In a given week, do you often feel tired during the day? If you answered yes you’re not alone - in fact, you’re in the majority. A recent study assessed 1,139 American workers and found that 76% reported they felt tired most days of the week.
So, what's making us so tired? Lack of sleep is the most-cited culprit, which isn't surprising given the links research has drawn between downtime and proper brain function. But what many of us don’t realize is how much diet impacts our energy during the day, and sleep quality at night.
To help you combat weekly fatigue, we’ve compiled a list of common mid-morning and late afternoon snacks that could be causing you to crash. We've also provided some brain healthy alternatives to satisfy your hunger and feed your mind.
Avoid starting your day off with a slice of white bread or a plain bagel. Both contain high-glycemic carbs that are nutrient poor in fiber and protein, meaning they are absorbed rapidly and cause a spike & crash in energy.
While whole grain alternatives are better than their plain white counterparts, consider removing toast entirely and reaching for a pasture raised egg or two instead. You'll avoid the sharp blood sugar spike, plus eggs are rich in B vitamins which have proven to be brain healthy nutrients.
While yogurt can be a great - albeit non-Paleo - source of protein and healthy probiotics, beware of flavors containing high amounts of added sugar or high fructose corn syrup. Some 6-oz containers of fat-free flavored yogurt contain as many as 35g of sugar.
Moreover, dairy-based yogurts contain a sugar called lactose and a protein called casein that can be inflammatory for the gut. Consider eating almond- or coconut milk-based yogurt with a low sugar count instead!
Fruits!? Yes, certain fruits can leave you feeling more mentally drained than alert. Bananas and cherries, for instance, are high in crash-inducing carbohydrates and contain melatonin, a compound that promotes restfulness - not alertness.
That's not to say you should cut fruit out of your diet entirely, but you may want to reconsider which fruit you eat and when you eat them. Blueberries are our favorites for their low glycemic impact and brain-protecting properties. Read more about the brain health benefits of blueberries in another post of ours.
Sweets are problematic for the brain for a few reasons. First is the sugar crash we've likely all felt after chowing down a king sized candy bar. This sluggish feeling happens as our sugar intake decreases activity in orexin cells, which help keep our bodies energized.
Second, studies have shown that sugar can also negatively impact our memory, causing us to feel foggy. Thus, if your craving for sweets is too strong to ignore, indulge in some dark chocolate with 70%+ cacao and minimal-to-no additives and sugar.
5. Potato Chips
Potatoes - especially sweet potatoes - are not by themselves a majorly crash-inducing food, and have even been shown to reduce blood pressure. However, potato chips are most certainly not brain healthy given the way they're typically prepared. Most chips are fried (sometimes several times over) in vegetable oil that contains oxidized fat molecules that cause inflammation and free radical creation.
6. Energy Bar
By name, an "energy" bar sounds like the perfect mid-afternoon pick-me-up snack. In reality, most energy bars are loaded with net-carbs, which may work in the weight room, but will overwhelm the brain with glucose throughout the day.
To avoid carb crashes, reach instead for snacks like nuts that fit into a high healthy fat, low net carb diet. Plus, eating healthy fats like MCTs helps offset the brain's glucose needs with a smoother source of energy throughout the day (see chart below).
We hope this post leaves you with some small snack changes you can make to help fuel your mind with better brain food, and boost your daily energy levels!