The food you eat is your first line of defense against Adrenal Fatigue. The advantage of creating an adrenal-supportive diet plan is that it does not involve a trip to the doctor or naturopath, will likely cost you no more than your regular diet, and will have a host of other benefits for your health too.
There are two aspects that we need to look at here. First, you should avoid any foods that will make your Adrenal Fatigue worse. And second, you should actively try to eat foods that will aid your recovery (and eat them in the right way).
Among other things, this means eating meals at the right times, consuming lots of nutritious whole foods, and avoiding foods to which you have sensitivities or intolerances. However this is a broad and complicated subject, so I will try my best to outline the basics on this page.
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Identify food allergies, sensitivities and intolerances
Why are food sensitivities a big deal if you have Adrenal Fatigue? They matter because they prevent our bodies from absorbing and using the nutrients they need, as well as promoting inflammation and interfering with our sleep/wake cycle.
Food allergies, sensitivities and intolerances prevent the gut from digesting and excreting our food properly. This is why diarrhea, constipation and other gut problems are frequently the first signs of an intolerance. They also prevent us from optimally digesting all the nutrients in our foods, leaving us weakened and low in energy. They can also promote inflammation in the gut, which triggers a release of histamine (along with its classic signs of sneezing and coughing). Lastly, by preventing us from digesting our food properly they can also promote the growth of unhealthy bacteria in our gut, weakening our immune system even further.
There are some simple ways to deal with food intolerances and sensitivities. Here is a short list for reference.
- Avoid the food in question. If you have a clear idea of which foods are causing you problems, be more careful in avoiding them! If you don’t know for sure, you can try eliminating one at a time, for a period of at least a week, until you have identified the culprit. Food sensitivity testing is also an option, but it does tend to be quite unreliable. Rely on it for guidance only – your own reaction to each food is a much more reliable test.
- Take supplements to strengthen your gut. The most common supplement in this category is Glutamine, an amino acid that your intestinal walls use as a fuel source. This aids in the repair and regeneration of the intestinal lining. You can also try demulcent herbs like licorice or slippery elm, which act to coat the intestinal lining and protect it from irritants.
- Take supplements to improve your digestion. If you are not digesting food well, and experiencing symptoms like bloating, gas, diarrhea or constipation, taking probiotics or digestive enzymes can help. They will allow you to digest food more easily and retrieve more nutrients from each food item too.
Some simple dietary principles
If your diet currently includes lots of processed foods, added sugar and soda, you’re not alone. This is what is commonly referred to as the Standard American Diet, and it is a contributory factor to most cases of Adrenal Fatigue. Improving your dietary habits has to be a crucial part of your recovery. Here are some simple guidelines to follow.
Eat at the right times
Too many of us follow a similar, unhealthy pattern. Skip breakfast, have a sandwich for lunch and then a big meal in the evening. If you’re looking to make your Adrenal Fatigue worse, this is a great plan to follow!
The importance of breakfast for Adrenal Fatigue sufferers cannot be overstated. When we sit down at our breakfast tables we have been fasting for approximately 12 hours. Our bodies need fuel, and the need the right kind of fuel that is going to last us through the morning. At breakfast you should be eating a high quality source of protein combined with a small amount of high quality carbohydrates. A vegetable omelet or two poached eggs with blueberries would be two good examples. A healthy breakfast smoothie packed full of healthy fats would be another. The typical American breakfast, packed full of sugary cereals, waffles and more, is exactly what you shouldn’t be eating.
Also be aware that Adrenal Fatigue sufferers struggle to maintain optimal blood sugar levels throughout the day. This is because cortisol is intimately involved with blood sugar stability. As a consequence, Adrenal Fatigue sufferers should focus on eating lots of small meals throughout the day, with a maximum of three intervals. This will help to reduce food cravings, blood sugar crashes and stresses on your HPA axis.
Foods to eat and avoid
There are a few ‘superfoods’ that all of us with Adrenal Fatigue should eat (more on those below). But I also want to lay out some general guidelines on which proteins, fats and carbohydrates we should be eating.
