It may seem a little strange that food can actually deplete our energy, in a way. Calories equal energy, right? Yes—that much is technically true. But certain nutrients or processed foods can actually require way more energy for our bodies to break down than they are giving us, causing us to feel either an immediate heavy slump (like a cheeseburger on your lunch break) or leaving us starving and not our most functional a mere hour later.
Who better to know how food affects us than those who make it their business to know? Clinical nutritionist, Cassie Brown, MS, CHHP, let us know how to detect those major food groups to avoid when we need to stay alert and high functioning.
Both refined carbs and hidden sugar in “health foods” that have little to no fiber content aren’t doing us any favors, Brown tells us. So what exactly do we look out for?
“White pastas, breads, crackers, candy, juices, granola, etc. I’ve seen clients’ blood sugar spiking dramatically after eating oatmeal, juices, and other foods marketed as ‘healthy,’ then they’re slumped and exhausted an hour later. Foods like oatmeal and rice can absolutely be healthy but can affect everyone differently.”
That being said, oatmeal is a great source of fiber and other nutrients, just be sure not to buy those instant packets full of sugar and flavorings. Make your own at home, and add some protein like nut butter or a hard-boiled egg on the side to control blood sugar and nutrient absorption, making sure you stay fuller longer.
“Alcohol is actually a depressant, which is why it makes you feel calm and sleepy. Alcohol has been shown to affect our circadian rhythm by decreasing the important(!) REM stage of sleep. Studies have concluded that increased inability to get into quality REM sleep is associated with increased levels of anxiety and depression—which can be exhausting!”
Brown makes sure to note that this is really from overconsumption of alcohol. A nice glass or two of wine with a fantastic dinner or to celebrate isn’t going to hurt us—we’ve gotta live! But making it a habit to consume more than two drinks regularly (like, five-plus times a week, regularly) is a bit of a problem.
Overconsumption of caffeine/coffee
“Caffeine actually blocks the hormone adenosine that makes us sleepy. So when the caffeine wears off and we have high levels of adenosine, we’ll feel the fatigue again. Caffeine also stimulates the release of cortisol, aka our major stress hormone, and having too much cortisol can cause stress and fatigue.”
“Red meat contains a high amount of tryptophan, an amino acid that makes serotonin and melatonin, which regulates our sleep cycle. Red meat can also contribute to fatigue if we’re not digesting it properly, leaving us at risk for imbalanced gut health and increased inflammation.”
And the way most red meat is processed (circling back to that cheeseburger for lunch notion), we aren’t able to digest it properly. It’s smart to purchase red meat thoughtfully, i.e. grass-fed beef, organic, minimally processed, and eat it with a salad, veggies, or other forms of fiber first to pave the way. Not to mention, a heavy meal like this is not a great idea for a demanding midday meal.
Foods you may have an allergy or sensitivity to
“If our body isn’t responding well to certain foods, it produces constant histamines, and our adrenals pump out cortisol to rid us of the inflammation. This continuous process from our body leads to a ‘brain fog’ and lack of concentration, which is a form of fatigue.
The common keys to avoiding fatigue when it comes to food are identifying food allergies/sensitivities and limiting calorie-dense foods that quickly raise your blood sugar and stress hormones. Real, whole (and very low-processed) foods that contain protein, fat, carbohydrates, and fiber will give you that calm stream of energy.”
Up next, be the first to know our weekly content and sign up for our Poosh newsletter.