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Best Foods for Adrenal Support: A Healthy Diet to Avoid Stress Eating
Published on August 25, 2021 and last updated for accuracy on August 13, 2022
Many us skip meals or eat at inconsistent intervals when under stress. However, this poses a concern. Long periods without food can make adrenals work harder, requiring them to release more cortisol and adrenaline to maintain your body’s normal functioning (1).
Over time, your adrenals will tire out, and you’ll be hungrier to remember why you’re on a diet in the first place (1). You’ll eventually lose the energy and motivation to adhere to a personal routine, such as having the perfect exercise routine, preparing the right kinds of food and having a positive outlook in life (2).
When you are overworked, overstressed, and overtired, your body is likely burdened by the effects of chronic stress and your weight loss efforts may be met with resistance (2).
At some point in our lives, many us will have times when the demands are greater, and our stress loads become heavier. Regardless of what reasons you may have for keeping up with a fast-paced world, periods of stress place a physical impact on our bodies, and our weight (2).
In times of great stress, many us turn to food – any food – for comfort. With this, our bodies undergo many physiological changes – many which can lead to either weight gain or weight loss resistance (2).
Note that our adrenal glands govern our stress response by secreting hormones relative to our stress levels. They help control several hormonal cycles and functions in our bodies. However, if the adrenal glands and the rest of the stress response system are overworked, the body prepares to respond by storing calories and fats (2). We crave specific foods, lose energy, and gain weight.
All of these circumstances explain a condition known as adrenal fatigue (1).
What is Adrenal Fatigue?
Adrenal fatigue results from chronic stress and adrenal insufficiency (3). Some of its common symptoms include:
- Nervousness (3)
- hair loss (3)
- chronic fatigue (3)
- weight loss (3)
- digestive issues (3)
- lightheadedness (3)
- body aches (3)
- low blood pressure (3)
Initially, your adrenal glands function to produce cortisol – a hormone that aids in regulating your blood pressure. When you are under stress, your adrenal glands release cortisol, which then responds to a slower immune system and a change in blood pressure (3).
When you are experiencing chronic stress or anxiety, your adrenal glands may not produce enough cortisol – a diagnosable medical condition known as adrenal insufficiency (3). Some symptoms of adrenal insufficiency include:
- unexplained weight loss (3)
- stomach pain (3)
- chronic fatigue (3)
- muscle weakness (3)
- loss of appetite (3)
In more severe cases of adrenal insufficiency, however, you may experience:
On one hand, adrenal fatigue is currently not recognized as a medical diagnosis. As a matter of fact, only few doctors are convinced that chronic stress and adrenal insufficiency does cause adrenal fatigue (3).
However, it is a fact that adrenal fatigue interferes with your digestive function, contributes to insulin resistance, and leads to hormonal imbalances in general. Thus, adrenal fatigue is also able to lead to a belly fat buildup – one of the most difficult types of weight to eliminate, leading to more serious health problems (3).
When you are experiencing adrenal fatigue, the timing of your meals and snacks is significantly important to how you go about the day and sleep at night (1). The good news is that you can lose weight and feel positive even if you are struggling with adrenal fatigue (2). A simple adrenal fatigue diet would be just what you may need to focus on changing when you eat and what you eat (1).
What is Adrenal Fatigue Diet?
The adrenal fatigue diet is a food-based approach to improving stress on adrenal glands – which are located in the kidneys and are responsible for producing hormones that aid in regulating your body (3).
How does this help with adrenal fatigue, you ask? – Well, refined carbohydrates breaks down into sugar after ingesting them. This would then result in blood sugar spikes, followed by a steep decline in your blood sugar – a situation that does not benefit one with constant fatigue and exhaustion. The same is true for caffeinated foods and drinks as well as energy drinks, which is why you should steer clear of them (4).
On one hand, healthy fats and high-quality proteins slow down this blood sugar roller coaster and promote stable blood sugar levels throughout the day, as explained by Len Lopez, D.C., C.S.C.S, chiropractor and certified clinical nutritionist (4).
In addition, Lopez points out that consuming these macros is most important at the beginning of the day. With that, he said, “Skipping breakfast is a major no-no on the diet. Folks with adrenal fatigue need to eat something in the morning to get their blood sugar up to a healthy level after a night of it dipping.” (4).
While adrenal fatigue occurs when your adrenal glands are not functioning properly, this diet promotes (3):
- proper functionality of adrenal glands (3)
- healthy blood pressure (3)
- nutrient boost in the body (3)
- improved stress levels (3)
The adrenal fatigue diet is similar to other recommended balanced diets, which include (3):
This diet aims to increase your energy levels naturally, so you won’t need to burn stored nutrients (3).
“It’s a specific way of eating that aims to reduce the symptoms associated with adrenal fatigue, while also providing the body with the nutrients it needs to remedy the condition and help you return to a state of health. It’s a way of healing your body from the inside,” says naturopathic doctor Heather Tynan (4).
