Something that my mother used to say, fairly often about me, is that I'm violent about getting (emotionally) healthy and maintaining my peace of mind. While it is a bit of a play on words (you know, being "violent" in order to "keep the peace"), I won't lie…she is exactly right. The older—and prayerfully wiser—I get, the more I tend to repel anything that is counterproductive in my world. On the heels of that, the more I study about how stress plays a direct role in illnesses like heart-disease, diabetes, depression, obesity and even premature death, the more intentional I am about maintaining my overall health and well-being. A part of that means keeping my stress levels low.
Take the stress hormone known as cortisol, for example. While this steroid hormone plays a significant role in increasing our body's metabolism, controlling our blood pressure, and reducing how much inflammation our system produces, it can cause all sorts of health-related issues when it's out of balance. When your cortisol levels are too low, that can result in things like fatigue, muscle weakness and weight loss. When it's too high, that can ultimately lead to weight gain, irregular periods, acne, mood swings, slow healing (especially when it comes to your skin), headaches and high blood pressure.
While rest, exercise and meditation are a few ways to naturally increase your cortisol levels, if yours tilts towards the higher side, there are foods that you can eat to naturally decrease them too. So, if your period has been a little erratic lately or your blood pressure has been a little higher than usual, after seeing your doctor (for a clear diagnosis), consider adding some of the following foods to your diet. As you're about to see, they are proven to be good for you on so many levels; including when it comes to getting your cortisol levels back on track.
If you like to snack on blueberries, you are definitely doing your body good for a myriad of reasons. Blueberries are high in vitamins C and K. Blueberries contain anthocyanins which have anti-inflammatory, anti-viral, and anti-cancer compounds in them. Blueberries also contain calcium and iron to keep your bones healthy, fiber to aid in healthy digestion and, properties to help your brain to maintain its short-term memory. The reason why blueberries are great for decreasing your cortisol levels is because they are low in sodium and high in magnesium. The balance of both of these plays a direct role in keeping your blood pressure in check, which is always a good thing.
Blueberries Tip: You can keep blueberries from molding while helping them to last longer by adding a cup of white vinegar to three cups of distilled water. Let your fresh blueberries soak in the solution for 10 minutes, then drain them, run them under cold water and dry them with a couple of paper towels. Then all you have to do is store them in a sealable container, place them in the fridge and they can easily last for up to two weeks.
2. Black Tea
Black tea is a really great drink. It contains the antioxidants theaflavins and thearubigins which are able to strengthen your immune system and help to keep diabetes at bay. Black tea also has flavonoids that can help to keep your heart strong. Some other cool things about black tea is it's able to remove bad bacteria in your gut, it has compounds that can lower your blood pressure, and there are properties in it that can reduce your risk of having a stroke by as much as 21 percent (if you drink a cup of black tea per day).
The reason why it makes this particular list is because, when elevated cortisol levels result in a rise in your heart rate, consuming black tea can decrease the cortisol in your system by as much as 47 percent. Pretty impressive, indeed.
Black Tea Tip: Not the biggest fan of how black tea tastes? Try Food Network's Honey Citrus Southern Iced Tea recipe here.
3. Cannellini Beans
Never heard of these types of beans before? Basically, they are white beans that are super popular in Italian, Greek and French cuisines. Because cannellini beans are considered to be a macronutrient that is high in protein, iron, potassium and calcium yet doesn't contain any amount of fat, I'm pretty sure you can see why they are top on the list of being a dietary recommendation. As far as health benefits go, cannellini beans help to lower blood sugar and blood pressure levels, reduce free radicals and body inflammation, so it makes total sense why you should pick some up if you want to keep your cortisol levels in check.
Cannellini Beans Tip: Put a new twist to cannellini beans by making some Cannellini-Bean Pasta with Beurre Blanc. You can get step-by-step instructions here.
4. Dried Apricots
If you're looking for more healthy snacks to add to your diet, how about some dried apricots? They are low in calories while being high in fiber, calcium and magnesium. Since dried apricots also have a good amount of Vitamin A in them, they are able to boost your immune system, encourage cell growth, maintain your vision, strengthen your bones, and even assist in healthy embryonic development if you happen to be pregnant. Something else that dried apricots have in them is potassium. When cortisol levels are elevated, a decrease in potassium comes as a direct result (this results in fatigue, muscle cramps, mood swings, heart palpitations and breathing difficulties). Eating foods with potassium in them can help to restore the potassium in your body that has been lost.
