and disturbing your sleep cycle,” says Bonnie Taub-Dix, MA, RDN, CDN, creator of BetterThanDieting.com.
So, how do you prevent the bad and stick to the good?
For starters, you can help regulate your cortisol levels by reducing your body’s stress load, which includes getting more sleep, lowering chronically stressful situations, and increasing movement. “Another way you can help lower cortisol levels is by fueling your body regularly with real foods that provides balanced nutrients,” says Michelle Babb, MS, RD. “This may include complex carbohydrates from veggies, fruit, beans, and whole grains; healthy fats from olives, olive oil, avocado, nuts, and seeds; and good quality protein from seafood, minimally processed organic soy, pasture-raised eggs, grass-fed beef, and free-range poultry.”
Babb goes on to note that it’s equally important to be mindful about how you eat. “Limit distractions, take breaths, relax, engage your senses, and most importantly, enjoy.”
8 cortisol-reducing foods dietitians recommend stocking up on
“While there aren’t any foods that will ever instantly or drastically reduce your body’s cortisol levels, having a diet that focuses on anti-inflammatory foods can have long-term benefits,” says Dana Ryan, PhD, MA, MBA, director of sports performance, nutrition and wellness at Herbalife Nutrition. “Additionally, consuming foods that help maintain a healthy microbiome can be helpful in managing cortisol levels.”
The following foods are great choices to include on a regular basis.
“Salmon and fatty seafood are excellent sources of omega 3-fatty acids, which help decrease inflammation and play a role in heart health and mood stabilization,” says Taub-Dix. “My family loves my Mediterranean Salmon Chunks, so this recipe appears regularly at our house.
“Not only do avocados have omega-3s, but they also contain magnesium, which may help to lower cortisol over time,” says Dr. Ryan. Taub-Dix adds that they contain almost 20 vitamins and minerals, fiber, and heart healthy fat. “The satisfying fat in avocado has been shown to reduce ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol and enhance the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins. Guac is great but think bigger! Try spreading some avocado on your sandwiches to boost the nutrient value and add deliciousness, for example,” she says.
“Almonds are an excellent source of plant-based protein,” says Taub-Dix, who also recommends them because they provide magnesium to help you relax and they are the nut highest in fiber, a nutrient most of us don’t get enough of. “Almonds have been shown to lower cholesterol and stabilize blood glucose levels. Their nutty crunch can be added at any meal whether atop your breakfast cereal, sprinkled on your salad, or crushed as a coating for poultry or seafood.”
“It may sound simple, but avoiding dehydration is key to keeping cortisol levels in check, so make sure to drink water consistently through the day,” says Dr. Ryan.
If you’re having trouble upping water, Taub-Dix suggests keeping a pitcher in your fridge filled with cut strawberries. “The strawberries add flavor while providing vitamin C, an important antioxidant that can reduce inflammation and fiber, important for gut health.”
“Yogurt that is high in probiotics can be beneficial in maintaining gut health, and therefore can have a positive impact on cortisol levels,” says Dr. Ryan
“Teas such as chamomile are a great option as they help promote sleep. Getting adequate sleep is essential for maintaining optimal cortisol levels,” says Dr. Ryan.
Foods that are high in inulin (a type of fiber)
“Adaptogenic herbs like holy basil, ashwagandha, lavender, and ginseng can help decrease the stress response and promote a feeling of calmness and general well being,” says Babb.