Do Any Foods Affect Cortisol Levels?

Eat Whole Foods

Cortisol is known as the stress hormone because your body produces it under stress, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK).

"Part of the system that regulates cortisol in the body is the adrenal gland," says New York City-based board-certified internist and gastroenterologist Niket Sonpal, MD. "So, you want to eat foods that help optimize its functions."

  • Baked or grilled lean meats, poultry and fish
  • Fresh fruits and vegetables
  • Eggs
  • Healthy fats

"You don't want foods that are highly processed, that are deep-fried and that contain lots of added sugars," Dr. Sonpal says.

Get More Vitamin C

Foods high in vitamin C also support your adrenal glands, which, in turn, support healthy cortisol levels, says Robin Foroutan, RDN, a New York City-based registered dietitian nutritionist and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

  • Citrus fruits
  • Tomatoes
  • Red and green peppers
  • Kiwi
  • Broccoli
  • Strawberries
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Cantaloupe

Try Foods Linked to Relaxation

Foroutan says some foods that have been tied to lower cortisol levels include:

  • Dark chocolate
  • Green and black tea
  • Bananas
  • Pears
  • Probiotic-rich foods (kefir, yogurt, sauerkraut, pickles)

Foods That Spike Cortisol

High blood sugar can spike cortisol levels, Foroutan says, "so, if you're stressed out, anchor each meal with protein and fiber to slow the absorption of carbohydrates from that meal," she says.

Because both white sugar and artificial sweeteners can increase blood sugar, "by connection, soft drinks and sugary treats should be kept to a minimum," Dr. Sonpal says.

High amounts of caffeine can be a stressor, too, he says, so you want to keep your caffeine intake to a minimum to manage your cortisol levels.

Read more: What Really Happens to Your Body When You're Stressed

Other Ways to Reduce Stress

Stress reduction isn't all about diet. While evidence supporting the ability of stress-lowering over-the-counter vitamin and mineral supplements to reduce cortisol levels is minimal at best, per the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, there are other methods that can be effective.

Mindfulness practices, for example, can also help improve cortisol levels, Foroutan says, such as:

  • Meditation
  • Guided imagery
  • Breathing exercises

Other way to reduce stress include:

  • Getting adequate sleep, which may be as important as diet, as cortisol helps coordinate your sleep cycle, Foroutan says.
  • Exercising regularly.
  • Socializing with friends and family, per the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

If stress becomes debilitating, seek professional help. Counselors and other professionals are trained to help you find ways to best cope.

Read more: Your Step-by-Step Guide to Finding the Right Therapist

Read more on: livestrong