Cortisol is the hormone that promotes stress in the body, and learning to avoid foods that increase cortisol levels can have an positive effect on your stress levels. In fact, after removing these foods from my diet, I found my anxiety, depression and obsessive tendencies seemed to disappear. Not to mention, my health improved dramatically. Exclude these foods that increase cortisol as soon as possible and you’ll kick your stress to the curb in no time, without any pills needed!
1. Trans Fats
Trans fats are some of the worst foods that increase cortisol in the body. Though most food companies have omitted this ingredient, it is now becoming common for food companies to add this ingredient in and market it under other names like hydrogenated oils or fat, partially hydrogenated oils or fat, or shortening. Even if it is labeled "trans fat free," it can legally contain up to .5-2 grams of trans fats and still obtain that label. Always read the ingredients to be safe. Trans fats increase cholesterol in the body, which is the reason they raise your cortisol levels and affect arterial flow.
2. Refined Sugar
Sugar in most forms, but especially refined, will raise your cortisol worse than almost any other food. Sugar raises the blood sugar too quickly and then causes it to plummet. Taking care of your blood sugar is crucial to reducing cortisol. Within an hour, you’ll likely suffer a crash and crave sugar worse than before you ate it. This can create an addiction, which has been closely related to how people crave and need drugs to maintain this sense of euphoria in the body. Until the body gets sugar, cortisol will spike at ultimately high levels, and over time, your body can become insulin resistant and cortisol levels will remain high most of the time. Get a handle on your stress and kick sugar to the curb!
3. Caffeine Overload
Listen girls, I love my morning cup of coffee and a cup of green tea a day like most of you, but that is all the caffeine I can handle without me noticing my stress levels go up. Caffeine overload is just as associated with cortisol production as refined sugars and trans fats. Since it affects blood sugar, too much can cause a rise in blood sugar and you may think you need food or sugar, and actually just be suffering a caffeine withdrawal. Starbucks didn't make their mutli-billion industry on accident, girls; think about it! Be sure to limit the caffeine you drink each day, and never choose sources of caffeine like soda or tea made with sugar, which can have a twofold effect on your stress levels. If you drink coffee, keep the add-ins clean, such as low fat milks like unsweetened almond or skim milk, and keep the sweeteners to small amounts of natural ones like stevia or honey.
4. Low Fiber Foods
Foods low in fiber affect your cortisol levels a couple of ways. First, they don’t keep you as full and don’t produce regularity in the stools. This can increase internal stress in the body, and upset the gastrointestinal organs, which have a large effect on your stress levels. Fruit and veggies are the best sources of fiber, along with soluble sources like flaxseeds, chia seeds and psyllium.
Okay, technically, alcohol is not a food, but it must be included here because it can greatly affect your stress levels. Alcohol is toxic to the liver and because the body cannot break down alcohol, this creates an internal stress for the body, lifting cortisol levels. It also acts as a downer, which can depress the mood, and cause addictive properties.
6. Refined Grains
Just like refined sugar, you should avoid refined grains, which is any grain that isn’t labeled 100% whole grain. Multi-grain is not whole grain. In addition, even whole grains that contain gluten have been linked to cortisol production, so always choose non-gluten grains whenever possible, such as brown rice, gluten-free oats, quinoa, millet, buckwheat and amaranth if at all possible. Refined grains are void of nutrients, and can increase cortisol by increasing the glycemic index directly.
7. Too Much Animal Saturated Fat
Saturated fats from animals have the same affect on cortisol as trans fats do. This includes too much butter, too many eggs, whole milk, meats that aren’t lean and poultry that isn’t lean cut. Be sure to eat lean choices of grass-fed meats and poultry, and eat eggs in moderation (around 5 per week at most). Also, butter isn’t the worst thing you could eat, but be sure to choose grass-fed organic butter, and only use a few tablespoons a week to be safe. As a better option, choose plant-based coconut butter or coconut oil, which is saturated but acts completely different on the body than butter. It has actually been linked to a decrease of cortisol levels.
Now, I realize many of you may love some of these foods or disagree with my advice, however the research on all of these foods is quite solid. By reducing these foods and eating more of the basics, such as fish, lean meats, plant proteins, plant fats, veggies, fruits, and whole grains and seeds, you can successfully decrease your cortisol levels and eat the stress away! What are your favorite stress-free foods? I know chocolate is one of mine, as long as I keep it in moderation!