Top Foods that Lower Cortisol Naturally

| WRITTEN BY: Patricia Bannan, MS, RDN
citrus foods that reduce cortisol

Discover powerful nutrients and foods that can help lower cortisol naturally, providing a holistic approach to stress management and improved overall health.

In today’s fast-paced world, stress has become an unavoidable part of daily life for many. From demanding work schedules to personal responsibilities, stress can take a toll on our physical and mental well-being. One of the key hormones involved in the stress response is cortisol, often referred to as the “stress hormone.” Elevated cortisol levels over prolonged periods can lead to various health issues, including anxiety, depression, and impaired immune function.

However, there is hope. Research has shown that certain foods have the potential to naturally lower cortisol levels, offering a simple yet effective way to manage stress and promote overall health. In this article, we’ll explore foods that have been scientifically proven to help regulate cortisol levels.

What is Cortisol?

As mentioned above, cortisol is commonly known as the “stress hormone,” and is a hormone produced in response to bodily stress.

It also helps regulate certain body systems, such as blood glucose levels, metabolism, and the immune system. This is why it’s important to make sure that your levels aren’t abnormally high or low.

What Impacts Cortisol Levels?

Cortisol is typically measured through a blood test, though it can also be measured at home with a urine or saliva collection. Cortisol levels can be affected by many different factors, including:

  • stress
  • sleep (and lack of sleep)
  • medication
  • pregnancy
  • time of day

It’s also worth noting that levels are often higher in the morning than in the afternoon.

How Does Cortisol Affect Your Health?

Chronic stress, which is often paired with higher levels of cortisol, can eventually turn into burnout. When burnout isn’t acknowledged, it contribute to type 2 diabetes, memory problems, and many other health problems.

Cortisol is also connected to the sleep cycle, so if your levels are too high, you might notice you’re not only getting less sleep, but poorer quality sleep as well. Being overtired contributes to higher cortisol levels—a vicious cycle of stress that’ll leave you burned out.

What Foods Reduce Cortisol Levels?

So, as you can imagine, the key is to keep cortisol levels in the normal range. The good news is that certain foods can play a role here.

Keep reading for some of the best foods to lower cortisol.

1. Vitamin C-Rich Fruits and Vegetables

Vitamin C-Rich Fruits and Vegetables to reduce cortisolVitamin C is a powerful antioxidant, meaning that it protects your body from oxidative damage caused by free radicals. It also has been linked to reduction of anxiety and better sleep health, both of which improve stress and cortisol levels. Recent research also found that Vitamin C supplementation can lower cortisol levels to a normal range.

While citrus fruits are renowned for their Vitamin C content, various other fruits and vegetables pack this essential nutrient. Berries, broccoli, potatoes, bell peppers, and Brussels sprouts are excellent sources of Vitamin C.

For a delicious dish rich in both Vitamin C and other vital nutrients, try my Pomegranate Glazed Brussels Sprouts.

2. Nuts and Seeds (Almonds, Walnuts, Chia Seeds)

trailmix with nuts and seeds to reduce cortisolMany nuts and seeds are rich in magnesium and provide healthy fats that support brain health. Both nutrients can help to reduce cortisol, indicating their potential stress-reducing benefits.

Consider sprinkling almonds or walnuts over salads, yogurt, or oatmeal for a satisfying crunch and dose of healthy fats. Chia seeds can be mixed into smoothies, yogurt, or used as a topping for fruit bowls or cereal.

When it comes to snacking, nuts and seeds are a healthier alternative to many processed snack foods that are high in refined sugars and unhealthy fats. Instead of reaching for chips or cookies, opt for a handful of nuts or seeds to satisfy cravings while providing your body with essential nutrients.

Try this Blueberry and Walnut Popcorn Trail Mix recipe to switch up your snack routine while keeping added sugar at bay. Packed with stress-reducing nutrients, it’s a delicious and wholesome option for any occasion.

3. Leafy Greens (Spinach, Kale, Swiss Chard)

leafy green salad to reduce cortisolLeafy greens are abundant in magnesium, a mineral that plays a crucial role in stress response and cortisol regulation. Research published in the journal Nutrients suggests that magnesium supplementation may help lower cortisol levels and improve stress resilience.

Spinach, kale, and Swiss chard are particularly rich sources of magnesium, making them excellent choices for stress reduction. Whether enjoyed raw in salads, blended into smoothies, or cooked in stir-fries and soups, leafy greens can be incorporated into a variety of dishes to support your overall well-being and help you better manage stress.

Try my Farro and Kale Salad with Shrimp for a beautiful pop of color with lots of flavor!

4. Fatty Fish (Salmon, Mackerel, Sardines)

fatty fish to reduce cortisolSalmon, tuna, and anchovies are all fatty fishes that are great for your body. This is because they’re high in omega-3 fatty acids, which are important for cardiovascular and neurological health.

Fish oil pills can also be used to supplement your diet. One study done on men found that after three weeks of fish oil supplementation, the body’s secretion of cortisol and epinephrine in response to mental stress was significantly lower than without the supplements.

If you’re seeking a simple yet delicious fish recipe, consider trying my Simple Skillet Salmon Burgers.  These burgers are a hit with the whole family and can be easily prepared. Plus, you can make extra, freeze them, and enjoy them at your convenience in the months to come.

5. Polyphenol-Rich Dark Chocolate

polyphenol-rich chocolate to reduce cortisolDark chocolate is a superfood—not only does promote cognitive health, but it also can reduce cortisol levels. This indulgent treat contains flavonoids, a type of antioxidant, which has been linked to stress reduction.

One study found that participants who consumed 25 grams of polyphenol-rich dark chocolate per day (in comparison to regular dark chocolate) had reduced levels of total daily cortisol.

To ensure you’re getting polyphenol-rich dark chocolate:

  • Choose dark chocolate with 70% or higher cocoa content
  • Check the ingredient list for cocoa or cocoa solids
  • Opt for reputable brands known for quality
  • Look for labeling highlighting polyphenol content

Enjoy dark chocolate in moderation as part of a balanced diet for maximum benefits.

Next Steps to Take

Incorporating these nutrient-rich foods into your daily diet can provide not only delicious meals but also natural support for managing cortisol levels and promoting overall well-being. For more delicious recipes (and top tips) to free you from burnout, check out my book From Burnout to Balance.

Now that you’ve read about the best foods for reducing cortisol levels, continuing reading and learn about 10 other proven ways to help with stress.


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