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Foods That Lower Cortisol – Culinary Calm

Foods That Lower Cortisol – Culinary Calm

Do you consider stress a steady but unwelcome component of your life? Our bodies respond to stress with the production of cortisol, the notorious “stress hormone,” which can negatively affect our health. However, the kitchen might just be your sanctuary for stress relief and a more vital life. Join us on a delectable journey as we explore a spectrum of various foods renowned for their potential to naturally lower cortisol levels. Discover the tasty side of stress management with CARE and transform your diet into a natural approach to lower your cortisol levels.

Blog Author Elena Health Coach at CARE
Elena Iagovitina

Health Coach

Published in Nutrition
10 min read · Jan 25, 2024

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Table of content

What Is Cortisol?

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Cortisol, often referred to as the “stress hormone," is a steroid hormone synthesized from cholesterol and produced by the adrenal glands, which sit atop each kidney. Its secretion follows our circadian rhythm (the sleep-wake-cycle), peaking in the early morning to kickstart your day and reaching its lowest levels around midnight to help you facilitate restorative sleep.  [1]

Cortisol is released in response to stressors, whether they be physical, emotional, or environmental. The process begins in the hypothalamus, which releases the corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH). [1]

This signals the pituitary gland to release adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH), which, in turn, prompts the adrenal glands to produce and release cortisol into the bloodstream. [1]

This complex sequence of biochemical events is known as the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. The HPA axis operates in a feedback loop, meaning that when cortisol levels rise in response to stress, they eventually signal back to the hypothalamus and pituitary gland to decrease the release of CRH and ACTH, thus regulating the stress response.  [1]

The Dark Side of Cortisol – What Does Cortisol Do to Your Body?

While cortisol is indispensable for short-term stress responses, chronic stress and prolonged elevation of cortisol levels can lead to a myriad of health issues.  [1]

Prolonged high cortisol levels have been associated with weight gain, particularly around the abdominal area, insulin resistance, sleep disturbances, and disruptions in the immune system and immune function. High cortisol levels can also impact your mood, contributing to increased anxiety and depression. [1] [2]

Naturally, you will want to keep your cortisol levels within a healthy range.

Have you recently found out that your cortisol is high? Luckily, there is a plethora of foods that can help you normalize your cortisol.

What Foods Lower Your Cortisol Levels?

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CARE has curated a list of foods that lower cortisol levels. Incorporating some of these foods into your daily meals enables you to create a diet to lower cortisol:

1. Avocados — A Guac-tastic Stress Buster:

Rich in monounsaturated fats, avocados and avocado oil not only provide a creamy texture but also contain compounds that help lower cortisol levels. Incorporate this green gem into salads and smoothies, or enjoy it on whole-grain toast for a delightful stress-busting meal. [3]

2. Berries — Bursting with Antioxidants:

Berries, such as blueberries and strawberries, are packed with antioxidants that combat oxidative stress and can contribute to cortisol regulation. Sprinkle them on your morning yogurt or savour them as a refreshing snack. Stress-management has never been that delicious!

3. Chamomile Tea — Sip Your Stress Away:

Life can be brew-tea-ful with a cup of tea. Known for its calming properties, chamomile tea contains antioxidants that can help lower cortisol levels and relieve stress. Brew a soothing cup in the evening to unwind and embrace a moment of tranquillity before your bedtime. [4]

4. Dark Chocolate — A Decadent Stress Reliever:

Indulge your sweet tooth guilt-free with dark chocolate, which contains flavonoids that can positively influence your cortisol levels. Opt for chocolate with higher cocoa content to savor the rich taste while potentially benefiting from its stress-relieving properties. [5]

5. Eggs — The Sunny-Side Up Stress Solution:

Eggs are not just a breakfast staple; they're also rich in nutrients like vitamin D, which has been linked to lower cortisol levels. Whip up a satisfying omelet or enjoy a perfectly boiled egg to kick-start your day with a dose of stress-fighting goodness. [6]

6. Fatty Fish & Flaxseeds — Omega-3s for Serenity:

Salmon, mackerel, and other fatty fish are brimming with omega-3 fatty acids, known for their anti-inflammatory properties. The same goes for flaxseeds and chia seeds. The healthy omega-3-fats in these foods can contribute to cortisol regulation whilst also being a delicious addition to your stress-reducing culinary repertoire. [7]

7. Garlic — Flavorful Stress Defense:

Garlic not only adds flavour to your dishes but also contains Allicin, a compound with potential anti-stress effects. Embrace the aromatic essence of garlic in your cooking to elevate both taste and stress resilience. [8]

8. Honey — Sweet Serenity:

Swap refined sugars for honey, Mother Nature’s natural sweetener that can lower your cortisol levels by providing a steady release of glucose, supporting your body's energy needs without causing the rapid blood sugar fluctuations associated with stress-induced cortisol spikes. Drizzle it over yogurt, mix it into your tea, or use it as a wholesome alternative in your favourite recipes to infuse sweetness into your stress-relief routine. [9]

9. Indian Gooseberry (Amla) — An Ayurvedic Elixir:

Incorporate the vitamin C-rich Indian gooseberry, often called “Amla,” into your diet. In Ayurvedic tradition, Amla is believed to possess adaptogenic properties that can contribute to stress management, and modern science has backed this up. Explore this exotic fruit in jams, smoothies, or as a refreshing addition to your acai bowl. [10]

What Foods Should You Avoid If You Have High Cortisol Levels?

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Managing your cortisol levels involves not only incorporating beneficial foods but also being mindful of those that could potentially contribute to elevated cortisol.