Given the limited amount of research on adrenal fatigue, the adrenal fatigue diet is still being tested. Still, it’s proven that consuming a healthy diet and adhering to a healthier lifestyle can make you feel better mentally and physically (3).
Foods to Avoid
Embarking on this adrenal-friendly diet requires limiting foods and drinks that are high in refined and processed sugar as well as unhealthy fats, helping you manage your blood sugar (3).
The adrenal fatigue diet discourages foods that are inflammatory and difficult to digest and those that can contribute to gut health problems (4). As per Lopez, “Irritation and inflammation in the gut trigger the adrenals to produce more cortisol to deal with the inflammation, which the system can’t currently handle (4).”
This entails you to avoid the following:
- Caffeinated drinks (4)
- White flour (3)
- Alcohol (3)
- Sweeteners, sugar, and artificial sweeteners (4)
- Fast foods (3)
- Refined carbohydrates and sugary foods like white bread, pastries, cereals, and candy (4)
- Lower quality red meat (4)
- Soda (3)
- Processed meats, such a salami or cold cuts (4)
- Hydrogenated oils and vegetable oils like canola, soybean, and corn oil (4)
- Fried food (3)
Although the adrenal fatigue diet appears to require cutting back on certain foods, Josh Axe, D.N.M., C.N.S., D.C., founder of Ancient Nutrition, and author of the Keto Diet and Collagen Diet, points out that the diet is more about eating more foods that make you feel good and nourished, rather than restricting (4).
In addition, it’s also equally important to time your meals. This will regulate blood sugar and support adrenal glands (3). Plus, eating healthy food at regular intervals signals your body that it is not in danger of starving to death. Since cortisol regulates blood sugar, keeping your glucose levels balanced will help lessen some stress from your adrenal glands (2).
It is also recommended to eat breakfast and eat foods regularly throughout the day, as this will maintain your energy and cortisol levels all day. Otherwise, skipping meals will just force your body to burn stored nutrients and reduce your energy levels (3).
Foods to Eat
Although sweets and caffeine may be just within our reach when seeking for a quick energy boost, these actually hold a major consequence, dropping blood sugar levels rapidly. When trying to opt for the adrenal fatigue diet, it’s important to have healthy foods on hand. This means going for macronutrient-rich foods like avocado, lean protein, garlic, ginger, fresh fruits and vegetables to help support adrenal function (2).
Having a well-balanced diet is the best way to keep your body healthy and regulate your blood sugar levels. Doctors recommend striking a balance among protein, healthy fats, and nutrient-dense carbohydrates (3).
In addition, you can also help support healthy adrenal glands by including foods high in vitamin C, B vitamins (especially B5 and B6), and magnesium to your diet (3). As per adrenal expert Shawn Talbott, PhD, the first line of defense when it comes to dietary supplementation for stress adaptation and cortisol control appears in the form of daily multivitamins or mineral support, whose benefits enhance several body functions (2).
Some foods to incorporate in your adrenal fatigue diet includes:
- Coconut, olives, avocados, grapeseed oil, and other healthy fats (3) (4)
- Cruciferous vegetables (cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, etc.) (4)
- Lean Meats (3)
- Fatty fishes (like wild-caught salmon) (4)
- Free-range chicken and turkey(4)
- Dairy (3)
- Grass-fed beef (4)
- Bone broth (4)
- Low-sugar fruits (3)
- Nuts, such as walnuts and almonds (4)
- Legumes (3)
- Seeds, chia, and flax (4)
- Sea salt (in moderation) (3)
- Kelp and seaweed (4)
- Whole grains (3)
- Celtic or Himalayan sea salt (4)
- Leafy greens and colorful vegetables (3)
- Fermented foods rich in probiotics (4)
- Chaga and cordyceps medicinal mushrooms (4)
- Eggs (3)
Nutrients You Need for Adrenal Health
Nutrient deficiencies are often linked to symptoms like fatigue, stress, weight gain, and irritability. With this, we list down the top nutrients you need for adrenal health, its importance, and which foods serve as good sources (1).
1. Vitamins C, E, and B vitamins (especially pantothenic acid and B6)
These vitamins have crucial roles in the production and action of stress hormones. You can find these vitamins in the following foods (1):
- Vitamin C: colorful vegetables, red fruits, and orange fruits (1)
- Vitamin E: hazelnuts, avocados, almonds, seeds, asparagus, and spinach
- Vitamin B6: sunflower seeds, wheat germ, Brewer’s yeast, fish (eg. Tuna, trout, salmon), beans, and liver (1)
This nutrient provides the necessary energy for your adrenals – as well as each cell in your body – to function properly. You can find these in fish, seeds, whole grains, nuts, and dark leafy vegetables. Since it’s difficult to get what you need based on the recommended daily intake, supplement your diet with +/- 500 mg every day (1).
