Note: Keep to low FODMAP servings as per the Monash and FODMAP Friendly apps.
Understanding Cortisol Levels
We all have stress from time to time. But when it goes on for weeks, or months, chronic stress can impact all the body's systems—especially the adrenal glands, small organs that rest on top of the kidneys and are responsible for releasing important hormones. One of these is cortisol, a stress hormone that regulates energy, reduces inflammation, and regulates blood pressure and blood sugar. It also controls the sleep/wake cycle: levels fluctuate during the day, increasing in the morning when you need to wake up, and decreasing at night when it's time to sleep. If you're in a state of constant tension and anxiety certain nutrients that relieve stress, promote calm, reduce inflammation, and balance blood sugar can help.
6 Stress-Reducing Foods
Studies suggest that bacterial imbalances in the gut contribute to stress and anxiety. Naturally fermented kefir is rich in beneficial bacteria, which improve gut health, reduce anxiety, lessen stress, and may protect against inflammation. Probiotic bacteria also improve serotonin levels and can produce GABA, a neurotransmitter that promotes relaxation and eases tension. Low levels of GABA have been linked with increased anxiety. I tablespoon of kefir is low FODMAP.
Recipe tips: Combine kefir with rolled oats, chia seeds, dried cherries, and vanilla extract, and refrigerate overnight for an instant breakfast bowl; make a zesty dressing with kefir, bell peppers, and cilantro; strain kefir through a cheesecloth overnight, then mix in Casa de Sante low FODMAP certified Tuscan Herb or Lemon Herb Seasoning for a creamy spread.
Recipe tips: Spread turkey slices with mashed avocado, layer with arugula, Casa de Sante low FODMAP certified Tuscan Herb Seasoning and shredded carrots, and roll up; combine cooked turkey cubes with 1 tablespoon dried cranberries, and kefir; sauté cooked turkey with oyster mushrooms, Casa de Sante low FODMAP certified Tuscan Herb Seasoning and spinach, and toss with spiralized sweet potatoes.
Recipe tips: Combine sunflower seeds, kale, parsley, garlic oil, lime juice, and red pepper flakes in a food processor, and blend into a zesty chimichurri sauce; soak sunflower seeds overnight, then drain and purée with kefir, garlic oil, and 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar for a healthy mayo alternative.
Some varieties of tea can help relieve stress and anxiety. Green tea contains L-theanine, an amino acid that enhances the production of calming neurotransmitters. While it does contain caffeine, research suggests that L-theanine offsets caffeine's stimulatory effects. Studies also show that L-theanine induces alpha-brain wave activity, which correlates with a perceived state of relaxation. Rooibos, made from the leaves of the African red bush, has a balancing effect on cortisol levels. And it’s caffeine-free. These teas also contain antioxidants that protect against inflammation.
Recipe tips: Make a strong rooibos tea, stir in low FODMAP sweetener and vanilla, then add ice and almond milk for a cooling latte; make a soothing digestive tea with peppermint tea, fennel seeds, and chopped ginger.
Red Bell Peppers
They’re an excellent source of vitamin C, which helps support adrenal function and balance cortisol. In some studies, vitamin C improved the ability of the adrenals to adapt to surgical stress and normalized cortisol levels. Other studies show that vitamin C reduces anxiety, minimizes stress, and improves mood. FODMAPs were not detected in red bell peppers but spicy foods can upset some individuals with IBS. Eat as tolerated.
Recipe tips: Halve red peppers, remove seeds, stuff with sautéed collards, leeks, and cooked quinoa, and roast until tender; combine chopped red peppers with zucchini, eggplant, tomatoes, garlic oil, Casa de Sante low FODMAP certified Tuscan Herb mix, and simmer until tender.
They’re high in magnesium, a mineral that helps relieve stress, as well as folate, a B vitamin that’s essential for the production of neurotransmitters that mitigate anxiety. Spinach, chard, turnip greens, and kale are also excellent sources of magnesium and folate. Only trace amounts of FODMAPs were detected. Eat according to appetite.
Recipe tips: Simmer chopped collard leaves, red peppers, ginger, and curry powder in 1/4 cup coconut milk; sauté shredded collard leaves in garlic oil with chopped black olives and Casa de Sante low FODMAP certified Taco seasoning; steam whole collard leaves until tender, then use as a wrap for 1/4 cup canned chickpeas and1 cup quinoa.
Reviewed by Onikepe Adegbola, MD PhD, founder, Casa de Sante.