Some foods should be avoided, because in most patients they will exacerbate symptoms. Chronic Fatigue Syndrome & Myalgic Encephalomyelitis physicians and clinicians advise avoiding the following five foods.
1) STIMULANTS (coffee, tea, caffeinated sodas, cola, some herb teas, including mate, and ma huang). For healthy people stimulants, such as coffee, tea, or energy drinks provide a temporary boost, enabling them to get through a hard day or a crisis. However, because stimulants cause the adrenal glands to work harder, stimulants will exacerbate ME/CFS fatigue. Caffeine also produces insomnia, which is a perennial problem for ME/CFS patients.
2) ALCOHOL (wine, beer, hard liquor). Alcohol intolerance is almost universal among ME/CFS patients. Most people with ME/CFS discover early in the illness that even a small glass of beer or wine makes them quite ill. The reasons for alcohol intolerance are multifold: (1) alcohol acts on the central nervous system, which in ME/CFS patients can be hyper-reactive, (2) alcohol is toxic to the liver, (3) alcohol interferes with the methylation cycle, (4) alcohol is a vasodilator, which will exacerbate vascular symptoms (e.g., NMH and POTS). Because many ME/CFS patients have suboptimal liver function, ingestion of alcohol should be rigorously avoided. Those who are especially sensitive should also avoid herbal tinctures and alcohol-based mouthwashes.
3) SWEETENERS (sugar, corn syrup, sucrose, glucose, dextrose, brown sugar, fructose, aspartame, saccharin). Many people with ME/CFS crave sweets, especially when blood sugar levels fall in the late afternoon. Researchers have proposed that sugar-craving is due to faulty carbohydrate metabolism and subsequent low levels of ATP and blood glucose. Eating foods loaded with simple carbohydrates (sugars), however, only exacerbates the problem.
Blood sugar levels rise after the consumption of carbohydrates, which leads to an increased production of serotonin. Serotonin inhibits the release of cortisol, the hormone responsible for reducing inflammation and releasing stored glycogen from the liver. When cortisol is inhibited, inflammation increases. The problem becomes even more complicated in ME/CFS patients because carbohydrate metabolism is disturbed and not enough glucose is formed from carbohydrates to maintain blood sugar levels. After the temporary elevation caused by the flood of sugar, blood sugar levels plummet. The result is a vicious cycle of physical and mental exhaustion.
Dried fruits, especially dates, and starchy vegetables should also be avoided, particularly in the evening, because they may worsen insomnia.
4) ANIMAL FATS. Liver and gallbladder function, which are vital for breaking down fats, can be impaired in ME/CFS patients, especially those with low blood volume. ME/CFS patients have also been shown to have deficiencies in the transport molecule acylcarnitine, which enables the body to use fats at the cellular level. Eat fats in moderation and avoid rich foods and sauces. If you eat meat, use very lean cuts and remove the skin from chicken and other fowl.
5) ADDITIVES (artificial colors, artificial flavors, preservatives, MSG).Sensitivities to petrochemicals and their by-products are common in ME/CFS patients. People may not realize that many food additives are derived from petrochemicals. Allergic reactions such as inflammation, itching, pain, insomnia, depression, hyperactivity, and headache caused by common food additives can be severe and can contribute to ME/CFS flares. Although all synthetic food additives should be avoided, the following are particularly problematic for patients with ME/CFS.
- Artificial colorings (lake colors, tartrazine, AZO dyes, FD&C, or “coal tar colors”). These are derived from petroleum, and although described as “food” colors, are primarily used to dye cloth.
- MSG and MSG-containing substances (monosodium glutamate, monopotassium glutamate, hydrolyzed vegetable protein , hydrolyzed plant protein, sodium caseinate, calcium caseinate, and Flavorings). Because glutamate acts as an excitatory neurotransmitter, a number of neurological and allergy-like symptoms can result from consuming MSG, including sneezing, itching, hives, rashes, headache, asthma attacks, acid stomach, excessive thirst, bloating, restlessness, balance problems, chest pain, joint pain, and severe depression.
