Jake Berman

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Mastering Stress: A Comprehensive Guide to Lowering Cortisol Naturally Through Nutrition, Supplements, and Lifestyle Strategies

Stress. Like Taylor Swift at a football game, it gets talked about A LOT. But why? Let’s first understand what stress is at its core.

What is Stress? 

Stress is cortisol. Cortisol is a steroid hormone that is produced in the adrenal glands (located above our kidneys). It can be healthy in the short term in the form of exercise. Cortisol helps initiate the release of glucose to provide our bodies with a source of quick energy. It also plays a part in increasing our heart rate, breathing, and overall blood flow so that our muscles can make it through a particularly grueling class at OrangeTheory or an argument over how many shots your fellow golfer took on that last hole.

On the other hand, when cortisol increases, the processes that are not needed at that moment, such as digestion, decrease (spoiler alert: Taco Bell is not an ideal pre-workout meal). Once the workout is over, your cortisol levels will return to a comfortable baseline.

When cortisol levels do not return to baseline and become chronically elevated – from things like blood sugar instability, exposing ourselves to food sensitivities, and not maintaining a healthy weight – you may experience symptoms like fatigue, frequent changes in mood, interrupted/poor sleep, slow recovery from exercise, food cravings, as well as imbalances in our hormones. The list goes on.

However, there is good news. There are steps that you can take to naturally lower your cortisol level. Initially, prioritizing adequate rest, recovery, and adjusting your meal plan to balance out your blood sugar levels will be the main points of emphasis.

Stress Less with These Nutrition Tips

Stress is not only external but internal too! For that reason, nutrition can play a huge role in managing stress and helping to lower our cortisol levels. Here are foods we recommend focusing on to improve your stress levels.

Have more of these:

  1. Add protein to your carbohydrates. Because when you fail to balance your carbs with protein you have “Bad Blood” (another Taylor Swift reference). But in all seriousness, the name of the game is blood sugar stability. Adding protein to your carbohydrates like, for example, adding yogurt to your fruit will balance your blood sugar levels and have you avoiding that scary roller coaster ride that my non-adrenaline junkies did not sign up for.
  2. Fruit and Vegetables. These foods contain vitamins, minerals, and fiber that support healthy digestion and manage your stress response.
  3. Healthy fats. Nuts, chia seeds, flax seeds, olive oil, and avocados are good sources of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats that help to lower the impact that stress has on your body.
  4. Fish. Salmon, albacore tuna, and halibut are all cold-water fish that are packed with anti-inflammatory omega-3 fats to help your body manage inflammation.
  5. Dark chocolate. I had to save the best for last. Did you know that dark chocolate contains an essential mineral that the body needs to deal with stress? That mineral? Magnesium.

And less of these:

  1. Foods that can promote inflammation. A high intake of foods high in saturated fat (like some red meat and whole-fat dairy), highly processed snack foods, fried foods, as well as excess sweets and alcohol can increase inflammation in the body.
  2. Excess caffeine. Caffeine is a stimulant that helps many people wake up and feel more alert. However, our cortisol levels increase with caffeine and may promote feelings of anxiousness.

Food First, But Not Food Only – Cortisol-Lowering Supplements

Nothing can replace quality nutrition, but sometimes a diet alone isn’t enough. Let’s look at supplements that complement a healthy, cortisol-lowering eating plan. If you are interested in finding out which supplements would specifically be best for you, call Berman Health and Wellness and schedule an appointment to speak with a health professional on our team!


L-theanine is an amino acid that suppresses our cortisol response and helps us relax. L-theanine has been shown to have a positive impact on sleep by increasing the time asleep and decreasing the time to fall asleep. Want to get it from food? Green tea naturally contains l-theanine. You might want to change that tee time to teatime.

Prebiotics and Probiotics

We often tell our clients that our gut is our second brain. Why? Because the two are in constant communication with one another. Hormones like dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin are sent from the gut to the brain and are associated with positive mood and healthy stress levels.

Probiotics are healthy gut bacteria found in fermented foods like yogurt, kombucha, sauerkraut and kimchi. Prebiotics (also known as fiber) are food for the probiotics and help our healthy gut bacteria thrive. Prebiotic sources include whole fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds, and legumes. Both help promote a healthy functioning gut, which in turn supports an overall positive mood.


Ashwagandha is classified as an adaptogen which is essentially any herb, root, or plant substance that helps our bodies deal with stress better. Like a Taylor Swift song, it helps you “Shake It Off” (okay, I’ll stop). This popular plant is mostly used to protect us against feelings of physical and emotional stress.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

The omega-3 fatty acids commonly found in cold water fish offer substantial benefits for decreasing inflammation and cortisol. This specific type of healthy fat can reduce the physical effects of elevated cortisol levels and help people feel better. Think about your meal plan, are you eating enough fatty fish or plant-based sources like chia or flax seeds? If not, this may be a good option.


Supplementing with magnesium helps our muscles relax which helps to promote a more restful sleep. It also has been shown to reduce inflammation post-exercise.

Other Ways to Naturally Improve Your Stress

Here are a few ideas that you can implement today to help lower cortisol naturally.

  • Breathing exercises can help lower your feelings of stress. A lot of times when we’re stressed our breath rate increases. Focus on a deep inhale and slow exhale.
  • Activities like yoga, meditation, and journaling can help you to feel present and decrease feelings of stress.
  • Take a walk on the mild side. Get outside and go for a walk. Being outdoors and exposing your body to Vitamin D from the sun can improve your mood and more effectively manage your stress.
  • Incorporate more fruits and vegetables into your diet. Nourish your body with these nutrient-dense foods.
  • Develop a good sleep routine. Sleep is vital for managing cortisol. During sleep, our body is essentially focused on healing the cells of our body. It needs sufficient time to do this.
  • Eat protein every 2-3 hours. This helps promote stable blood sugar levels and keeps our cortisol levels in check.

If you are interested in learning more about a specific meal plan personally created to help you manage the stress in your life, give us a call at (239) 431-0232!

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