Food as Fuel: The Right Way to Approach Diet – Part 2

By: Michael Lam, MD, MPH; Justin Lam, ABAAHP, FMNM; Carrie Lam, MD


Read Part 1

Once you know the fad diet myths to avoid, you can adjust your focus towards developing a diet that works for you. These principles can guide you in figuring out how to use food as fuel for life and developing a healthy diet that feels good for your body and that you can keep up for the long haul.

The Food as Fuel Principles

Principle #1 – Do Whatever Is Easiest To Keep Up

It is true that you get the most nutrition if you:

How eating Food as fuel can be healthy

  • Cook your food fresh every meal
  • Locally source your ingredients
  • Always use organic ingredients
  • Always use farm-raised animal protein
  • Always use seasonal fruits and veggies
  • Always eat whole-food
  • Never reheat
  • Never use food in plastic containers or cans
  • Never microwave
  • Measure every meal
  • Make sure you always eat specific amounts of this or that at every meal

However, it is also impossible.

Although this would make the nutrition police happy, most of us don’t have the time or energy to tick all of these boxes on a daily basis, or the money to hire a full-time cook who will.

So, the first principle of using food as fuel and medicine is to make whatever changes are the easiest for you to keep up. If that involves buying organic and seasonal but cooking in batches, then that’s what is good for you. Or if you love cooking every meal but want to use frozen or canned veggies so you don’t spend hours in the kitchen, then that’s what’s best for you.

If you have AFS, you’ll want to follow the adrenal fatigue diet as much as possible, and although it is quite a change from a Standard American Diet, you can make these changes gradually so you don’t overwhelm yourself.

The rules of thumb for using food as fuel for adrenal fatigue recovery are:

  1. Having around 30-40% of your diet composed of vegetables (half raw, half cooked)
  2. Another 20-30% should be from animal protein
  3. Another 20-30% should be from healthy fats, like nuts and seeds
  4. Another 10-20% should come from legumes and beans
  5. Another 10-20% should be whole grains
  6. And finally, 10-15% should be whole fruits

Principle #2 – Address What’s Important First

The second principle of using food as fuel is: if you have a specific health condition that requires special dietary changes, then those are the changes you need to make first. For example, if you are gluten intolerant, cutting out gluten is more important than focusing on weight loss. Even if you end up eating gluten-free products that are not the healthiest, this is still an improvement.

If you have AFS, one of the most important first steps is to ensure you have frequent and regular meal times. That means eating soon after waking up, always before 10 a.m., and eating every three to four hours. Optimally, your breakfast should be between 6:00 to 8:00 a.m., a snack at 10:00 a.m., lunch at 12:00 p.m., a snack at 3:00 p.m., dinner between 5:00 to 6:00 p.m., then a small snack (such as nuts) before bed.

This helps regulate your blood sugar levels and gives you the energy needed to recover. The adrenal fatigue diet is using food as fuel in the most basic way. It is keeping a steady stream of fuel in your body so that your adrenals don’t sense any kind of stress from irregular blood sugar levels or periods of hunger.

Once you have addressed the most important thing first, and it has become a habit for you, you can follow the next principle and take on another change.

Principle #3 – Feed The Good Bacteria, Starve The Bad Bacteria

Nine out of 10 of the cells of your body are non-human. They are mostly the cells of bacteria and viruses that live and work with the rest of your body. In a healthy individual, these different cells are in harmony, and your body acts as a good host while it receives the benefits these microbes give.

But it’s good to remember that the balance between the healthy bacteria and the unhealthy bacteria in the body is quite delicate. One of the main jobs of healthy bacteria is to keep the unhealthy bacteria in check so they don’t spread and cause the host – you – harm.

Your gut is where a large population of these microbes lives. These microbes actually help you digest and absorb your food, and protect you from invaders. But what happens when you eat certain types of food is that this microbiome in the gut gets negatively affected.

Excess sugar and Food as fuelExcess sugar, for example, feeds the bad bacteria and they begin to grow beyond controllable numbers. This puts your microbiome out of balance and increases your risk for problems such as candida, leaky gut syndrome, inflammation, and even depression. Alcohol, drugs, antibiotics, chemicals, toxins, and unhealthy fats can also weaken the good bacteria. This emboldens the bad bacteria to take over.

Although your gut and microbiome are quite sturdy, over time, if they are not taken care of, there will be dysbiosis and imbalance, and this is one of the major causes of inflammation and consequently leads to other chronic inflammatory conditions.

