Eating Starches for Adrenal Health

Eating Starches for Adrenal Health (fried plantains)

It’s dark and gloomy here, and I’m in my jammies (because I’m professional like that). If you’re lucky, you are too. Let’s sit down and have a chat about one of the ‘secrets’ of my nutritional therapy practice.

One of the things I find myself repeatedly saying to people is that our energy centers need to be supported during gut healing.

But what does that mean?

So often, I hear the story that someone read a bunch of blog posts or very popular book and decided to cut starches and grains from their diet to heal a leaky gut. They are now dealing with significant – or severe – adrenal hypofunction and accompanying thyroid hypofunction.

  • cold extremities
  • inner trembling
  • increased brain fog
  • moderate to severe fatigue

are just a few of the most common symptoms of the stress to these all-important glands.

It puts massive strain on the body and can easily cause full adrenal fatigue [clinically termed hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA) dysfunction]. Pardon my phrasing but “die off” my butt. Die off is such a small part of the healing process that this one irks me…a lot.

I went into full adrenal hypofunction after attempting the GAPS Diet with my daughter, and it took me a year and a half plus becoming a holistic practitioner before I recovered.

Now, I most often recommend starting over with the full GAPS Diet using the Autoimmune Paleo food list with increased starches and adding white rice. Then tweak.

Eat what makes you feel better and stay away from the foods that make you feel ill.

It’s not exactly that simple, but it’s a great place to start.

Low Carb/Low Starch

There is a small number of the population who truly does need a low-carb and low-to-no starch approach.

That has been less than 5% of people who come to me for help.

I know the number is likely higher, but it’s still a significantly small part of the population. My husband was one of them while we reversed his diabetes, but his adrenal glands and thyroid required recovery after that healing period.

Not everyone is in a place where their bodies are able to be ‘fat burners’. Mine certainly still isn’t.

Eating Starches for Adrenal Health

My research in this area isn’t worth filling a page about. There is just as much clinical evidence that starches and carbs are bad for the body’s energy centers as I can find for it being good.

We’re all different.

Our bioindividuality is what makes it so important to review all the research and then toss it out the window and pay attention to how those suggestions affect your body.

This superfood…that superfood…the other supplement. My superfood? Fried plantains. Tostones (green). Maduros (ripe). However you like to eat them or call them.

There is no other food that makes me feel comforted and nourished like a completely ripe – black – plantain fried in coconut oil in my cast iron skillet with a heavy dose of unrefined salt. You can get the easy recipe right here.

Adrenal glands love salt and fat and starches and lots of it. I do too.

How to Add Starches to Your Diet

If you don’t have access to a big chain health food store in your area, try a Spanish, South American, Indian, or Asian “ethnic” store. Many people have them tucked away and don’t even know it.

They’re a gold mine for starchy root veggies like plantains, yuca/cassava, and taro.

If you want to increase your starches to see if it improves your body temperature and energy, I suggest going for 25% percent carbs with moderate starch intake and 50-60% healthy fats like coconut oil, olive oil, and pastured lard and tallow.

Note: this is the percentage of your caloric daily intake NOT the percentage of food. Half of your plate at every meal should not be a glob of pure fat. Ick.

I really like and for tracking macronutrient ratios (fats-proteins-carbs) and calories.

A huge, huge component of adjusting your diet is to make sure you’re getting enough calories.

Many clients come to me eating 700-1200 calories a day and wonder why they can’t heal with their recommended ‘perfect’ diet.

For someone dealing with fatigue who is of average size and not an athlete, it can take a minimum of 2000 calories per day for your body to even begin the healing process.

Eat my friends. And eat a lot.

How to Know If It’s Working

After a few weeks (or even a few days for some), your hands and feet begin to warm up again. Your resting body temperature begins to steadily climb, you start to think more clearly, many people notice less or no more aching in their joints, and the fatigue begins to disappear bit by bit.

It may only be an extra hour every couple of days at first, but that turns into a great morning a couple of times a week into a full day of relief into feeling more like your old self so you can tackle the rest of your health issues.

