Your Sad Desk Salads
"I worry when a client comes in and says that she just has a salad for lunch," says Elisabetta Politi, RD, MPH, Nutrition Director at the Duke Diet and Fitness Center in Durham, North Carolina. Why? Because a salad could just mean a helping of iceberg lettuce, some shaved carrots and Ranch dressing. And loading your bowl with veggies and skimping on protein and carbs means you're not getting enough calories to power you through the rest of your day. "If you're eating a 200-calorie pile of broccoli and lettuce, it's no wonder you feel hungry and tired at 4 p.m.," Politi says. Your dressing of choice could be adding to the problem. "You might think you're doing the right thing by eating a salad, but if you add a dressing like honey mustard or raspberry vinaigrette, both of which are usually high in added sugar, that'll probably lead to an energy crash later," says Marisa Moore, RD, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Pick Yourself Up:
Make a base of non-starchy vegetables
like mushrooms, cauliflower or peppers and leafy greens like kale, then add protein like chicken or chickpeas and complex carbohydrates like quinoa or edamame that'll give you slow-burning energy. As for dressing, try extra virgin olive oil and vinegar or lemon juice.
String Cheese and Yogurt
Sad but true: Dairy could be behind your fatigue. You may have digested it just fine when you were younger, but intolerances to the proteins in dairy (casein and whey) can develop as we age, and tiredness is a hallmark symptom. "At least 50 to 60 percent of my patients complain of fatigue, and I would estimate that 20 to 30 percent of those people feel better off dairy," says Lyla Blake-Gumbs, MD, from the Center for Integrative Medicine at the Cleveland Clinic. (The mechanism isn't entirely clear, but it's believed that the body mistakenly develops an immunological reaction to the proteins, building an army of antibodies to mobilize against the proteins whenever they show up, resulting in fatigue.) Fatigue isn't usually the only symptom, but it's possible for it to present without GI problems, says Blake-Gumbs, which is why few people connect the dots to their diet. "Dairy is ubiquitous in our food supply," she says. "And a lot of processed foods that you wouldn't think of as dairy have milk solids and proteins in them. For example, anything with caramel flavoring likely has dairy additives in it."
Pick Yourself Up: If you notice an energy lag after you eat dairy, talk to your doctor about going on an elimination diet, a method that Blake-Gumbs often uses with patients in which all potential culprits are removed from your diet, then reintroduced one at a time to see which one is causing the problem.
Bananas or Nuts
There's a reason bananas are often presented as a fix for muscle cramps: They're high in magnesium, a mineral that helps relax muscle cells. "We give people magnesium at night to help them sleep," says Blake-Gumbs. Another magnesium source? Nuts, particularly almonds, cashews and peanuts. The dosage that'll make someone tired is different for everyone, but you're more likely to feel the effects if you're too low on magnesium to start with.
Pick Yourself Up: As long as you're not deficient in magnesium, you should be fine to eat either bananas or nuts on their own. Symptoms of a magnesium deficiency (according to the most recent National Health And Nutrition Survey that examined magnesium intake, nearly half of all Americans aren't meeting recommended levels) include loss of appetite, nausea and fatigue, and those with type 2 diabetes, gastrointestinal disorders or celiac disease are at particularly high risk.
Photo: Jacek Chabraszewski/iStock/Thinkstock
Last Night's Late Dinner
Sometimes crazy days mean that your last meal comes right before bedtime. But just as the right foods can help you drift off into deep, restorative slumber, the wrong ones can result in a poor night's sleep, leaving you dragging the next day. Among the culprits: acidic foods like meat, eggs and dairy that can lead to nighttime acid reflux. "If you eat something acidic within two hours of going to bed, it'll probably still be in your stomach and could cause some gastroesophageal reflux," says Blake-Gumbs. "If you're someone who deals with acid reflux often, you shouldn't be eating those foods even four hours before you go to bed."
Pick Yourself Up: When you just can't avoid eating close to bedtime, stick with non-acidic, or alkaline, foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and nuts like almonds, which won't cause sleep-disrupting GI issues.
That Occasional Sugary or Fatty Indulgence
Here's one downside to a super-nutritious diet—when you decide to treat yourself, your body likely won't handle it very well. "Research indicates that our gastro-intestinal tract adjusts to what we eat," Politi says. "If you're sticking to a low-fat, low-sugar diet, you start to produce less of the gastric juices and enzymes that help digest sugar and fat easily." And that doesn't just spell digestive trouble; it can lower your energy afterward, too, likely more so than if you'd been eating less-than-superbly all along. Politi knows this firsthand. As a nutritionist, her own diet is the kind we all aspire to, and when she occasionally has a slice of cake at her office's monthly employee birthday parties, "I feel so lousy, like I need to take a nap immediately," she says.
Pick Yourself Up: No one's advocating total treat deprivation, but when you decide it's time for something more sugary or fattening than you typically eat, just be prepared for the slump that may follow.
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