Many of us are flooding our bodies with cortisol and adrenaline on a daily basis. Life in fight-or-flight is prevalent given the large amount of work hours and expectations we place on ourselves. Luckily, most of us are sure of this: practicing self-love can help. What if I told you your next transformational act of self love could come in the form of eating small healthy meals called adrenal snacks throughout the day?
Adrenal Snacks: When to Eat Them and Why
Adrenal fatigue is plaguing the world. When our bodies are over-exposed to stress, our adrenals are taxed and symptoms such as weakness, lethargy, loss of interest, depression, irritability, and so on can arise. But adrenal fatigue isn’t exactly what most experts think it is. According to the New York Times Best Selling Author, Anthony William, “the notion that ‘burned out’ adrenals simply stop producing the full amount of hormones needed is inaccurate. What really happens is that exhausted adrenals produce either too little or too much hormone. In both cases, the negative health effects are profound. For example, excess adrenaline can deplete your brain of important neurochemicals, leaving you feeling depressed. Excess cortisol can put extreme burden on your liver, central nervous system and brain. Too little cortisol can wreak its own havoc, and negatively affect thyroid function.”
Food is here to help, along with a specific way of eating it: consuming it more frequently. I’m not talking about grabbing a bag of chips or eating a granola bar to ease cravings and give in to bad habits. When adrenal snacking, whole fruits and vegetables are eaten in specific combinations as well as frequently to help the body cope with stress while protecting adrenal function.
According to Harvard Mental Health Letter, “once ingested, fat- and sugar-filled foods seem to have a feedback effect that dampens stress related responses and emotions. These foods really are “comfort” foods in that they seem to counteract stress — and this may contribute to people’s stress-induced craving for those foods.”
But many of us turn to unhealthy comfort foods. These foods aren’t the foods our bodies need to truly heal. In moments of stress, our bodies crave sugars for a reason, as well as fats and salty foods. Our bodies are calling out for replenishment. Instead of hindering our bodies further by packing in the pastries, chips, and other unhealthy fats and carbs, we should turn to good fats, complex carbs, fruits and vegetables to heal our stress both short and long term. By eating adrenal snacks frequently, we stop our blood sugar from dropping too low which, according to Anthony William, can prevent high cortisol levels.
Why Does the Body Crave What It Craves?
Under stress, our bodies want fuel, usually in the form of sweets, fats, and salts. Harvard Mental Health Letter goes on to mentions how “stress seems to affect food preferences. Numerous studies — granted, many of them in animals — have shown that physical or emotional distress increases the intake of food high in fat, sugar, or both. High cortisol levels, in combination with high insulin levels, may be responsible.”
Again, it’s easy to get our hands on the wrong types of sugars, salts, and fats that make our anxiety worse long-term. Our psychological systems register when we turn to candy bars and cheese puffs to satisfy cravings and in turn, we’ll crave those things more and more.
What our bodies are actually craving and needing are the sugars and salts from whole food sources such as fruits and vegetables. A shift occurs in our microbiomes when we eat more of these amazing foods. We support beneficial gut bacteria that crave healthy eating.
According to Scientific American, “scientists have known for decades that what we eat can change the balance of microbes in our digestive tracts. Choosing between a BLT sandwich or a yogurt parfait for lunch can increase the populations of some types of bacteria and diminish others—and as their relative numbers change, they secrete different substances, activate different genes and absorb different nutrients.”
Many fruits and vegetables are prebiotic in nature meaning they help beneficial bacteria thrive, and once they do, we no longer consider the chip aisle or the donut shop down the street! Not only will having more beneficial gut bacteria help us crave healthier foods, but Scientific American also writes that “gut microbes have also been shown to influence diet and behavior as well as anxiety, depression, hypertension and a variety of other conditions.”
So by adrenal snacking on fruits and vegetables, we improve our mental health by supporting our adrenals, balancing blood sugar, providing healing sugars, fats, and salts, AND by supporting generous gut bacteria that help us thrive in stressful environments.
Examples of Adrenal Snacks
Good adrenal snacks will consist of foods that contain potassium, sodium, and natural sugar. This wonderful combination helps stabilize blood sugar levels which lessens the release of cortisol and adrenaline especially when eaten frequently as mentioned before. Here are a few combinations I suggest trying:
- Celery sticks and apple slices dipped in almond butter
- Cucumber slices with avocado and lime juice on top
- Carrot sticks dipped in guacamole (made from avocado, onion, sea salt, tomato, cilantro, lime juice, and optional cayenne pepper)
- A handful of trail mix (pumpkin seeds, walnuts, raisins, pecans, dried cherries etc.)
- Fruit and veggie salad (made from chopped lettuce, pears, chopped apples, chopped carrot and a dressing made from avocado, raw honey, lemon, tahini, garlic, fresh herbs, and olive oil)
At first, some of these snack ideas might come off as boring or bland, but they are actually quite satisfying. The more they’re eaten, the more they’re craved. Quite simply, you’ll feel the benefits of the foods and will eventually find them more satisfying. This book is a good resource on how to make more of these snacks and meals.
Adrenal Snacking Tips
Foremost, preparation is key. Work all day? Be sure to pack 3-5 of the adrenal snacks to bring with you. Luckily they’re quick to make! Also, be sure to mix up the snacks you eat every day for optimal benefits and enjoyment!
Another good tip is to add in small cooked meals rather than or in combination with the raw, mini snacks I listed above. These mini-meals can include cooked, starchy vegetables such as potato, sweet potato, carrots, and parsnips, as well as beans, lentils, hearty grains, and winter squashes. Here are some examples of these mini meals you can prepare.
- 1 medium, roasted sweet potato with a side of lettuce and whole, additive-free hummus
- 1 cup of spaghetti squash combined with 1 cup cooked lentils. Make a pesto by food processing parsley and/or basil, walnuts, lemon, garlic, olive oil and raw honey. Fiddle with ratios until you get the taste and texture you enjoy!
- 1 cup cooked whole grain like brown rice or quinoa with a side of Waldorf salad (walnuts, celery, apples, and raisins). Instead of using mayo in the salad, try making a sauce by blending avocado, cashews, lemon, garlic, lemon, and a bit of water. Again, toy with ratios until you get your desired taste and texture.
Overall, eating only three meals a day can be taxing on the body when we’re feeling run down by busy schedules and high cortisol levels. Our bodies need consistent support in the form of rejuvenating foods to remain balanced. Eating smaller meals consisting of healthy sugars, fats, and salts 5 to 6 times a day will help balance blood sugar and lower cortisol levels. Our adrenals will thank us!