In the last parts we discussed the effects of Cortisol on our whole body and how it can lead to development of cancer, diabetes and weight gain. Fortunately, there are natural ways to decrease Cortisol levels and decrease risks of development of those diseases.
Check out the other parts of this series:
Part 2: How Cortisol affects your body
Part 3: How stress makes you fat
Part 4: Why cortisol makes you sick
Also, remember to join our 8 weeks fat loss challenge, starting in a week!
The wrong kind of food for stress
First, let’s have a look at what kind of diet further stimulates Cortisol secretion.
Nutrition mistakes increasing Cortisol levels
high glycemic load
saturated and trans fatty acids
alcohol in excess
insufficient intake of micronutrients and antioxidants
a low-fiber diet
If you look at the different points, foods increasing cortisol levels are those we generally know aren’t too healthy. However, in todays hectic lifestyle, we opt for easy food options, such as fast-food, or drink a lot of coffee to enhance job performance.
As I have explained in the last parts of this series, there are healthy levels of cortisol. Our body relies on it to increase performance when needed. Think of it has the last “push” to increase alertness, mental focus, power and physical strength. Whenever our body thinks we have encountered a unsolvable problem, it starts releasing very high amounts of cortisol. Thus, high levels of cortisol are an indicator that there is something missing in our body. Whether that may be micronutrients and antioxidants or maybe you just lack sleep because of your high caffeine consumption.
-> Related: Meet your Stress Hormone
Especially if you have been dieting for a while, cortisol levels will inevitably increase. Unless you implement strategic refeed-days and cycle your diet, that is.
-> Related: Increase your metabolism – How to reverse diet
The right kind of food for stress relief
Now that we have seen which nutrition mistakes can cause increased cortisol levels, we can try to reverse this effect. The following explains the so-called “Anti-inflammatory diet”, a way of eating that is focused on decreasing cortisol levels by supplying your body with as many nutrients as possible.
Anti-inflammatory diet: Nutrition to reverse Cortisol’s effects
As I explained in the last articles, systemic inflammation causes elevated cortisol levels. Thus, if we can naturally decrease inflammation in the body and minimize stress, decreased cortisol levels will follow.
While the biochemical processes leading to inflammation are complex, science has proved that a change in our lifestyle, especially in our diet, can contribute significantly to decreasing Cortisol levels and reversing its effects on our body and health.
According to the nutrition mistakes I listed above, the following factors make up an anti-inflammatory diet:
Low glycemic load diet
If you haven’t heard of this term before, the glycemic load of a food describes how it affects your blood sugar levels. The lower the glycemic index, the less insulin has to be released to supply your organs with sugar. As it is our goal to prevent insulin spikes, we should opt for foods with a low glycemic load.
You can find a long list of foods and their GI here.
Elimination of trans fats and minimal intake of saturated fats
When it comes to fats, there are three kinds you should distinguish:
The healthiest kind of fats (mono- and polyunsaturated fats: Olive oil, nuts, avocado, oils derived from nuts): Eat as many as you can (while watching your portion sizes)
Healthy saturated/ mixed kind of fats (such as coconut oil, organic butter, egg yolks): These don’t affect your cholesterol levels at all (despite false myths), you can have these as your source of healthy fats as well.
Not-so-healthy saturated fats (fat derived from animals, high fat cheeses): It is okay to have these on occasion. If you are dealing with insulin resistance and high cortisol levels, I recommend reducing your intake of these saturated fats.
Trans-fats (any kind of fats, saturated and unsaturated, that has been heated and burned; can be found in fried foods but you should also be careful while cooking!): This is the worst kind of fat and our body does not know what to do with it. You should not have these kind of fats at all or on rare occasions (“cheat meals”).
When cooking with oils, opt for butter, coconut oil or sesame oil mostly. If you are cooking below 200°, you can use olive oil as well. Scientists have found that out of all monounsaturated fats, olive oil is the most resistant against transforming into trans fats, which happens when you cook with very high heat.
I recommend using a little bit of butter or sesame oil to cook your food and then add some olive oil to it once you have turned off the heat. This way, your food will actually taste better and you will get all the nutrients.
In addition to that, try not to bake with nuts. You can use coconuts, sesame and peanuts safely, as these are resistant to heat. Nuts such as walnuts or almonds are polyunsaturated and thus not resistant to high heats.
-> Related: Eat fats to lose fat
Elimination or reduction of caffeine
Alcohol in moderation or not at all
Maximize intake of fiber, antioxidants and phytonutrients
Boost your consumption of whole plant foods by eating vegetables, fruits, whole intact grains, nuts, seeds, and beans.
Increase intake of Omega-3 fatty acids
Science has proven that foods containing omega-3 fatty acids, such as fish oil and many plant-derived fats and nuts, actually lower cortisol levels. In fact, a recent study has shown that 6 weeks of continuous consumption of fish oil lead to decreased levels of body fat and changes of body composition.
There are some very interesting studies on the link between healthy gut bacteria and cortisol levels. Researchers from England have found that supplements increasing gut bacteria in our digestive system can be used for anxiety and depression and decrease stress levels in general. Unfortunately, scientists are not sure what exactly might be the cause of this. There has to be done more investigation on this topic. However, we can say for sure that consumption of foods such as yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, dark chocolate, micro algae and pickles.
Some last thoughts
I hope you find today’s nutrition tips to reduce cortisol levels in your body useful. If you have any other tricks or foods you have found effective, please share them in the comments!
In the next article, we are going to elaborate how to reduce our stress with fitness and training.
The reason I have explained cortisol and its effects so thoroughly is that with our upcoming fat loss program, you need to know about all different variables that matter for weight loss.
It is not always just about food intake and hard workouts. You might be doing everything right but if you hormones are imbalanced due to stress or Insulin resistance or other kinds of diseases, you will still fail to reach your goals. I hope this will help you to survey the situation and decide what your program is missing.