Diet and nutrition can affect your energy levels. Here’s what you need to know about feeling tired and changes you can make to improve your wellbeing.
☝️DISCLAIMER☝️ This article is for those who feel tired because of their lifestyle and/or eating habits. If a healthy diet, good sleep and exercise do not help you cope with fatigue, it is time to talk to a doctor.
Feeling tired? Blame it on poor air quality, big city life or work stress, but there may be more to it. This article explores how iron, vitamin B12 and diet can affect your energy levels.
Why am I tired? Is it my diet?
Fatigue is a typical reaction to physical activity, jet lag or stress, but it can also be caused by poor eating habits. Especially nowadays, when it’s not uncommon to succumb to the many stresses of modern life.
Who is counting cups of coffee or servings of fruit and veg when there’s a tight deadline at work or the postman delivers yet another unsolicited bill? The days are busy, and the nights can be too: socialising with other humans is a natural reaction to shake off the pressure. And the easiest place to do that is often down the pub.
However, fatigue may also be a symptom of an iron deficiency. This mineral is an essential component of the red blood cells that deliver oxygen to your tissues. While deficiency can cause anaemia, there’s also such thing as iron poisoning, and it can be fatal. A leading cause of low iron levels is not getting enough of it in your diet. Deficiency is more common in menstruating women, vegetarians and blood donors.
In other cases, a lack of vitamin B12 can cause fatigue. If you’re a vegan, you’ve definitely heard of this health risk, but it can also affect patients with malabsorption issues. These are conditions that affect the small intestine, which is responsible for absorbing the nutrients present in our food.
Common examples of diseases that can cause nutrient malabsorption include coeliac, a severe autoimmune response to gluten, and Crohn's disease, a condition of the inflammatory bowel disease group.
REMEMBER ☝️ Iron levels, gluten intolerance and protection from Crohn’s disease are traits that you can check with the Atlas Biomed Tests. People at risk of nutrient deficiencies should consult their GP before modifying their dietary intake.
Maybe I should take supplements?
No, you should not. Contrary to myth, minerals and vitamins do not provide energy. Rather, they are involved in fundamental physiological processes. Feeling like you are running on empty does not mean that you have a nutrient deficiency.
In many cases, simply increasing your consumption of a specific nutrient will not necessarily improve your levels. In other cases, it can be downright harmful to your health because some nutrients like fat-soluble vitamins can be stocked by your body: incorrect dosage can lead to toxicity and serious consequences for your health.
There are a number of factors that come into play when it comes to blood concentrations of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients. Most of the time, they are sourced from the food you eat, so even if you are predisposed to lower levels of a certain nutrient, you might be making up for it with your diet.
At the same time, the bioavailability of one nutrient can be influenced by another nutrient. For example, vitamin C increases the body’s ability to assimilate iron (hence, “bioavailability”).
Furthermore, the exact composition of dietary supplements can vary depending on the manufacturer. In addition, nutrients interact with each other in different ways, like iron and vitamin C, so taking several supplements at one time is a gamble in terms of outcomes.
Basically, taking supplements in the absence of a diagnosed deficiency would not only put your health at risk, but incorrect administration could possibly render them useless. Either way, without the proper medical guidance, it would be a waste of money and possibly deleterious to your wellbeing.
REMEMBER ☝️ It’s possible to check your genetic predisposition to nutrient levels and your microbiome potential for vitamin synthesis with the Atlas Biomed Tests.
What food can fuel my energy levels?
According to research, there is no special “energy diet”, but there are basic dietary principles that benefit the human body and the gut microbiome. These include incorporating plenty of fresh vegetables and fruit into your daily meals, as well as choosing whole grains and pulses as staples for long and slow energy release throughout the day.
Heme iron found in animal products has a higher absorption rate for the body, which is why liver and red meat are often recommended to people with iron deficiencies, but should be consumed in moderation.
Plants are sources of non-heme iron, which must undergo changes in the digestive tract to make it ready for absorption. This pathway reduces the uptake of iron from non-meat sources but can be helped by consuming vitamin C during the same meal. Plant sources of iron include beans, lentils, chickpeas, nuts, seeds, tofu and leafy greens.
Сomplex carbohydrates have long been recognised as an important part of a healthy diet. Foods with complex carbs have more nutrients than foods with simple carbs. They are high in dietary fibres and resistant starches that support human health in many ways, and are also a source fuel for beneficial gut bacteria.
Higher fibre content means complex carbs are slower to digest, preventing spikes in blood sugar. It also influences the speed of digestion, making meals more filling. Fruit, vegetables, nuts, berries, beans, whole grains and seeds are the best sources of fibre and resistant starches.
It is especially important to limit your consumption of sweets because simple sugars are absorbed rapidly into the bloodstream, causing an insulin spike. This leads to strong absorption of glucose into the cells, leaving the body in a state of a slight hypoglycemia and a feeling of fatigue. A diet rich in fibre ensures the slow release of sugars, by preventing insulin spikes.
👆Knowledge is your best friend
It’s getting harder and harder to navigate the complex world of food and there is mounting evidence that your gut and your gut microbes can possibly influence your dietary choices, for better or for worse.
We want to help you take the guesswork out of your day-to-day eating choices by helping you understand what makes your body unique. If you've taken the Atlas Biomed DNA or Microbiome Test, here are links to the genetic and microbiome traits in the Personal Account that can influence your energy levels.
|Nutrition traits||Food recommendations|
|Obesity||Diabetes type II|
|Crohn’s disease||Gluten intolerance|
- LH Allen. Causes of vitamin B12 and folate deficiency.
- Jones K., Probst Y. Role of dietary modification in alleviating chronic fatigue syndrome symptoms: a systematic review. 2017
- United States Department of Agriculture: Agricultural Research Service
- Campagnolo N., Johnston S., Collatz A., Staines D., Marshall-Gradisnik S. Dietary and nutrition interventions for the therapeutic treatment of chronic fatigue syndrome/myalgic encephalomyelitis: a systematic review. 2017
- Iron. National Institutes of Health.
- Morris H.D., Stare F.J. Unproven Diet Therapies in the Treatment of the Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. 2009.
- The energy 'diet'. The National Health Service UK.
- Gavura S. Drugs in your supplements.2018
- Gluckman S.J. Clinical features and diagnosis of myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome. 2018