3. Calcium and several trace minerals like manganese, zinc, selenium, and iodine
These nutrients produce calming effects in the body, aiding in the restoration of normal cortisol levels (1). You can find these nutrients in the following foods:
- Calcium: dark leafy greens, soy, and dairy foods (1)
- Zinc: sardines, beef, fresh oysters, lamb, turkey, split peas, sunflower seeds, soybeans, and whole grains (1)
- Manganese: leafy vegetables, teas, nuts, and whole grains (1)
- Selenium: halibut, tuna, Brazil nuts, beef, sunflower seeds, soybeans, organ meats, and mushrooms (1)
Foods to Boost Adrenal Function
Experts state that millions of Americans struggle with adrenal fatigue – or what they refer to as PA-Axis Dysregulation or Dysfunction (5).
If you’re in a state of constant tension and anxiety, the adrenal glands are thought to be unable to produce the necessary hormones (6). This leaves your body feeling exhausted in the day and unable to fall asleep at night. More so, you may also experience symptoms like weight gain or weight loss, hair loss, increased cravings, and difficulty recovering from illness (5).
Keeping your adrenal system in tip-top shape is of utmost importance (6). If you’re experiencing symptoms of adrenal fatigue, your diet can play a role to provide you the necessary nutrients to relieve stress, reduce inflammation, promote calm, and balance blood sugar, too (5) (6).
Note that detoxing your way out of adrenal fatigue takes time and patience, so it’s important to add these foods to your diet slowly to aid in healing your body and boosting your adrenal function (7).
Here are some specific foods that that you should be eating on a regular basis to help with healing adrenal fatigue (5):
Kefir is a fermented milk product that offers a long-lasting source of at least eight strains of B vitamins, probiotics, vitamin K2, and calcium. Due to its bacterial content, kefir is lactose-free; it may help your body break down lactose into galactose and glucose. If you are allergic to dairy, you can find water kefirs and coconut kefirs on the market. Note, however, that you won’t receive the same protein and vitamin benefits (7).
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 even protect against inflammation (6).
It is known that probiotic bacteria improve serotonin levels and can also produce GABA – a neurotransmitter that promotes relaxation and eases tension. Low GABA levels have also been linked with increased anxiety (6)
Avocado flesh contains a nutrient punch – it’s loaded with potassium, folate, omega-3 fatty acids, and fiber. According to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), individuals who consume avocados have been found to possess better nutrient intake, lower metabolic risk factors, and a better-quality diet (7).
While you consume enough protein, you may need to make sure that you are also consuming enough healthy fat to help your body heal. Contrary to popular belief, a low-fat diet is not ideal for many people, especially those who are experiencing hormonal issues like adrenal fatigue. It is known that fat and cholesterol may help your body to produce hormones (5).
Avocados contain high levels of monounsaturated fats – making them a great addition to your diet. They also contain many fiber, helping you to detox and digest food more efficiently (5).
It is recommended for you to have a delicious dose of two avocados per week (7).
3. Leafy Greens
Also known as collards, or collard greens, leafy greens are a must when you are working to heal from adrenal fatigue. It is known that trouble falling asleep at night translates to a deficiency of this important mineral (5). Some studies also link magnesium with an increased perceived stress (6).
Leafy green vegetables like spinach, kale, and Swiss chard contain healthy doses of magnesium – a nutrient whose key role is to help you relax and manage stress and anxiety in several effective ways (5) (6).
Collard greens are also a great source of folate (or vitamin B6), which is essential for the production of serotonin and other neurotransmitters that mitigate anxiety and tension. Spinach, Swiss chard, Romaine lettuce, turnip greens, and kale are also good sources of folate and magnesium (6).
Other Ways to Restore Balance to your Adrenal Glands
Sleep is a tool that allows our minds to recharge and maintain good stress levels. To improve sleep, you may need to optimize your sleep environment; make sure that your bedroom is a relaxing place to rest. To do this, you may need to reduce external noise, light, blue light (from cell phones), and uncomfortable temperatures, and get into a consistent sleep routine (8)..
2. Breathing Techniques
Breathing exercises have long been known to reduce stress and anxiety. The good news is that these exercises are not entirely time-consuming. You can start with just five minutes for each day (8).
Consistent exercise is known to significantly reduce stress. This happens as regular exercise lowers stress hormone levels and also releases endorphins, which are chemicals that improve your mood. To enjoy a stress-relief exercise, make sure that you choose an exercise that you enjoy. Some options that you may consider include: yoga, running, walking, bicycling, dancing, and swimming (8).
Points to Ponder
Starting on a diet and lifestyle changes is a great way to be less stressful (1). It’s important to take care of your body, especially in a fast-paced world that we live in today. Go easy on yourself, and start a nutritious path (1) as your entry way to self-care.
If you’re feeling symptoms of adrenal fatigue, consider our following guidelines to ensure that you effectively combat its source. Although the adrenal fatigue diet is still in debate, the main point is that, significant levels of stress calls for a nutrition and health boost with a healthy diet, proper rest, and hydration.