Best of luck and my final point of advice…

Lose the stress and stop overthinking it!


Jennifer Nervo is a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner, Reiki Master Practitioner & teacher, and Aromatherapist. Her focus is on digestive, nervous, and immune system dysfunction and the fields of functional nutrition & psychoneuroimmunology. She works with all conditions and diseases including environmental and food allergies, autoimmune diseases, multiple chemical sensitivity, diabetes, eczema, anxiety, weight loss as a symptom of dis-ease, and gut-brain disorders like autism.

When she’s not herding her small troupe of monkeys or seeing clients, her free time is packed with researching and perfecting new wellness techniques (her not-so-secret passion). Jennifer is currently a group leader for the newest class of Nutritional Therapy Practitioners out of Ann Arbor, MI, studying for the national board exam in holistic nutrition, and running a combined distance and brick and mortar practice in metro Detroit. She’s also a homeschooling suburbanite, foodie, and mama to two littles and a schnoodle.

18 thoughts on “Eating Starches for Adrenal Health”

  • Thank you! You always end up being my validation. I have tried so much to heal my digestion. All the recommended diets(SCD etc) have mostly made me worse..

    Your method of cooking bone broth, validated my own instincts and was/is still my saving grace. I am back on the broth and already feel a difference. I think I have A.F. and was already feeling I need “more”. Right now it is too much meat, baby lettuces, swt potato, avacado and squashes. If I eat sweet potato and avocado one more time for breakfast I’ll lose my mind. 😉 Grains and starches do hurt my digestion(SIBO, IBS, Fibr.) but then, so does everything I eat. My body has always needed “dry” foods(as I call them) to feel good and energized. Especially the mornings(always a bad time for me).

    I have noticed that re-introducing a food, like sweet potatoes, after weeks of slow intro, I start to feel better and the initial reaction(pain, bloating, fatigue and anxiety etc) start to get better. Although I think I always go overboard because I am hungry and tired of the very restricted,repetitive choices and end up feeling heavy and not well again. I feel like I gain ground and then get bad again.

    It is so confusing trying to know what starches are ok, how to re-intro them(how much, how often etc) for optimal success.. I think grains are important and I have been grain free for years, gluten too. I miss them both! It has helped me not get worse but has not made me better. If I eat sweet potato and avocado one more time for breakfast I’ll lose my mind. 😉 I keep instinctively feeling that if I slowly bring back in white rice, oatmeal, wheat(maybe), dried beans etc..that it would help get my energy up and digest healthy foods again. I need to break this cycle of misery and eat a variety of food again. Sorry for the length. Any suggestions wold be great! Especially a list of regular starch choices. Thanks for all you do!

  • If I eat what my body craves, it IS a lot of healthy fats, salt, and starch, but I have been gaining weight due, I suppose, to the adrenal fatigue. Is there hope that eventually my weight will come back down as I heal? I’m finding it impossible to accept the weight as an inevitable part of aging (I’m only in my mid thirties).

  • And sleep is so improved with starches! My husband has had trouble with sleep, and his perfect sleeping food is plantain waffles and bacon for dinner! (Egg free waffles – pure starch and fat – with lots of butter!) Thanks for this article, I love it! 🙂

  • “Not everyone is in a place where their bodies are able to be ‘fat burners’. Mine certainly still isn’t.”

    So are you saying that if you COULD get your body to be a fat-burner (I.e. get into ketogenesis), that that is o.k. for adrenal and thyroid function? I’d love to hear your thoughts on keto and adrenal fatigue…Is this a “safe” diet for those suffering from adrenal/thyroid issues?

  • Great article! I too feel a big difference when I don’t eat any carbs. And I also believe that everything is good in moderation (except wheat, for me at least!). The other day my husband came to the kitchen and we started talking about our diet and how I started putting a bit more sea salt in our food (after watching Dr. Browstein’s talk on iodine). Then my husband said: you were right all along: meat, butter and salt are good for you! (he’d been pseudo-vegetarian for many years, now he can’t go without meat!). It is good to know that there are more people out there that agrees that some people need more carbs than others. Thanks for sharing this!

