4 symptoms of unhealthy eating

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Qualified Nutritionist (BSc, MSc, RNutr)
@EmmaThornton
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01 May 2020

What are the signs of an unhealthy diet?

As many of you may have noticed, when you eat a really unhealthy meal it can leave you feeling sluggish and bloated, and overall a bit rubbish! On the other hand, not eating enough food can also have a negative impact on physical health. Consistently eating unhealthily over a period of time can become apparent through physical signs and symptoms, such as:

  1. Bad breath
  2. Thinning hair
  3. Constipation
  4. Low energy/ tiredness.

Read on to find out why these symptoms can occur, and get some helpful tips on how you can improve your diet.

1. Bad breath

If you find that you often suffer from bad breath, this could be a result of not eating enough.

Bad breath can develop as a result of a metabolic process called ketosis. To understand this process, we must first take a look at the role of glucose in the body.

Glucose is the body's principal energy source, and this is obtained when carbohydrates, such as sugar and starch, are broken down in the body. Glucose can either be used immediately for energy, or can be sent to the liver and muscles to be stored as an energy reserve, known as glycogen.

However, if the body is not receiving enough glucose for energy, it burns fat stores instead. This results in a build-up of acids called ketones, a process known as ketosis. It is the presence of these ketones that can make your breath smell bad – it can often smell a bit like nail varnish.

People eating a low carbohydrate diet, plus those who don't eat for long periods of time or restrict their portion sizes, are more likely to experience ketones in their breath.

Getting lots of healthy carbohydrates in your diet, such as fruits and vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds and wholegrains, can be one way of resolving the problem. Also, if you feel your bad breath is due to not eating enough, increasing portion sizes and eating at regular intervals can help to ensure you are meeting your recommended daily intake of calories.

It's also worth remembering, though, that ketones aren't the only cause of bad breath. Other factors, including drinking lots of coffee, smoking and poor dental hygiene, can also cause it. Moreover, if you are type 1 diabetic and have ketones on the breath it is crucial to see a doctor, as this could indicate that your body does not have enough insulin.

2. Thinning hair

When it comes to hair growth, a nutritious diet is so important! Healthy hair growth requires a combination of lots of different nutrients, including protein, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin A and iron.

Let's take a look at arguably the most important nutrients for hair growth: protein and iron.

Eating sufficient protein is extremely important for hair health, particularly hair growth. This is because hair follicles are mostly made up of protein.

As strands of hair are made up of protein fibres, this means they require an adequate amount of protein to grow properly. If you don't eat enough protein, your body may cut off the quantity it supplies to hair follicles to try and reserve this protein for other – more essential - bodily processes.

Likewise, iron is crucial for healthy hair as it helps red blood cells to carry and deliver oxygen to hair follicles.

The hair follicle and root are fed by a nutrient-rich blood supply containing iron. When iron levels in the blood fall below a certain level, you may experience anaemia. This occurs when there is a decrease in the total amount of red blood cells. If this is the case, the nutrient supply to the hair follicle may be disrupted, and this can affect the growth of the hair, resulting in possible hair loss.

If your diet consists of mostly processed foods, or if you eat very restrictively, you may be lacking in these nutrients, and those previously mentioned, which could take its toll on your hair's ability to grow properly.

When it comes to protein, rich sources to include in your diet are:

  • Lean meats (like chicken and turkey)
  • Fish
  • Dairy products
  • Eggs
  • Legumes (like fresh peas, fresh beans and soybeans)
  • Nuts and seeds.

As well as rich sources such as red meat, chicken and fish, other foods which you can include in your diet to increase iron consumption include:

  • Leafy green vegetables (spinach, broccoli and kale)
  • Lentils
  • Chickpeas
  • Beans
  • Nuts (pistachios, cashews and pine nuts)
  • Pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds.

3. Constipation

Constipation can often be a sign that your diet is lacking in fibre, or perhaps you're not eating enough in general. However, some of you may be unaware that it is also a common symptom of dehydration.

Your body requires both fibre and water to have regular bowel movements. As fibre attracts water in the body, having sufficient water intake allows stools to pass more easily.

If you are struggling with constipation, or find that your stools are hard and difficult to pass, try increasing your water intake while adding some high fibre foods such as wholegrains, beans, nuts and dried fruits to your diet. In addition, make sure you aren't under-eating, as this can also result in days on end of not going to the toilet.

4. Low energy/tiredness

Low energy and tiredness can both be very common indications of a poor diet, and this may be especially true for someone whose diet is high in sugar.

Eating a lot of simple carbohydrates, which are found naturally in foods such as milk, and milk products, as well as in processed and refined sugars like sweeties, table sugar, syrups, and soft drinks, can leave you feeling sluggish and very low in energy.

This is because simple carbohydrates are broken down quickly by the body, resulting in a sudden rise in blood sugar levels What follows is a dip in blood sugar levels, which can make you feel less energetic.

What's even more detrimental for energy levels, however, is when people try to counteract this effect by eating more sugar. So, blood sugar levels continue to go up and down, resulting in lots of energy peaks and crashes!

To stabilise your energy levels, try reducing your sugar intake. Also, opt for foods that release energy slowly instead, like bananas, brown rice, sweet potatoes, eggs, nuts, porridge, beans, and lentils. 

My self-care tips for avoiding energy slumps:

In my video I discuss some common foods and drinks which can cause crashes in energy and give advice on healthier foods which you can enjoy instead.


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