Do you always feel tired?

Woman YawningWhat you eat and the way you eat will be affecting your energy levels

An understanding of the way the body processes our nutrients after we eat our food is needed to grasp the effect this has on our energy levels. Energy levels are particularly linked to carbohydrate (sugars and starch) metabolism.

In our mouths food is chewed and an enzyme in saliva begins to break down carbohydrate. The food then moves to our stomach where acids digest foods into smaller components and then on into the small intestine from there these components are taken to the liver for processing. Starch and sugar contain glucose this is stored in the liver as glycogen what the liver cannot store goes into circulation causing our blood sugar (glucose levels) to rise. This is sensed by the pancreas which releases insulin.

Insulin is your energy storage hormone it shunts glucose out of the blood into tissues to be used as energy or stored as fat. Insulin also shunts the fatty acids from the digestion of fats out of the blood and into the fat cells to be stored as fat. If you have high levels of circulating insulin you are going to store more fat.

How do you get high circulating levels of insulin? In three ways;

  • eating too much carbohydrate
  • eating carbohydrate in the wrong way
  • eating the wrong type of carbohydrate

That is the key to having good energy levels keeping the stream of glucose constant but low. This will also help to manage hunger and appetite.

Eating too much carbohydrate

How much is too much? Remember one of the actions of insulin is to move the glucose into the cells for energy. So we need to eat some carbohydrate. This is good news as anyone who has been on the Atkins will testify. Carbohydrate free diets are difficult to stick to long term, they become monotonous. Eating out and the social side of eating can become difficult. Weight reduction does occur but this quickly maxes out at about 3 months and any slipping from the diet causes very fast weight regain. The Atkins diet is low in fibre and the other vitamin and minerals which are attached to some of the “banned” fruit and vegetables. No study has ever shown that the protective health benefits of eating a diet high in fibre and vitamins and minerals can be replicated by taking supplements. And these are important benefits such as reduced heart disease, diabetes and cancer risks.

The amount of carbohydrate ideal for you is dependent on your energy needs. If you engage in a lot of exercise you will need more. So we need a rule of thumb and that is to think of it as a proportion of any given meal. Starchy carbs should make up ¼ of your intake at each meal ¼ should be protein and ½ vegetables/salad/ fruit. You can most easily think of this with a main meal but for other meals such as a sandwich or breakfast imagine that you took the component parts and put them into the plate model below. If you are having a sandwich you need a tub of raw vegetables to make the proportions right.

HealthyFoodEating Carbohydrate in the wrong way

Eating this nutrient on its own without protein or fibre to slow the absorption causes a sharp increase in blood glucose levels. In turn this will cause a larger amount of insulin to be released. More insulin means more of the carbohydrate will be stored as fat as the body strives to get it out of the blood and return blood sugar levels to normal.

The large dose of insulin will cause a rebound low blood sugar this will make you feel tired and crave carbohydrate as the body now wants to increase the blood sugars back into the normal range. Remember those cells need a constant stream of glucose for energy.

That is the key to having good energy levels keeping the stream of glucose constant but low. This will also help to manage hunger and appetite.

So it is important to graze rather than binge. A good mix to graze on at your desk is unsalted nuts, seeds and dried cherries/cranberries. Mix ½ tablespoon nuts, ½ tablespoon seeds and 1 tablespoon dried berries. Fresh fruit is also a good choice as it contains fibre having some unsalted nuts or seeds contains protein as well but avoid fruit juice. Devoid of any fibre the sugar content of fruit juice is similar to drinking coke.

Eating the wrong type of carbohydrate

This is any refined carbohydrate and would include sugar but also all the highly processed foods where fibre has been removed. White breads, rice, pasta etc. I would include brown bread in this as this is white flour with some of the fibre put back. Look for whole meal instead. When the whole grain is intact our bodies process it much slower making for the ideal slow low constant stream of glucose into our blood and our tissues to use for energy. In addition there are other nutrients which travel with the fibre this has been known for over a century. About 100 years ago some groups of people developed beri beri (vitamin B1 deficiency) after swapping from brown to white polished rice. Unbeknown to them the fibre in the rice was their only source of B1. Low fibre processed diets are linked to obesity, metabolic syndrome and cancer.

Fibre also increases gut transit time. This means that that the bolus of your food moves faster around the intestines. There is a satiety hormone which is not triggered until the food bolus has moved 22 feet around the small intestine so the faster your food reaches this point the sooner you will feel full.

Fibre binds to cholesterol which is part of bile secreted by the gall bladder to aid digestion. Without the presence of fibre this cholesterol is reabsorbed by the body.

As fibre is not absorbed by the body and speeds gut transit time it also helps to regulate bowel movements and avoid constipation. Being constipated makes you feel sluggish and tired.

So there are many ways in which carbohydrates can affect our energy levels. By making some simple changes and sticking to them your energy levels should improve significantly after 2 weeks and maybe much sooner.

DianaAndersonAbout the Author:

Diana Anderson – I am a Registered Dietitian who specializes in offering simple workable nutrition solutions to high achievers who are finding they have less than optimal health and energy levels.

[email protected]

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