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Cortisol is a steroid hormone produced by the adrenal glands during stress. Overproduction of cortisol is associated with dangerous health implications, including excess abdominal fat. A cortisol diet, therefore, is one designed to lower cortisol production in the body. The intentions of such a regimen are to naturally reduce stress and improve overall health and wellness. High-quality sources of protein, low-glycemic carbohydrates, healthy fats and fresh fruits and vegetables may be part of a cortisol diet.
Cortisol assists with regulating blood pressure, inflammatory response and proper use of fats and nutrients. When cortisol is released, it helps the body respond to and cope with trauma and stress. Normal levels of cortisol are considered beneficial in that they increase energy and metabolism. Elevated levels of cortisol due to chronic stress, can potentially lower immunity, cause cognitive impairment and cause an imbalance in crucial blood sugar levels.
Too much cortisol in the blood is a suspected cause of abdominal fat as well. The “fight or flight” stress response triggered by cortisol causes fat cells to move triglycerides into the bloodstream. Although this is supposed to increase energy, people do not increase their physical activity in response to stress. The triglycerides, therefore, turn into unused fats that settle around the abdomen.
A cortisol diet is thought to be one way in which the hormone can be effectively managed. High-quality protein, for example, may help to decrease cortisol production. Vegetables, in addition to whole grains, nuts, soy and rice, are considered valuable sources of protein. Dietitians recommend approximately 15 to 30 grams of protein with each meal.
Another food group that may naturally lower cortisol levels includes low-glycemic carbohydrates. Choices such as wheat bread, brown rice, sweet potatoes and beans contain complex carbohydrates. These may curb cortisol production and also provide the body with important energy sources. Some extreme diets are likely to exclude all carbohydrates, which can potentially harm the body. A cortisol diet often eliminates only simple carbohydrates like milk chocolate, pastries and soft drinks.
Healthy fats may offer multiple health benefits, including anti-inflammatory and heart-protective effects on the body, while potentially decreasing cortisol. Omega-3 fatty acids from certain fish and flax seed oil, for example, may prevent surges of stress hormones. Monounsaturated fats from nuts and seeds, egg yolks, olive oil and avocados may help reduce cortisol as well.
Fruits and vegetables are thought to combat both cortisol and weight gain. These contain essential phytonutrients and vitamins that may work in numerous ways within the body. Vitamin C, for example, may suppress cortisol production, promote healthy immune functions and also combat free radicals. Magnesium, as found in spinach, may help regulate cortisol levels while also preventing headaches and fatigue.
A cortisol diet in some cases not only works at lowering cortisol, but it may boost feelings of well-being as well. Comfort foods like a bowl of chicken noodle soup, warm oatmeal or vanilla pudding may increase levels of serotonin. This is a calming hormone thought to have a soothing effect on the body. Milk may also eliminate tension and ease anxiety because of its high calcium content.