  • This is great info! I am on a low to no starches diet but have wondered about it. I did recently end up adding in a little bit of plantain and some sweet potatoes. What do you think about adding grains or properly cooked beans while doing gut healing, or afterwards? Some places I read that you shouldn’t even have either of them, but I really wonder about it.


  • We think alot alike. Your philosophy on nutrition seems to match what I have found to help me. I am still learning and healing, but I am doing great!! Your articles are well written and thought out. Thank you for teaching information that is really going to help others. It has already helped me. (You answered a question for me on another thread).

  • The more I read in the “Natural Community” about nutrition the more confused I got. One person is praising X while another is condemning it. Of course, both provide stats and studies to back their articles. Its exhausting for a mother of many littles who’s trying to do the best for her family…But the one thing that has remains consistent and seems to work the best for me is when I just eat whole, organic foods, grains/fats/and all! and just listen to my body. I feel like i do extremely well on moderate protein and fats, but I quickly realized when going full paleo that I NEED grains. People tried telling me otherwise, but I was literally falling asleep an hour after breakfast! I felt like a zombie. My breathing felt shallow, I was struggling with depression, and I had zero motivation. But simply adding soaked grains back into my diet the difference was almost night and day! Thank you for encouraging people to pursue health but reminding them not to let their brain drown out the sound of the body! <3

  • I am still struggling heartily with systemic yeast. Is that a situation (like diabetes) in which starches or FODMAPs are limited for a time? I know my adrenals are still needing healing as well and want to try adding more starches but not if it will exacerbate the yeast. I’ve been on the AIP for four weeks now. Improvements have been minor, but real.

    • It depends on the person. A candida overgrowth is often a sign of heavy metal toxification, because the body uses the candida to sequester it. You’ll be able to tell if you feel better on a low-carb or a higher starch diet (15-25% calories from carbs/starches to start).

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  • Thanks for all the helpful info. It supports what I’m been feeling and experiencing as I search for answers. There is no one size fits all. I and my body love both carbs and salt.

    I just discovered resistant starch(RS), which not only lowers the glycemic index, but is great for the digestion. It feeds the good bacteria in the colon. RS is plentiful in cooked and cooled white rice, beans, red and white potatoes, plantains and pasta. Sweet potatoes have very little RS. These carbs must be COLD. The cold changes the chemistry. So it’s cook and chill overnight.

    Once they’re cold, you can eat the carb, or reheat, pan fry, etc. without affecting the RS. Ex. You can make cold potato salad and if you use olive oil and vinegar as a dressing, it’s even better. Any time you add vinegar or lime, or lemon juice to a carb you lower the glycemic index about 30%. It’s the acid.

    And I just discovered plantains. Lots of nutrients and fiber, and RS. So I wash them, cut off ends, cut them in half and put them in boiling salted water and simmer 30-40 min. Then I drain, put them in a covered bowl to cool overnight. Then I peel, slice them thin and fry in coconut oil. My taste buds and tummy are really liking this. Important to drink lots of water.

  • I am nursing my baby who has had severe eczema since 2 1/2 months. She is now 14 months. We started doing the GAPS diet 3 weeks ago and at first I thought it was just die-off. Now however I lack energy, motivation, I just feel tired and weak a lot of the time and really think that my body needs these carbs. I don’t know whether to wean her and have her continue on GAPS or to just add back some carbs/grains (not gluten) and hope t doesn’t make her revert as I have seen an improvement in her nighttime itching. What are your thoughts on this? Very interesting article!

    • I think most children need starches in their diet, so keep an eye out to make sure she doesn’t show any signs of adrenal stress on GAPS. Your breast milk is unique in it’s nutrition and isn’t directly reflective of what you eat. The starches won’t get passed on to her. With her eczema, I would be cautious of eggs, nuts, and seeds with GAPS. I find that most people who follow me do much better with the Autoimmune Paleo food list.

      Breast milk, wet wraps, and my DIY healing skin balm are both wonderful for eczema. My daughter had it too.

      Best of luck mama!

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