Is your energy level flagging by the afternoon each day? Your diet might be to blame.
The food you eat plays a significant role in how well your body functions, and taking the contents of your meals for granted might be a leading cause of your chronic fatigue. While a variety of factors can lead to general sluggishness, my years of medical experience have led me to believe that your daily diet is more closely connected to your overall energy levels than you think.
Functional Medicine and Your Energy Levels
Diagnosing exhaustion is tricky, but mainstream medicine often makes the problem more complicated than it needs to be. When it comes to treating chronic fatigue, many conventional medical strategies just address the symptoms of exhaustion without resolving the reason why they exist in the first place. Sadly, treating symptoms without addressing their cause simply leads to prolonged suffering and the acceptance that you can’t change your health for the better.
In contrast, Functional Medicine offers a different perspective on flagging energy levels by looking at the lifestyle factors that might be causing it. In this case, I want to explore how the quality of your diet directly ties into your energy levels.
Eating for Sustained Energy
There is mounting evidence that people in the western world are eating diets that are critically short on vitamins and minerals. Thanks to increasing availability of processed foods, it’s becoming less common for people to eat the healthy whole foods that provide the best benefits to their bodies, and this is taking a tremendous toll on their productivity and quality of life.
From my studies, the best way to eat for maximum energy all day long is to consistently fill up on a combination of macronutrients throughout the day. The three macronutrients (protein, fat, and carbohydrates) are natural fuel sources that provide different forms of energy to your cells to keep you alert.
Complex carbs like whole grains provide a slow release of energy as the body processes them, and their fiber sticks with you to keep you feeling full. In contrast, fats provide a powerful punch of concentrated energy, especially when eaten in heart-healthy sources like nuts and avocados. Finally, protein forms the building blocks for muscle mass and is a regulator for the release of energy in your body. Keeping your protein levels high ensures you won’t hit a wall of fatigue throughout your day.
Five Best Foods for Energy
So, what foods are best for meeting your macronutrient quotas?
I’ll be frank; gimmicky energy drinks and mysteriously processed protein bars are not the solutions to eating for sustained energy. When added sugar is one of the least troubling ingredients in a product, you know it’s bad news for your health. Instead, you want to avoid any foods that contain fillers, preservatives and other artificial ingredients in favour of choosing healthy, whole ingredients instead.
Below are five of my favourite foods for sustained energy. Is this an exhaustive list? Not at all. Rather, it’s a place to start changing your diet to avoid fatigue each day.
- Almonds: Nuts are some of the most nutrient dense foods on the planet, and almonds are packed with protein (30 grams per cup!) vitamin, E, magnesium and more to provide sustained energy throughout the day. Eating protein filled snacks is an excellent way to stave off hunger between meals, and magnesium is critical for your body’s process of converting glucose into a fuel source your body can use, which gives your energy levels a lift when they need it.
- Ginseng: As an adaptogen (herb that helps the body respond to stress and fatigue), ginseng has been valued in traditional medicine for centuries. Today, there is clinical evidence that ginseng has a positive impact on the energy levels of cancer patients by reducing both physical and mental fatigue. Ginseng works by nourishing the adrenal cortex of the brain, which is one reason why it’s such a popular additive in energy drinks today. However, you can skip these chemical-laden drinks and get straight to the active ingredient by taking ginseng supplements instead.
- Leafy Greens: Popeye was onto something- leafy greens truly might be the secret to a healthier life. Greens such as kale and spinach are packed with iron, which is an essential micronutrient for keeping your energy levels high. In fact, the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute lists inexplicable fatigue as the leading symptom of iron deficiency. Your body can’t make iron, which is why getting it through food is so critical for fending off flagging energy levels. Best of all, spinach and kale are both filled with an abundance of fiber and essential vitamins, making both preferable to taking an iron supplement.
- Amaranth (and other whole grains): Eating for sustained energy is the secret to fighting off fatigue, and whole grains contain the kind of fiber that keeps you feeling full. While many people experience issues digesting gluten and other grains, amaranth might still be worth a try. In particular, amaranth is an impressive energy-boosting whole grain to add to your diet. This Peruvian grain contains more protein than any other gluten-free grain, and it’s also filled with vitamins and minerals to prevent mid-day hunger to keep you productive. You can add amaranth to your favourite gluten-free baking recipes to enjoy the benefits for yourself.
- Matcha Tea: Do you start each day with a cup (or more) of coffee? Make the switch to matcha tea, and you’ll enjoy sustained energy for hours longer each day. Similar to black coffee, matcha is a calorie- free source of caffeine that comes with plenty of other health benefits as well. However, while black coffee can lead to jitters if you drink it too fast, matcha releases its 35 grams of caffeine per serving more slowly. Thanks to the amino acid L-Theanine that it contains, the caffeine in matcha is released over several hours into your bloodstream, which can result in a calmer, longer-lasting boost in energy and concentration. In fact, Buddhist monks have long relied on matcha for staying awake through long meditation sessions.
- Bonus Energy Source: Water: It’s easy to forget how good hydration makes your body feel, but in truth, dehydration is one of the leading causes of fatigue. When you get dehydrated, your body shuts down some of its functioning to maintain the water that it still has. Everyone’s water needs are different, but in general, feeling thirsty is a definite sign that you’re already dehydrated. For most adults, it’s a smart idea to take in between 11- 15 cups of water from food and drink each day. Roughly 80 percent of this water should come from liquids, but 20 percent can come from food.
The Dempster Clinic- Center for Functional Medicine: Taking a Functional Medicine Approach to your Diet
Your diet is just one factor in the issue of chronic fatigue. Stress levels, sleeping habits, hormone imbalances, nutrient levels, environmental toxicity, food sensitivities and other factors all play a role. This is why restoring your energy requires a Functional Medicine approach that looks at all the systems within your body and lifestyle as a holistic, interconnected unit.
At The Dempster Clinic- Center for Functional Medicine, it’s our goal to help every patient achieve optimal health, balance, and wellness through customizable treatment plans. We have built a Functional Medicine Integrative Health Center designed to put the needs of our patients first, which means we are ready to give you individualized recommendations for improving your health.
If you would like to discuss the reasons for your low energy levels, please call today in order to book a free 15-minute consultation. I look forward to bringing you to better health soon.
Dr. John Dempster