Could your diet be contributing to your fatigue?
Despite their hugely varied eating patterns one thing all my ME patients have in common is depleted energy levels often coupled with a dependency on eating high energy foods in the form of sugar and refined carbohydrates. Is this what our bodies need?
Energy is a precious resource and maintaining consistent blood glucose levels that supply our cells with energy is an ongoing and tightly controlled system. It may come as a surprise to find out that our bodies are actually designed to get long term energy from fats particularly medium-chain fats such as meat fat, butter and coconut oil and from long-chain fats contained in vegetables, nuts, seeds and fish. But modern day diets are carbohydrate based, often including refined carbohydrates such as white flour products, biscuits, cakes and sweets which we use as our main source of energy. They are quickly broken down into glucose and immediately satisfy hunger. But carbohydrates tend to cause “fatigue” even in non ME individuals. This is simply because our bodies are poorly designed to cope with the high levels of circulating blood sugar that they incur.
So what happens after a carbohydrate rich meal? Firstly the liver converts any extra circulating glucose into glycogen which is stored, but it becomes easily overwhelmed if too much glucose is present. This is where the hormone insulin comes into play by shunting the glucose into cells and into fat and out of the blood stream. Blood glucose levels consequently drop and more sugar is desired to alleviate the accompanying symptoms such as tiredness, hunger, irritability, weakness, shakiness, nausea or fainting. This pattern of eating initiates a roller coaster of blood sugar levels throughout the day fuelled by refined carbohydrates.
So what to do? Firstly eat unrefined carbohydrates such as wholemeal bread and pasta, brown rice, lentils and beans/peas and potatoes with skins. They contain more fibre which slows down the release of glucose into the blood. Secondly, always eat carbohydrates with protein which further slows down the release of glucose and is needed for multiple tasks within the body. Or best of all include healthy fats with every meal and snack. A piece of wholewheat, seeded toast with peanut butter (protein and fat) is an excellent source of slow release energy as is a baked potato with cottage cheese or tuna. Eat a fresh salad daily including a dressing of oils such as olive oil, flaxseed and walnut. Oils are an excellent source of long term energy that won’t exhaust insulin supplies.
Reduce all sugary foods as far as possible and replace with fresh fruit and snacks such as olives, nuts, seeds and rice cakes/oatcakes spread with peanut butter or hummus. See protein bite recipe below. The patient may initially experience withdrawal symptoms as with any dependency and supplements such as magnesium, chromium and B3 may be suggested. Beware alcohol as it is high in sugar as are the majority of processed drinks.
And learn to read labels carefully. Look at the carbohydrate section and choose products that have a lower ratio of sugar to starch, i.e carbohydrate 20g per 100g, starch 18g and sugar 2g. Choose products with a higher protein and fat content. Soups are a hidden culprit as are breakfast cereals. Choose pea and ham or chicken over tomato soup. Choose porridge or Weetabix with a banana over Cheerios and sweetened mueslis.
The body will enjoy the many benefits of gaining a consistent drip-drip of energy throughout the day and avoid the roller coaster energy ride of unrefined carbohydrate consumption for which it is not designed.
Protein Bites (makes 8)
2 tblsp shelled hemp seeds
1 ½ tblsp coconut oil
- Put the ground almonds and apricots in a blender and process until mixture starts to come together as a paste
- Add the hemp seeds, coconut oil and vanilla to taste
- Divide into 8 portions and roll into 8 balls
- Freeze for about 15mins then store in the fridge for up to 3 weeks in airtight container
Anna Pugh, Nutritionist