Dried Apricots Tip: If you want to take a stab at making some apricot fruit roll-ups, Natasha Kitchen's website has your back. Check out "How to Make Apricot Fruit Leather" to get the recipe.
5. Holy Basil
Here's what's a trip about holy basil—it's literally an adaptogenic herb. What that means is it's the type of herb that helps your body to build up a resistance to stressors that might try and attack your body. Holy basil is antibacterial, antiviral, antifungal and anti-inflammatory. Because of this, it increases energy levels, lowers inflammation, improves brain function, strengthens organ function and yes, balances out your cortisol levels. Just make sure that you don't give it to infants or children (studies on its safety for them is on-going) and that you only take it six weeks at a time, should you choose to use it in supplement form. The reason why is because holy basil is so potent, that it's not a good idea to take larger quantities without taking breaks in between.
Holy Basil Tip: How should you store this fresh herb? First, make sure to clip the ends of it. Then, place the herb into a glass jar or vase. Cover up the jar and store it in the refrigerator. It will last for a week if you do. Or, you can cut up the leaves of the herbs, put them into ice trays that are filled with water. If you then transfer the cubes to a large resealable plastic bag, the cubes can keep for up to a year.
Mangoes are as good for you as they taste. They are high in antioxidants, the combination of vitamins A and C can help to keep your skin clear and, because they are on the lower end of the glycemic index scale, this means that they can tackle the sweet cravings you might have if you happen to be diabetic.
If high cholesterol is something that you struggle with, mangoes can assist with that too. How? Well, since they are a fruit that contains high levels of fibre pectin, mangoes are able to reduce the cholesterol in your system that can lead to plaque in your blood vessels which can ultimately restrict blood flow to your heart.
Mangoes Tip: Sick of mangoes turning brown quicker than you can finish eating them? If so, once you slice a mango up, put the slices into some fresh lemon juice. The acid will slow down the browning process without interfering with the taste of the mango itself.
7. Olive Oil
Out of all the different kinds of oil that you have to choose from, you should definitely have olive oil in your kitchen pantry. It's loaded with omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants and, it has anti-inflammatory properties in it. Also, unlike a lot of other oils that can do the opposite (of what I'm about to say) over time, studies reveal that olive oil can help to prevent heart disease and prevent strokes, fight off cancer cells, effectively treat rheumatoid arthritis, plus it does not lead to weight gain. As a bonus, because olive oil contains the compound oleuropein, it can lower cortisol levels too.
Olive Oil Tip: There are basically three different kinds of olive oil— refined, virgin, and extra virgin. If you want to consume the one that has the most health benefits, it's best to go with extra virgin olive oil. That's because it is the least processed and refined.
Salmon is probably my favorite kind of fish. I like that it's not super fishy in taste and has a light texture. Anyway, I always feel good whenever I eat it because I know that it's looking out for my physical health whenever I do. Salmon is rich in omega-3s, B vitamins and protein. It's also high in potassium, selenium (a mineral that protects your bone health and your thyroid) and astaxanthin. Astaxanthin is a compound that reduces oxidation in your system. As a result, it can help to keep your cortisol levels from getting out of control.
Salmon Tip: If you want to get the most nutritional benefits from eating salmon, try poaching it. Poaching pretty much consists of placing salmon filets in a shallow saucepan, along with water, wine or bone or vegetable broth for about 10 minutes; just enough for the salmon to not be raw without being overcooked. If you want to check out a video on how to prepare salmon this way, click here.
As far as nuts go, walnuts are packed with all kinds of health benefits. Not only are they also a food that are high in antioxidants, but they are a great source of omega-3, selenium, calcium, zinc and Vitamin E. If you're looking for a food that promotes a healthy gut, will lower your risk of having type 2 diabetes and even helps your body to age gracefully, walnuts can handle all of this. Because these are the types of nuts that significantly decrease oxidative stress to your system, they are something else that you can eat to get your cortisol levels down too. Very cool.
Walnuts Tip: Have you ever wondered how to caramelize your own walnuts? All you need to do is put one cup of walnuts, ¼ cup of brown sugar and one tablespoon of butter into a non-stick skillet. Over medium-heat, stir the nuts and the mixture together for about five minutes. Then transfer the nuts to parchment paper, making sure to separate the nuts so that they don't stick together. Allow the mixture to cool for 10 minutes and then your nuts will be ready to eat. Enjoy!
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