Adrenal Fatigue Diet: Eating for Adrenal Health

By: Dorine Lam, RDN, MS, MPH

A normal diet and an adrenal fatigue diet differ in many waysThose suffering with adrenal fatigue are painfully aware that there are limits to what their body can handle. With adrenal function compromised, their bodies cannot handle the same level of stress as a healthier individual could. This affects everything from exercise capacity to their daily routine and even dietary tolerances. With respect to diet, adrenal fatigue sufferers attempting to achieve recovery need to follow an adrenal fatigue diet that has some key differences compared to a normal diet.

Adrenal Fatigue Diet vs. Normal Diet

Let?s first make a distinction that the typical modern diet tends to contain a lot of refined sugars and carbohydrates, high fructose corn syrup, and preservatives; versus a healthy diet with high quality nutrition from healthy ingredients, low in artificial sweeteners and without preservatives. It should be clear that those on an adrenal recovery program should already be trying to eat as healthy a diet as possible. In this article we?ll be exploring some of the key differentiating factors that set the adrenal fatigue diet apart from even a healthy diet that would contain fruits, vegetables, whole grains, proteins and essential fatty acids.

1. Avoid Potassium

Bananas, dates, oranges, raisins and dried figs; what do these fruits have in common? They all contain high amounts of potassium, which is something you want to avoid in adrenal fatigue. Potassium in the body is balanced out by sodium, and these two nutrients need to be in balance for a healthy physiology.

In adrenal fatigue, the weak function of the adrenal glands leads to a lower production of aldosterone. Aldosterone regulates fluid in our body by signalling the kidneys to retain sodium; but when aldosterone levels are low, sodium is lost from the body, leaving less to balance out potassium. In this situation, eating foods with high potassium content will cause an even greater imbalance, so definitely watch your potassium intake. This also leads us into number 2:

2. Consume Salt

To help with sodium and potassium imbalances the adrenal fatigue diet contains more salt than most normal dietsToday, conventional wisdom about healthy diets tell us to decrease our salt intake because it can raise blood pressure. However, in the case of adrenal fatigue, we want to take in more sodium for the reason that we want to balance out the sodium-potassium ratio. It?s okay to salt your food a bit more liberally, or if you don?t like too much salt in your meal, add some salt to a bottle of water that you sip from throughout the day.

3. Avoid Fruits and Grains for Breakfast

In the social consciousness, whole or multi-grain toast and orange juice are often associated with a healthy breakfast. In a constitutionally healthy body, they help provide some quick energy via carbohydrates and sugar to get the day started quickly. Unfortunately, adrenal fatigue compromises the body?s ability to handle these refined sugars and carbs that require quick processing. Instead of getting a kick of energy that tapers into your daily rhythm, you?re just as likely to spike your blood sugar, then experience a drop, and potentially even crash the adrenals. For advanced cases of adrenal fatigue, the body may not even be able to tolerate whole fruits. Speaking of foods that are too stimulating:

4. Avoid Caffeine

This one should be easy to understand. There?s already been a lot of research done with respect to caffeine, and popular opinion is catching on the fact that caffeine is addictive and bad for you in the long run. But what about those days when you just need a quick pickup or boost for your mental acuity? After all, some research even suggests that coffee has some positive health effects too. Surely a cup of coffee once a week or so won?t hurt.

It probably doesn?t surprise you that caffeine can also trigger a crash because, like sugar, it pushes the body into an energy expenditure mode it can?t sustain. There?s no room for error when recovering from adrenal fatigue, as any crash can become a serious setback and retard your recovery.

5. Be Aware of Reactions to Food

One relatively subtle symptom of adrenal fatigue is the development of food allergies and sensitivities. These are not typical allergies in the sense that they are not instantaneous effects. You will not stop breathing or go into anaphylactic shock. However, the body does react internally and you will start to feel more tiredness and fatigue, and may even droop into a crash. Dairy and gluten are common sensitivities that develop; however, depending on the unique physiology of your body, you may or may not experience these sensitivities and will likely run into others. Be vigilant of your adrenal fatigue diet and mix up your meals with variety so you can tell if something is dragging you down.

6. Avoid Preservatives and Chemicals

A well balanced adrenal fatigue diet should avoid as many preservatives and chemicals as possibleIt?s quite well known that the preservatives and other synthetic compounds introduced in the modern food industry have many detrimental and downright dangerous effects on the body. Anyone serious about their health makes it a point to stay away from processed foods whenever possible.

This is even more key for those trying to recover from adrenal fatigue; and the reason is these compounds can have an immediate and profound negative effect on the body. The liver, already compromised by adrenal fatigue, has enough to deal with in the day-to-day course of events; an additional load of metabolic byproducts such as from preservative laden foods can stress the liver, stress the body, and – I think you can see where I?m going with this – may lead to a crash.

So, some of these adrenal fatigue diet principles are applicable to eating healthy in general, but the reasoning behind these in particular is rooted in the physiology of adrenal fatigue. In order to recover successfully from adrenal fatigue, you must minimize stress on the body, and that includes what you put in your mouth.

Adrenal fatigue diet


  • helen thomas says:

    I have low blood volume and sometimes wrinkly finger tips which appear to relate to electrolyte imbalance. For a while added salt to my water was great, then I got out of the habit. When I reintroduced salt it didn’t seem to help any more and may even have made things worse. Sometime after I started to eat a lot of canteloupe melon, high in potassium (half for breakfast). At the same time I was using DHEA cream so I can’t be sure if one or both (melon and DHEA) but I was feeling great at this time. For the past 2 – 3 months my hair is falling out more than usual. I stopped the DHEA cream about 6 weeks ago but it’s still falling out. Could it be that some people need potassium rather than sodium? Is it best to experiment with say eating melon and see how you respond rather than rely on tests for electrolytes? Thank you.

    • Dr.Lam says:

      Hair loss is a common side effect of DHEA. IF the damage or imbalance is deep, then hairloss tend to continue. Potassium / sodium balance issues are complex and cannot be dealt with without deep understanding of the body’s circumstances in real time as it is quite convoluted, involving many parts. Melons are also high in sugar so you have to be careful as it can trigger metabolic imbalances if you have underlying unresolved issues or weakness. Low blood volume is often sub clinical.

      Dr Lam

  • jen says:

    daily juicing by your nutritionist????? That’s a no no because with adrenal problems you need to prevent sugar spikes and juices will cause that. I am with the expert Dr Lam on this one and totally disagree with what your naturopathic doc advised

  • Jerilynn Lioi says:

    I disagree with the notion that you should avoid potassium and ingest more salt. My naturopathic doc told me just the opposite. I went to see her after a year of misery she quickly realized my adrenals were exhausted and put me on a path to get better. Among the many things she suggested, taking iodine was at the top of the list. After that, a dietary plan to increase my raw foods consumption, daily juicing–with liquid potassium added, reduction of salt intake, balance of my supplements, mild exercise, enough rest, etc, I think it’s perhaps not wise to assume that everyone with adrenal exhaustion is low in salt. I was a salt lover and ate a lot of it. Even though I was drinking 8 glasses of water everyday, I had too much salt in my system and my cells were overloaded with it.

    • Dr.Lam says:

      There is a lot of individual variability in AFS, and that is why professional guidance is recommended. Generally speaking, the majority are sodium deficient, but it is not a iron clad rule. one should not avoid potassium but maintain a good potassium and sodium balance. Your situation is the exception rather than the norm, but certainly valid and well put forth. thanks. If your situation is readily resolved by iodine supplementation and potassium, then you thyroid component may be more dominant than the adrenals as that is the usual presentation in such as case.

      Dr Lam