Tiredness is the most common health problem seen in general practice and one in five complain about lacking energy. Further research has shown that a worryingly 90% of us feel tired on a daily basis.
Tiredness and fatigue can lessen our motivation to lead a healthy life which includes diet and the food choices we make. Addressing the topic of food choice can help to boost your energy levels and a good place to start is by considering some simple food swaps.
We are hard-wired to feel sleepy in the afternoon as our core body temperature drops triggering the release of melatonin (the sleep hormone) which is a normal part of the body’s circadian rhythm. If you haven’t slept well then you may feel the effect of this more intensely. What you choose to eat for lunch could help, as research from Cambridge University has shown how sugar (glucose) inhibits the activity of orexin cells, which are responsible for producing hormones that keep us feeling alert and awake. Foods high in processed carbohydrates can have this effect so switch to proteins for lunch. The same research showed that protein stimulates orexin cells and prevents glucose from inhibiting them.
Sugary breakfast cereals don’t keep you feeling full for very long as they are broken down quickly in the body which may leave you hungry and lacking energy by mid-morning. Even those that may seem healthy such as bran flakes and Special K are actually quite high in sugar. Porridge is not only low in sugar but high in protein and fibre which help to regulate blood glucose levels and keeping you energised and feeling fuller for longer.
Processed carbohydrates foods such as white bread and pasta are rapidly broken down in the body which can lead to blood sugar imbalances that result in energy slumps and hunger shortly after eating. You can lessen the impact on blood glucose levels by serving these foods with sauces and topping rich in protein and healthy fats. Another approach is to opt for brown varieties which are much higher in fibre and offer a more sustained release of energy.
Snacking has become ingrained in the way we eat these days and there is nothing wrong with that as long as you choose foods that are both nutritious and satiating. Sugary snacks not only lead to blood sugar imbalances but have a low nutrient density. Opting for nuts and seeds has less impact on blood sugar levels and also helps you to glean key nutrients to support your health, such as omega 3 fatty acids and magnesium, which is used in the body to convert food into energy.
There is nothing wrong with salad but opting instead for a dark green leafy vegetable such as kale, cabbage and spinach can help to boost your intake of key minerals associated with energy. These foods are rich in iron which is lacking in the diet of many women (27%) and low levels can lead to tiredness, fatigue and low mood. This variety of vegetable are also rich in vitamin B6 and magnesium which are both required by the body for the conversion of food into energy.
It’s important to look after your gut as amongst other things this is where food is broken down and nutrients are absorbed for delivery around the body. Poor digestion is a common complaint especially constipation which can leave you feeling bloated and sluggish. Research has suggested that probiotics and especially strains of Bifidobacterium may help to alleviate constipation. Most of this research has involved supplements – try Healthspan Super 20 Pro 60 capsules £17.95 – over probiotic foods but this is no reason why you shouldn’t make them part of your daily routine to support the health of your gut.
Using beans, pulses and lentils in place of some of the meat in dishes can help to add fibre to your diet if you suffer with sluggish digestion. These foods can also help to boost your intake of magnesium and B vitamins used for energy metabolism in the body. Stress can zap you of energy and also causes the body to excrete more magnesium, so this is a good way to keep your levels topped up.
Coffee contains caffeine which is a natural stimulant that helps to increase alertness. There is nothing better than that first coffee of the day to help wake you up and energise you for the day ahead. Too much caffeine can leave you feeling anxious and jittery as well as impacting on sleep quality which will impact on daytime energy levels. Find other ways to stimulate the senses such as switching to herbal teas containing lemon or ginger.
All of us have experienced low energy levels at some point. Diet plays a role and making simple food swaps could be the key to living a more energised life.
Photo credits: Celina Alberton and Ella Olsson – Unsplash