We’ve typically heard the phrase, “you are what you eat,” and nutrition experts will tell you, so much of this is true.
“Your body disassembles everything you eat and the usable, nutritious components fuel metabolic processes,” said registered dietitian Desiree Nielsen. “When you give your body the correct nourishment, it can functional optimally so you feel your best.”
But our bodies can handle a lot. Not that this is ideal, but Nielsen said we are able to function without optimal nutrition or worse, unhealthy eating patterns from time to time. This, however, is not beneficial over time.
“Your repair functions literally become spent,” she continued. “This is when chronic disease occurs, but diseases like heart disease, diabetes and Alzheimer’s are usually predated by years of minor ailments like fatigue, skin issues or poor mood.”
Foods change our mood
There has been plenty of research that shows certain food makes us feel tired, fatigued or sluggish. Nielsen said this has to do with blood flow and digestion.
On the flip side, there are also ingredients like caffeine or sugar that keep us energized or alert.
“When you eat a large celebratory meal, your body is shuttling blood flow to the gut for digestion and away from the central nervous system which can contribute to fatigue,” she explained. “Food choices that are high glycemic and lead to blood sugar spikes will also lead to fatiguing blood sugar crashes.”
But switching to a healthy diet doesn’t always mean instant change. Unless of course, you are dehydrated and you chug a few glasses of water — your body will instantly feel better.
“In the more general sense, moving toward eating more plants and sticking to whole foods over hyper-processed ones, you may start to feel more pep in as little as a few days … but making long-term changes to metabolism will take weeks or months. Food is medicine, but it is gradual, incremental medicine that needs to be applied daily.”
Below, Nielsen highlights some common body changes that could indicate you need to change up your everyday diet.
You’re always constipated
Constipation is a classic sign that your diet lacks fibre and water.
“Dietary fibres add bulk to stools which improves elimination, but fibre also requires water to do its job properly. Without adequate hydration, the body will attempt to reclaim water from the gut, creating the telltale dry, pellet-like bowel movements of constipation,” she said.
Ideally, you should move your bowels daily (although this varies from person to person). But what you can do is eat more fruits and vegetables, legumes, whole grains and consider psyllium, a soluble fibre that helps ease elimination.
You have more acne than usual
Acne is a multifactorial concern that is impacted by stress, hormones and diet, she said. “Nutritionally, diet can help target the inflammation that promotes acne; by eating an anti-inflammatory diet that minimizes hyper-processed foods and emphasizes colourful plant foods and omega-3 rich seeds, you can help lessen inflammation.”
She added some (but not all) people find eliminating dairy can help improve their skin and there has been a small body of research that supports this theory, the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) noted. However, there are several flaws with some of these studies, in particular, skim milk was more problematic than full-fat milk, AAD reported.
“In addition, ensuring that you eat balanced meals low in sugar and refined flours will help keep blood sugars in check and lessen their impact on inflammatory conditions like acne.”
You’re always getting sick
It’s not just the change in season, it could be your diet. Consider how much zinc is in your diet.
“Zinc is a mineral often associated with protein-rich foods that is important for healing and immune function. People who skimp on protein at meals or those following a lower protein plant-based diet may need extra zinc. In fact, research supports that taking zinc at the first signs of a cold may help lessen its duration.”
You’re always sore post-gym
For the best results at the gym, your diet should be loaded up with iron and protein. “For most active adults, take your weight in pounds and divide it by two to discover how many grams of protein you should aim for in a day.” This, of course, will change if you are an athlete or part of an intense fitness program.
You can find iron in legumes, blackstrap molasses, leafy greens, tofu, seeds and meat. “Take an iron supplement only on your physician’s advice.”
You’re constantly tired
The most obvious cause of fatigue is iron-deficiency anemia. “Iron is critical for ensuring that red blood cells can carry oxygen throughout the tissues,” she said. “However, anemia can also be a sign that you have celiac disease, which means that feeling better will require a strict gluten-free diet.”
Fatigue can also be due to dehydration or a hyper-processed diet that leads to blood sugar fluctuations and inflammation, she explained.
“Cleaning up your diet should always be the first step to battling fatigue. Ensure that you eat grains in their whole and intact form, and create meals that have one to two cups of vegetables and a concentrated source of protein like tofu or fish alongside your veggies and grains.”
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