Our diets play a major role in influencing how our minds and bodies feel during the day, and so it's so important to be mindful of what we are eating and to fuel ourselves with the right, nutritious foods and avoid those that can drain energy stores. Many foods can make us feel sluggish and tired, and they are often easy, accessible, and common in our diets.
As a certified health coach, I work with people on gaining more energy and discovering a healthy and balanced way of living, regarding whole foods, exercise, self-care rituals and stress management, and avoiding triggers that they see can mess with their moods, minds and bodies. It really is true: we are what we eat; thus, if we fill our bodies with sugar, caffeine and greasy foods mid-day, we will be more likely to feel hyper, and then tired shortly after. Instead of eating and drinking items that are poor for our health and wellbeing, it's much smarter to find foods that energize us instead. Making more nutritious meal and snack choices can offer tremendous benefits long-term, so finding the time and budget to prepare clean meals and keep energy levels high should be a top priority in the day. Avoid these eleven foods that can make us feel sluggish, and look for healthier substitutions to enjoy.
1. Potato Chips
Chips are the quintessential snack food and they can please all of our tastebuds' receptors. With some salty, spicy, crunchy and sweet notes, chips come in many different flavors and can create an "addiction," where we lose track of how many we are actually consuming. Paired with a creamy dip, and it's even more dangerous. Instead of potato chips, reach for popcorn or healthier chips, such as kale, bean, lentil, sweet potato or avocado, instead, and stick to a proper serving. For extra protein, pair with guacamole, hummus or bean dip.
Baked goods, such as muffins, doughnuts, cookies and cakes, are filled with sugar and bad fats, and thus they can lead to a sugar high and subsequent crash only an hour or so later. These processed goods are also made up of refined carbohydrates, which will not keep you full or provide the healthy nutrients of carbohydrates. Instead, eat complex carbohydrates, such as fruit and whole grain bread, and avoid unnatural sweeteners.
While lean protein is great for waking the body up and providing sustainable energy levels, hamburgers tend to be high in portion control and grease and butter from cooking preparations at most restaurants and fast-food dining, and a white bun doesn't help. "Carbohydrates with little to no fiber, such as white bread, provide us with quick energy in the form of glucose, but this can cause a crash in energy," says Keri Gans, MS, RDN, CDN, a spokesperson for America's Better Sandwich, over email with Bustle. Your body might feel weighed down and sleepy after eating too much protein in one serving. Instead, eat half a burger or have some lean beef jerky instead.
4. Artificially Sweetened Snacks
Many snack foods use artificial sweeteners to cut down on calories, but unfortunately these sweeteners can make us feel bloated, tired and sluggish. Plus, there's much research on the dangers of artificial sweeteners, and experts suggest that they might lead to cancer, weight gain, memory impairment, and overall poorer wellbeing. Stick with natural sugar, found in fruit, and limit portions to avoid sugar overload.
While cherries are delicious, they're better for bedtime than mid-day, as the tryptophan content can make us sleepy and sluggish, and we need to make sure our energy stores are high in the day to be most productive and mentally alert. Eat some cherries before bed for optimal benefits, and swap the stone fruit for another, such as plums, peaches, or apricots, and pair with protein, for an afternoon snack.
6. Pumpkin Seeds
While seeds are great for our health, especially our nail, skin and brain health, pumpkin seeds are incredibly high in magnesium, which experts say can make us feel more relaxed and tired overall. If you're eating pumpkin seeds, monitor portion sizes and include another source of energizing protein to balance it out. Great options include Greek yogurt or chia seed pudding.
7. Energy Bars & Granola
Energy bars and granolas are often loaded with carbohydrates, fats and sugar, and all of that processing can make it high in additives that can cause an imbalance in blood sugar levels. It's important to read labels on these bars and granola blends to decide which ones are lowest in sugar and unhealthy fats and calories, and to steer clear of ones that provide unreasonable portions sizes and sugar content. Also, be wary of artificial sweeteners, which can also be prevalent.
Condiments can be an unusual and unexpected source of sugar and other additives that can lead to a spike in blood sugar. Condiments can also be incredibly high in sodium, which can make us feel bloated, lethargic and dehydrated, all of which can contribute to an afternoon slump. Ditch condiments for healthier garnishes, especially homemade dips and dressings. Or, be mindful of portion sizes, rather than just squeezing the container with ease.
While bananas are highly nutritious, especially post-workout, their levels of tryptophan, potassium and magnesium all work together to relax our muscles and reduce anxiety. These results are beneficial for our wellbeing, but it can make us feel a bit tired if eaten in excess. To avoid this side-effect, combine bananas with something high in protein and B vitamins, which have been found to provide energy. Great examples include banana and almond butter or a protein shake made with leafy greens, protein powder and chia seeds.
The "carb coma" is a real phenomenon, and there's nothing that is more fatigue inducing than a big bowl of spaghetti and meatballs. While eating whole wheat pasta over white is always preferable, as the whole wheat is a complex carbohydrate that will keep us fuller longer, it's still not the wisest choice if you are hoping to get down to work or go for a run. Limit portion sizes, and make most of your meal protein, iron and vitamin B rich, to counter the pasta's effects.
11. Dark Chocolate
Dark chocolate is packed with anti-aging and anti-inflammatory antioxidants, so it's great for your heart. It also fights depression due to its serotonin content, which is the "feel good hormone." However, chocolate is slightly caffeinated, and that caffeine can give us a quick jitter and energy boost, but then result in a crash later on. Plus, dark chocolate's serotonin content can make us feel sleepy. Stick to a square or two as a treat for dessert, when going to bed is in the near future, anyway!
While some of these foods are great for our mind, bodies and overall health, it's important to note the times of day of consumption in order to stay energized and productive when we need to be and relaxed and sleepy when appropriate, as well. Playing with the timing can allow us to reap the benefits of all of the healthier foods, and avoiding or limiting the foods that do not provide nutrition will also be helpful in beating that tired, sluggish feeling.
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