Have you heard of cortisol? Don’t stress as you might raise it! Cortisol is the main stress hormone that is produced when we are in the ‘fight-or-flight’ mode of stress. Stress is a natural and automatic short term response that occurs when the body feels threatened by a situation. Stress causes the release of cortisol, which causes a physical response such as a raising of blood sugar levels so you’re body has the energy to take ‘flight’. In this busy modern day life, stress however, can be prolonged, which can turn into chronic stress, and increase detrimental amounts of cortisol in the body over the longer term.
This long term impact of cortisol can be the cause of many issues, including:
1. Sugar & carbohydrate cravings
2. Abdominal fat deposition & difficulty losing weight
3. Low mood & poor cognition
4. Lower testosterone levels
5. Decreased immune response
6. Poor thyroid function
7. Adrenal fatigue
But it’s not only stress that perpetuates this cortisol production. Our diet plays a huge part in dictating the amount of cortisol we will find circulating in our body. Stimulants such as caffeine and alcohol provide us with pseudo-energy, and this increases the stress response and stimulates the production of cortisol. Inflammatory and oxidative foods such as highly processed foods, trans-fats, refined carbohydrates and sugars will also trigger the release of cortisol. However it’s not all bad news! By incorporating the right foods into our diet, we can reduce our stress levels, maintain a steady energy flow and reduce the amount of cortisol that our body has to deal with.
Top 10 foods for reducing Cortisol
Nuts provide us with a decent hit of protein and good fats, which can help us to maintain a steady energy level and reduce our blood sugar levels. They are also an important source of minerals such as zinc and magnesium which help us to maintain balanced blood sugar levels and promote good mood. Tip - soak your nuts to release the nutrients, which are bound to phytates otherwise and not as well absorbed.
Salmon and other oily fish are an abundant source of omega-3 fatty acids that reduce inflammation, oxidative stress and cortisol. Salmon is also a great source of dietary protein, to level out those energy levels and provide us with important amino acids to produce our neurotransmitters, important for reducing stress and lifting our mood.
Grass fed Beef is also higher in omega-3 fatty acids than regular grain fed beef, and lower in pro-inflammatory omega 6 fatty acids. This means less inflammation in your body, and a good quality protein hit to maintain energy.
Berries are a rich source of Vitamin C, which may reduce stress and cortisol levels, and aid in the production of our neurotransmitters to assist improve our mood. The anthocyanins found in darker berries, such as blueberries, and other antioxidants may also reduce oxidative stress in the body and cortisol.
Chocolate as well all know, is delicious, but it’s also jammed packed full of cortisol lowering antioxidants, particularly dark chocolate which contains more antioxidant polyphenol and flavonols, and less sugar. The polyphenols and flavonols in chocolate may also be beneficial for maintaining a healthy mood.
Garlic is filled with antioxidants as well, and can also boost our immunity that is often lowered when we are stressed and have higher cortisol levels present.
Avocados contain many plant based antioxidants, fibre and poly/monounsaturated fatty acids, and has been found to improve satiety and maintain energy levels. They also contain B vitamins which are important for energy production and mood.
Bananas give us our B vitamins for boosting our energy levels, and potassium and tryptophan, which are important for keeping us happy and helping our mood.
Oats are a great way to start the day, with the complex carbohydrates and beta-glucan keeping you fuller for longer, and balancing out your energy levels. Oats like bananas contain tryptophan, which is a precursor for producing our happy brain chemical, serotonin.
Olive oil has a plant chemical called oleuropein which has been shown to reduce cortisol levels, and is also anti-inflammatory and cardio-protective. Olive oil can also help to increase testosterone levels, which are often lowered with an increased cortisol level.
- Randall M. The Physiology of Stress: Cortisol and the Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal Axis. 2012. Dartmouth Undergraduate Journal of Science. Available from: http://dujs.dartmouth.edu/
- Mark L. Dreher and Adrienne J. Davenport. Hass Avocado Composition and Potential Health Effects. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2013 May; 53(7): 738–750.
- Oi-Kano Y1, Kawada T, Watanabe T, Koyama F, Watanabe K, Senbongi R, Iwai K. Oleuropein supplementation increases urinary noradrenaline and testicular testosterone levels and decreases plasma corticosterone level in rats fed high-protein diet. J Nutr Biochem. 2013 May;24(5):887-93.
- Ali Kuopolla. 9 Foods that Lower Cortisol Levels Naturally. Available from: http://www.anabolicmen.com/foods-that-reduce-cortisol-levels-naturally/
- Keri Glassman. 13 Foods That Fight Stress. Available from: http://www.prevention.com/mind-body/emotional-health/13-healthy-foods-that-reduce-stress-and-depression