When we feel groggy or mentally foggy, we're quick to blame something like our sleep or mood for our lack of energy — not our food. But diet can play a role in our alertness and energy levels, and eating certain types of food can actually slow you down. If your body isn't getting the nutrients it needs, and you are instead filling up on foods that can actually harm you, you'll begin to feel fatigued, unmotivated, and even a little distracted.
"Foods affect your memory and your ability to focus, think clearly, and relax," says Rene Ficek, RD, Lead Nutrition Expert at Seattle Sutton’s Healthy Eating, over email. "Fast food consumption can cause an array of mental effects, ranging from depression to hyperactivity. It's not just one ingredient at fault, either. Fast food meals contain a toxic mixture of unhealthy fats, preservatives, coloring and refined carbohydrates that can create imbalances in your brain."
Proper nutrition is also important for mental performance in the long term. "In fact, studies show that healthy diets, such as the Mediterranean diet, are associated with better mental performance and brain structure throughout the aging process," says Kelly Toups, MLA, RD, LDN over email.
If you find that your energy levels are low and you're not feeling quite right there mentally and physically, you may want to cut out these six foods that can slow you down.
1. High-Fat Foods
"High-fat foods will make you feel sleepy and sluggish, which are huge motivation killers,' says Ficek. "Fat is turned into energy much less efficiently than carbohydrates and protein." Although you should avoid meals such as fast food or heavy meats and cheese, you don't have to worry about healthy monounsaturated fats found in foods such as nuts, olive oil, and avocado, which can improve brain function.
Eating foods high in sugar is a double-whammy for both your cognitive and physical performance. Sugar can affect your memory, causing you to feel and foggy forgetful, and it can make you more stressed or experience negative moods, according to multiple studies. Sugar can also make you sleepy and sluggish, as it decreases activity of orexin cells, which are responsible for keeping our bodies energized.
3. Caffeinated Drinks
You may be tempted to reach for some coffee before writing a big paper or hitting the gym, but a recent study found that caffeine decreases blood flow to the heart, which can actually slow you down. Not to mention that you could experience a post-caffeine crash that can leave you feeling more lethargic than when you began.
4. Refined Grains
"Carbohydrates contribute to our blood sugar levels, helping to supply our bodies with a steady source of energy," says Toups. "If we choose too many refined grains, we might notice a spike (and subsequent crash) in blood sugar. However, if we choose healthier carbohydrate foods, like whole grains, our body gets a steadier energy supply."
5. High-Fiber Foods
Although foods high in fiber can help keep you full and sustain your energy, too much of a good thing can have the opposite effect. "Lettuce, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, and other high-fiber vegetables are common sources of gastrointestinal discomfort, as are nuts and seeds," says Ficek. "Those fiber bombs can cause real discomfort mid-workout, especially during an activity like biking or running."
Foods that are hard to digest can make you tired and sluggish, and dairy is one of these foods. Approximately 65 percent of the population has problems digesting lactose after infancy, according to the United States National Library of Medicine, so it's likely that's intolerance that is slowing you down.
Everyone reacts to certain foods differently, but you can try cutting one food out at a time to see if you experience improved focus and energy.
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