“Let food be thy medicine” – Hippocrates
While there are lots of great supplements you can take for adrenal fatigue, it’s always best to start with the basics. “The basics” include getting plenty of sleep, minimizing stress, and of course, eating right.
Stabilize Your Blood Sugar
Quick recap: your adrenals produce several hormones, but the most important one is cortisol. Your cortisol levels should be highest in the morning when you wake up, and then decline throughout the day until melatonin takes over at night, so you can sleep. In times of high stress (i.e. a burst of adrenaline), your adrenals have to compensate with an extra pulse of cortisol, too. That’s where adrenal fatigue comes in: eventually if the adrenals are called upon to make more cortisol than they can handle, they get tired and they just don’t wanna anymore. That’s when you get midday crashes in energy.
The thing is, though, “stress” can be anything. For instance, low blood sugar can be a stressor, not so much in the sense that it triggers a burst of adrenaline, but because stabilizing blood sugar between meals is one of cortisol’s jobs (it mobilizes stored sugar from the liver). Therefore, the best way to tailor the healthy eating rules to your adrenals is to eat frequent small meals, so that your adrenals don’t have to stabilize your blood sugar for you. For most people this means three square meals, plus three healthy snacks between meals.
Eat a High Protein Breakfast
Unfortunately, “breakfast foods” in the Western world are almost entirely carbs, and often simple carbs at that. Why this is a problem: simple carbs hit your bloodstream as glucose pretty much as soon as you ingest them, and even slightly more complex carbs (like fruit) won’t take too long if they’re consumed by themselves. Simple carbs alone first thing in the morning therefore set you up for a blood sugar spike and subsequent crash. Even worse, no breakfast at all puts you into a hypoglycemic state, making it difficult to concentrate (as your brain runs on glucose) and putting your body into “starvation mode”—i.e. calorie-hoarding—for the rest of the day. Also, skipping breakfast makes it more likely that your hypoglycemia will drive you to high-sugar, low-nutrient foods to ease your hunger pangs. If you’re trying to lose weight, skipping breakfast is a bad plan.
Protein and fat are the macronutrients that slow the release of sugar into your bloodstream, keeping blood sugar stable, encouraging a higher metabolic rate, and making you feel full longer. That’s why it’s important to eat breakfast, and eat one with a decent amount of healthy protein, healthy fat, or both.
So what are some high protein foods you can consume at breakfast? The most important rule, I think, is to just let go of the idea of “breakfast foods,” because very few of them are healthy. Skip the white bagel and cream cheese, and instead have a leftover meat and veggie from the night before. If you’re unwilling to do this, a smoothie with protein powder (no added sweetener, ideally) is a good choice, especially if you put a handful of greens in there, and use water as the liquid base instead of high-sugar juice. Other good options:
- Whole grain toast (I like Ezekiel bread) topped with no-sugar-added nut butter; or melted organic cheese and avocado and tomato, topped with sea salt and ground pepper
- Steel-cut oats (cook them on the stovetop!) with chopped nuts, cinnamon, vanilla, nutmeg, and no-sugar-added dried fruit (or some frozen berries)
- Free-range eggs with sautéed veggies and fresh herbs
- Nitrate-free bacon or sausage (I like hot Italian) and Ezekiel toast with organic butter
- Greek yogurt (no sugar added, no fruit pre-added for you, because there’s always sugar in this) and fresh fruit you cut up yourself. Maybe top with some whole grain granola.
No time for breakfast? Consider that it takes 15 minutes tops to make and eat a healthy meal before you run out the door. If you go to bed 15 minutes earlier, you can wake up 15 minutes earlier, and make this a priority.
The Basics of Healthy Eating
The rest of the day, make sure you’re following the basic rules of thumb of healthy eating for all of your meals, snacks included. Here they are:
- Choose foods that will spoil, and eat them before they do. Foods without a lot of preservatives most likely haven’t been processed very much.
- If you must choose something that has been pre-packaged, read labels. If there are any added sugars, High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS), partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs), or ingredients you don’t recognize on the list, don’t eat it.
- Eat a rainbow. Get as many naturally occurring colors in there as you can. This will most likely cause you to consume the daily recommended servings of fruits and vegetables without even trying.
- Have some protein with every meal, including every snack. This will help to keep blood sugar stable. Protein doesn’t necessarily mean meat; there are lots of forms, including beans, soy, yogurt, cheese, nuts, quinoa, etc. When you do choose animal-based proteins, go for organic if you can (WAY less toxic). When you can’t, choose mostly plant-based proteins. On that note…
- If organic food is available and affordable, buy it. Organic animal products are produced from animals fed a natural diet, and therefore the products they produce contain the proper, anti-inflammatory balance of fats (higher omega 3 and lower omega 6). Additionally, organic foods in general are prepared without the use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, or preservatives. For a list of those fruits and veggies that should be purchased organically (the “Dirty Dozen”) and those for which organic is less important (the “Clean 15”), see this list by the Environmental Working Group.
- Drink at least half your body weight in ounces of water every day. If you have a choice, make sure you water is also as free from contaminants as you can get.
Do this, and you’ll provide tired adrenals the best chance of recovery, which will set your body up to heal itself from anything else you have going on, too.
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