CARE has prepared a list of foods that should not be a part of your cortisol-reducing diet since they can lead to higher cortisol levels: [11]

Say No to Highly Processed Foods

Processed foods are often our comfort foods, but they can be bad for our health. Highly-processed foods, especially those high in refined sugars and unhealthy fats, can lead to spikes in blood sugar levels, prompting the release of cortisol. Therefore, we recommend you avoid excessive consumption of sugary snacks, pastries, and processed meals. [11]

Do Not Drink Too Much Coffee

While moderate caffeine intake is generally fine for most people, excessive amounts can lead to increased cortisol production. Monitor your coffee, tea, and energy drink consumption, and be cautious, especially in the afternoon and evening.

Limit Drinking Alcohol

Excessive alcohol consumption has been linked to elevated cortisol levels. It's essential to moderate your alcohol intake and be mindful of its impact on your stress hormones and general health. [11]

Don’t Be Salty – Avoid Highly Salty Foods

Diets high in sodium can lead to elevated blood pressure, triggering an increase in cortisol levels. Reduce the intake of processed and salty foods, such as fast food, canned soups, and salty snacks such as chips. [11]

Say No to Fatty and Fried Foods

High-fat diets, particularly those rich in unhealthy saturated fats, can contribute to elevated cortisol levels. Limit the consumption of fried foods, fatty cuts of meat, and processed snacks. [11]

Stress is Edible – Excessive & Low-Quality Red Meat

While lean meats are part of a balanced diet, excessive consumption of red and processed meats has been associated with increased cortisol levels. Studies even show that the stress put on cattle during the process of slaughtering can affect the meat quality. Instead, incorporate various lean meat and protein sources, including plant-based options and only buy high-quality and organic red meat, where the slaughter takes place as “ethically” as possible. [12]

Supplements to Lower Cortisol

Certain dietary supplements have demonstrated the potential to lower cortisol levels by influencing the pathways of our body's stress response, also called fight-or-flight-response.

Natural supplements work by modulating the activity of the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, a crucial regulator of your stress hormones, or by contributing to cortisol regulation. CARE has summarized some efficient supplements that can lower cortisol and contribute to healthier cortisol levels:

Ashwagandha – A Native Plant From India

Ashwagandha, derived from the roots of the Withania somnifera plant native to India, is an adaptogenic herb renowned in traditional Ayurvedic medicine for its stress-relieving properties and pharmacological actions. [13]

Studies suggest that ashwagandha can lower cortisol levels, improve stress resilience, and enhance overall well-being. [13]

Probiotics – Beneficial Bacteria For Gut Health

Probiotics work by enhancing and maintaining a balanced and diverse gut microbiome, which is important for your digestive health and, consequently, your overall well-being. They contribute to the population of beneficial bacteria in the gut and can help in improving immune function, nutrient absorption, and even mental health. [14]

You will find probiotics in fermented foods like yogurt, kefir, kimchi and sauerkraut, as well as in dietary probiotic supplements.

Adaptogens – “Magical” Herbs

Adaptogens are a class of herbs that can help your body adapt to stressors. In addition to ashwagandha, other adaptogens such as Rhodiola rosea and Holy Basil (Tulsi) have shown promise in reducing cortisol levels and mitigating the impact of stress. [13]

How Else Can You Reduce Stress?

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Naturally, your cortisol levels can not only be influenced by your diet but also by your lifestyle choices.

CARE has summarized some other effective strategies to reduce your cortisol aside from fine-tuning your diet:

Jazz Up Your Meals with Joy

Ultimately, the key to stress reduction lies not just in the individual ingredients of your meals but in the joyous experience of preparing and savouring your meals. Embrace the colourful array of stress-relieving foods, experiment with flavours, and let your kitchen become a haven for both culinary creativity and cortisol management.

In a nutshell, have fun when preparing your food or doing everyday chores to lower your cortisol.

Sport & Physical Activity

Regular exercise is a potent stress reducer, promoting the release of endorphins and helping to balance cortisol levels. Engage in activities like walking, jogging, or yoga to lower your cortisol levels naturally. [15]

Mindfulness and Meditation

Practices such as mindfulness meditation have been shown to lower cortisol levels and improve stress resilience during stressful situations. Incorporating mindfulness into your daily routines can positively impact your overall well-being. [15]

Good & Adequate Sleep

High-quality sleep is crucial for cortisol regulation. Establishing a consistent sleep schedule, creating a relaxing bedtime routine, and optimizing sleep hygiene can contribute to reducing your stress levels. [15]

Tame the Cortisol Beast With CARE

As you embark on your delicious journey toward healthy cortisol levels, remember that a balanced and varied diet, coupled with mindful lifestyle choices, can be a holistic strategy for fostering your overall well-being and health.

So, savour each bite, relish the flavours, and let your meals be a celebration of both good taste and stress resilience. CARE would be happy to assist you in creating a meal plan that decreases cortisol levels and helps you achieve a healthier and more nutritious diet in general.

Through our comprehensive health check-ups and in-depth blood analysis, we can give you a profound overview of your health status and tailor a proactive plan to achieve even better health results and fill nutritional gaps!

List of References

Blog Author Elena Health Coach at CARE

Elena Iagovitina

Health Coach at CARE Zurich

About the author

Elena is an enthusiastic Health Coach and blog writer at CARE, with a passion for holistic medicine and health. Previously, Elena worked for almost five years as a coach leading retreats, workshops, and seminars. These included mind-body therapy: breath work, meditation, and massage; as well as energy force therapy: reiki, and qi gong; and third expressive therapy: movement, writing and support groups. Elena shares exciting articles on the blog, on the topic of where the alternative and traditional medicine intersect with Western Medicine. Elena is also the driving force behind the CARE community. In her spare time, she enjoys hiking, traveling to remote locations and dancing. You might also see her on the lake of Zurich as a coast guard. Join her on her journey to learn more about health and discover the world of preventive medicine! Visit all articles written by Elena!