Have you ever woken up feeling tired and sluggish and struggled all day to shift these feelings of fatigue? Or, maybe it comes to 3pm and you find yourself dragged down by a midday slump. Low energy levels can strike at any time and their impact can put more than put a dampener on your day which is why I’m here to look at a few common energy-draining foods and some simple, tasty alternatives.
Prefer to watch Nutritionist Emma talk about this topic? Play the video below to watch Emma discuss 7 surprising foods that can drain your energy.
Sugar can lurk in unexpected places and your morning bowl of cereal is definitely no exception. Most breakfast cereals are highly processed and can contain genetically modified corn, refined carbs and a whole host of chemical nasties. While this spike of sugar can raise your energy levels temporarily, unfortunately your blood sugar levels will eventually crash, leaving you feeling tired and sluggish.
However, I’m definitely not an advocate of skipping breakfast entirely. Part of the attractiveness of cereal is that it is a quick and simple option, especially if you are on-the-go, but for some, they may see skipping breakfast as a suitable alternative. Rest assured though, this definitely won’t help your energy levels. In fact, studies have demonstrated that a good, healthy breakfast is essential to proper concentration and awareness!
That’s why I’d recommend paying a little bit more attention to what you are putting into your body first thing in the morning – ideally, you should be aiming for a healthy balance of carbohydrates and protein. Oats are an effective option as they are naturally rich in fibre, offering a slow, steady release of energy rather than a sudden, sharp spike.
A simple and effective way of getting some of your 5 a day, fruit smoothies are convenient if you’re on-the-go, or not too keen on fruit and veg in their original forms. However, while blitzing up a smoothie at home might be a healthy option, drinking one from a pre-packaged bottle might not be such a good idea if you’re looking to maintain your energy levels.
As I discuss in my blog, ‘8 unexpected drinks that are bad for your health’, bottled fruit smoothies often exceed your daily sugar recommendations and worryingly, they are often targeted as a healthy alternative for children. Although it may seem too much hassle, mixing up your own fruit smoothie really is the best option and usually it won’t take too long, not to mention it’s cost effective as well!
Yoghurt topped with fruit might sound like a healthy snack option guaranteed to keep you going through that afternoon slump and, while organic fermented yoghurt is bursting with probiotic properties, the variety you’re picking off your supermarket shelves are unlikely to share the same benefits.
Instead, the pasteurisation process that happens to most commercial yoghurts strips them of their enzymes and other nutrients, not to mention artificial sweeteners and sugars are often added during this process.
This can result in yoghurt that’s almost as sweet as a bar of chocolate – everyone’s favourite, Muller Corner yoghurts, sometimes contain as much as 30g! This hefty dose can quickly lead to a sugar crash which will leave you feeling more deflated and listless than ever so in future, it might be best to try and stick to a natural brand of yoghurt. Greek yoghurt, for example, often contains less sugar than ordinary yoghurts and you can season with cinnamon and fruit if you want a sweeter flavour!
It’s a go-to fix when it comes to fatigue – you’re starting to feel a bit sluggish in the afternoon and reach for the coffee tin for a quick pick-me-up.
Surprisingly though, while caffeine can temporarily pick your energy levels up by activating your nervous system, once the initial effect wears off, you’ll be left in worse shape than before. The impact caffeine has on your nervous system can leave you feeling tired and irritated for example, with a dull headache and, depending on when you drank that fateful cup, it can even interrupt your sleep at night.
This isn’t even factoring in the fact that caffeinated drinks like coffee can also deplete your stores of essential minerals, interfering with your absorption of iron and inhibiting your vitamin D receptors – bad news if you suffer from low levels of iron or vitamin D, and even worse news for your energy levels!
That’s why I often recommend that you try and limit your intake of tea and coffee, or at least make sure you’re not drinking any caffeinated beverages after 1pm so your sleep patterns won’t be affected.
Fortunately, there are plenty of coffee substitutes you can try, like our own Bambu, developed by Alfred Vogel himself using a blend of chicory and Turkish figs. Or, alternatively, you could try our Balance Mineral Drink, which is infused with energy enhancing electrolytes, like zinc and magnesium, helping to give your energy levels a little boost and keeping you hydrated!
You’ve probably heard that processed, fatty foods are bad for you and, conscious of calories and their impact on your waistline, you may have turned to low calorie, fat free options instead. After-all, surely if it doesn’t contain as many calories it must be better for you, right?
Unfortunately, this isn’t always how it works and the sad truth is that these low-fat, calorie counting alternatives being lauded as a ‘healthier option’ usually contain more additives than their full fat counterparts. Animal fats are often replaced with hydrogenated oils and plenty of sugar to make them more palatable.
I talk a little more about the dangers of calorie counting in my blog ‘6 reasons why calorie counting is a bad idea’, but generally the idea that everyone, regardless of body type or activity levels, should be aiming for 2000 calories a day isn’t always the best choice. Not to mention, when you start to exclude all fats from your diet, you may miss out on the healthy fats that can help to support your health and energy levels
!So instead of always opting for the low calorie option, try to focus the nutrients you are eating instead. When it comes to maintaining healthy energy levels, B vitamins, magnesium, iron and vitamin D are all incredibly important so focus on foods that are rich in these nutrients, such as wholegrains, leafy green vegetables and antioxidant-rich fruits.
Iron-deficiency is one of the leading causes of fatigue and it’s estimated that approximately 1 in 10 women in the UK suffer from iron deficiency anaemia.1In an effort to increase their iron intake, many turn to red meat, which is thought to be one of the most abundant dietary sources of iron. While red meat does contain plenty of iron, it’s also rich in fat making it difficult for your body to digest, which can cause problems such as constipation and bloating, as well as symptoms like fatigue.
If you do suffer from low levels of iron, it might be best to consider plant-based options. Dark leafy greens such as spinach can provide impressive amounts of iron, as can pumpkin seeds and lentils! Eating red meat once a week shouldn’t affect your health or energy levels but keep an eye on your intake – when it creeps up to two or three meals a week, it might be time to start considering cutting back.
White flour is present in hundreds of different food products, from bread to pasta to cakes and other pastries. However, foods that contain white flour are usually heavily processed meaning that they lose much of their inherent goodness, as well as beneficial nutrients like magnesium, vitamin E and unsaturated fatty acids.
Instead, these refined carbohydrates are rich in sugar, hydrogenated oils and preservatives, which can have a knock-on effect on your insulin levels, making you more predisposed to feelings of fatigue and tiredness. That’s why I’d try to avoid refined carbohydrates and instead focus on wholegrains, which aren’t so heavily processed and still retain some of their natural nutrients.