Eating less sugar is a great first step. Excess sugar needs to be controlled by cortisol, so when you eat too much sugar you are indirectly taxing your adrenal glands. Additionally, the crashes that follow a spike in blood sugar inevitably lead to sugar cravings, and perhaps even the use of stimulants like coffee to counterbalance the fatigue. Either way, excess sugar is bad news for Adrenal Fatigue sufferers.
You should be aware that sugary snacks and fast food are not the only source of excess sugar – items like fruit juices are also high sugar foods. Better sources of carbohydrate include vegetables, beans and whole, sprouted grains like wild rice or quinoa. Low sugar fruits can also be a great option.
Getting enough protein is a good way to keep your energy levels high without causing spikes in your blood sugar. Good choices include beef, wild fish, eggs, free-range chicken and good quality protein powders. Always try to buy your meat organic if possible. You can often save money by purchasing them at your local farmers market.
For fats, consider foods like avocado, coconut, nuts and seeds, butter, cheese and other dairy products. Eating enough fat is important, and it’s a great source of energy, but make sure that your sources of fat are from natural, whole foods.
Cut out the caffeine
Caffeinated drinks might make you feel great for a short period of time, but they are adding significant stress to your adrenal glands and endocrine system. Caffeine stimulates your adrenals to produce adrenaline and cortisol in exactly the same way as they do during a ‘fight or flight’ reaction. Over time, as your adrenals become depleted, they become less and less able to respond in the same way. Adrenal fatigue sufferers often report that ‘coffee does nothing for me’, but this is often due to the fact that repeated stimulation has left their adrenals so depleted that they are unable to respond appropriately.
Giving up that morning cup of tea, coffee or caffeinated soda might sound daunting, but it’s an important part of recovering from Adrenal Fatigue. Many of us experience short-term withdrawal symptoms from caffeine, but they are generally gone within a week. After quitting coffee, most Adrenal Fatigue sufferers report a more even, consistent energy level throughout the day, without any of the crashes associated with caffeine intake.
This is an easy one. Staying well hydrated is important no matter who you are, but if you are suffering from Adrenal Fatigue then it becomes doubly important. You can take it a step further by adding a little sea salt or lemon to your glass of water (remember that many AFS sufferers have mineral and electrolyte deficiencies).
Superfoods for Adrenal Fatigue sufferers
Taking a step beyond the foods to eat and avoid listed above, there is also a small group of foods that can actually help you to recover more quickly from Adrenal Fatigue. These foods do not form part of the regular Western diet, although they are now increasingly common sights in our supermarkets and kitchens.
Before meats became so easy to purchase in the supermarket, our ancestors made use of every single part of the animal. This included the bone marrow, which would provide them with valuable nutrition and which would often be given to sick individuals. Today, we can do just the same by making bone broth. Bone marrow has been proven to reduce inflammation, boost the immune system and encourage healthy cholesterol. It can also provide essential vitamins, minerals and amino acids that are easily absorbable in our intestines.
Bone Broth for Health Building: Nourishing the Liver and Kidneys (Cindy Micleu, MTCM, Lac)
Benefits of Bone Broth (Dr. Auer)
Seaweeds are rich in minerals and phytonutrients that we might not get from the rest of our diet. They are delicious mixed into a salad or stirfry, and can often give a much-needed nutritional boost to a meal. Most supermarkets now carry a selection of different seaweed. I would recommend eating a good variety to get the most benefit.
Nutritional and digestive health benefits of seaweed (University of Peradeniya, Sri Lanka)
Sea Vegetables (George Mateljan Foundation)
Did you know that some fermented drinks are really great for your digestive health and immune system (hint – I’m not talking about beer!)? Although very popular in some parts of the world, fermented drinks are yet to make much of a dent in the North American market. However you can sometimes find them in health food stores, and of course you can make your own too. These drinks are rich in minerals and provide a huge boost of ‘good bacteria’ to improve your digestion and nutrient absorption. Good examples are kombucha and kvass.
Kombucha Health Benefits (Dr. Leonard Coldwell)
How and why to make beet kvass (Dr. Scott Little)