And, as we’ve mentioned, AFS and the dysregulation of the NEM stress response can be a direct result of dysbiosis and inflammation in the gut. That is why the adrenal fatigue diet is anti-inflammatory and is very supportive of the microbiome. But, whether you have AFS or not, from now on, try to take into consideration your microbiome when you plan your meals. Use food as fuel not just for you, but also for your guests! Be a good host.

Principle #4 – Harness The Power of Fiber

Most Americans eat a low-fiber diet. There is virtually no condition that a low-fiber diet is good for and so it makes absolutely no sense to neglect your fiber intake. If you eat a western diet, you need to increase the amount of fiber you eat, especially resistant fiber.

One you understand the benefits of a high-fiber diet, you won’t need much more motivation. Getting enough fiber:

  • Lowers “bad” cholesterol levels in the blood
  • Lowers blood pressure and inflammation
  • Stabilizes blood sugar levels as it helps slow down the absorption of sugar
  • Helps you lose weight as it is less calorie-dense yet very filling
  • More filling and helps keep you satiated for longer
  • Encourages bowel movements so helps with constipation as well as with hemorrhoids and diverticulosis
  • Keeps the colon clean and healthy, thereby decreasing the risk of colon cancer and other diseases of the colon

You want to eat both soluble fiber and insoluble fiber. Soluble fiber helps retain water and softens the stools. Sources of soluble fiber include beans, nuts, seeds, peas, lentils, and oat bran, as well as certain fruits and vegetables.

Insoluble fiber helps bulk up stools and makes the food pass more smoothly and quickly through the digestive tract, which can help keep the pipes clean. Some types of food, such as animal protein, can begin to rot in the digestive tract, so they need to move along faster. Eating them alongside foods that contain insoluble fiber is a good solution. Sources of insoluble fiber include wheat bran, whole grains, and vegetables.

Some people with advanced AFS experience constipation, as their systems are running a little slower due to the need to conserve energy and the fatigue that permeates the entire body. And as the food passes more slowly through the weakened system, toxins and metabolic by-products build up. This can overload the NEM’s detoxification response, which can add to inflammation even more.

So it is imperative that if you have AFS, you do your best to avoid chronic constipation. Following the adrenal fatigue diet can help a lot with that.

Principle #5 – Eat as Whole and Natural as Possible

Organic Food as fuelThe last principle of using food as fuel is to eat as whole and natural as possible. This means eating grains, fruits, and vegetables in their whole form, and organic whenever you can. Eggs should come from free-range chickens, dairy products should be mostly raw, beef should be grass-fed, and cooking methods should use as little oil as possible. Lightly steaming is one of the healthiest ways to cook your vegetables.

Processed foods, especially highly-processed carbohydrates like white bread, refined pasta, sweets, white sugar, and white rice, should be avoided as much as possible.

This may seem excessive at first, but it’s not an all-or-nothing principle. The more whole, organic, and natural you eat, the better. So if at the moment you rarely eat whole and organic, start by replacing one of the foods you eat most frequently with its whole and organic form – for example, switch from white rice to brown rice.

This one simple change will have a huge impact on your health. Your digestion will improve, your blood sugar levels will be more stable, your gut’s microbiome will balance, and you will feel fuller for longer.

Just keep in mind that it usually takes about a month or so for most people to adjust their taste buds. So, be patient, keep at it, and make one change at a time. And if you’re worried about the expenses, there are two things to consider:

  1. By spending more on disease prevention, you save a lot later down the line on medical care. Eating healthy is one of the best long-term investments you can make, and it will save you not only money, but worry, energy, and physical discomfort too.
  2. If you cut out some of the unhealthy foods you’re spending a lot of money on, such as sweets, sodas, or junk food, you’ll have more money to spend on healthy foods.

With adrenal fatigue, the quality of the food you eat is very important for recovery. If your body has to process bad foods and detoxify your system constantly from herbicides, pesticides, excess sugar, antibiotics, hormones, and other unnatural additives, this adds stress to your body. One of the goals of the adrenal fatigue diet is to relieve your adrenal glands from this stress, and then support them with the nutrients and energy they need.

What About Supplements?

Supplements and food as fuelYou might now be wondering about how supplements fit in with this kind of eating plan. When you use food as fuel, supplements can help fill nutritional holes in your diet, or they can be taken in therapeutic doses as an extra boost to help overcome a certain condition.

But, ideally, in the long-term, if you eat a well-rounded diet that suits your individual requirements, your need for many different supplements will decrease, and you may end up only needing a multivitamin and one or two other supplements.

If all of this seems a little overwhelming, just take it slowly, and apply one principle at a time. Get support from a nutritionist when you need it. The rewards you will reap later on will be worth every effort you make and every penny you invest.

Read Part 1

© Copyright 2019 Michael Lam, M.D. All Rights Reserved.


Food as fuel