Food sensitivities can produce such a wide array of symptoms – restlessness, anxiety and panic attacks, migraine, joint pain, insomnia, nightmares, rashes, and malaise – that they might not be recognized in a person with the usual broad spectrum of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome & Myalgic Encephalomyelitis symptoms. For some patients, reactions may be so severe that food intake is drastically restricted.
Fortunately, eliminating a few offending foods from the diet can improve symptoms dramatically.
Dr. Robert H. Loblay and Dr. Anne R. Swain, two clinicians working on ME/CFS research in Australia, discovered that about one-third of their patients considered themselves “much better” after eliminating offending foods from their diets. These patients reported significant improvement in specific symptoms such as headache, muscle pain, malaise, depression, and irritability after adopting a modified diet. Treatment surveys conducted by a DePaul University research team and by Dr. Fred Friedberg also confirm that about one-third of patients who adopt anti-allergy diets experience moderate to major improvement in ME/CFS symptoms.
The task of identifying offending foods is made easier by the fact that most food sensitivities tend to fall into groups that are fairly predictable. The following list, compiled with the help of numerous individuals with ME/CFS, may help you to identify the most common symptom-producing foods.
NIGHTSHADE FAMILY (eggplant, pepper, tomato, potato). All members of the nightshade group contain atropine, an alkaloid that is an anticholinergic (inhibits acetylcholine) and produces inflammation.
MILK PRODUCTS. Many patients, especially children, have sensitivities to milk products. Lactose intolerance can produce bloating, gas, and discomfort. In addition, milk thickens mucus, which can worsen symptoms for patients with allergies.
FRUITS. Fruits contain large amounts of fructose. People with severe problems from defective carbohydrate metabolism experience less fatigue and general malaise with a fruit-free diet. Patients with fewer GI problems often find they can digest fruit better when eaten after a meal rather than on an empty stomach.
GAS-PRODUCING FOOD (onions, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, broccoli). People with gastrointestinal problems should avoid gas-producing foods.
SPICY FOODS (black pepper, curry, garlic). Many people with food sensitivities seem to do best with a bland diet, especially in the acute phase and during relapse. Avoid spicy foods if you have gastrointestinal problems.
RAW FOODS. Even though salads provide necessary fiber, many ME/CFS patients experience discomfort after eating raw vegetables. Eating well-cooked vegetables and grains usually reduces digestive problems.
YEAST-CONTAINING FOODS (brewer’s yeast, fermented products, mushrooms, aged cheese, some B vitamins). Molds, in general, can produce strong reactions in people with ME/CFS.
ACID FOODS (fruits, tomatoes, vinegar). Patients with interstitial cystitis or recurrent gastritis should avoid acidic foods, as these can exacerbate symptoms.
NUTS. Nuts should be avoided because they contain large amounts of arginine, the amino acid needed for herpesviruses to replicate.
SOY PRODUCTS. Soy products sometimes provoke reactions such as headache or gastrointestinal pain in sensitive individuals.
Anything you can do to lessen work in the kitchen will help you improve your diet because you will have more energy to plan and eat meals. If you are acutely ill or bedbound, make it a priority to get some help in the kitchen. People who feel too tired or sick to cook may not eat, which creates problems above and beyond those caused by Chronic Fatigue Syndrome & Myalgic Encephalomyelitis. If friends offer to help, ask them to prepare meals. If you are alone, try some of the following suggestions to cut down on your work load.
- Prepare meals in advance. Cook during periods of higher energy or ask someone to prepare food and freeze it in individual portions.
- Buy frozen food. Frozen organic and natural foods are available from health food stores as well as many supermarkets in urban areas. You can also purchase frozen organic meats and main dishes that do not contain artificial additives.
- Order food by phone. Many grocery stores will deliver for a small fee.
- Contact volunteer services. Many churches and local organizations have volunteers who will help you shop and cook meals.
- A Final Word on Diet
- Fighting Chronic Fatigue Syndrome With a Natural Energy Diet
- Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Symptoms
- 4 Steps to Overcome Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
- Chronic Fatigue and Diet
- Diet and CFS: What’s the Evidence that it Actually Helps?
- Keeping it All in Perspective
- Chronic fatigue syndrome diet: Foods to eat
- Foods to avoid for CFS patient
- Tips for the chronic fatigue syndrome diet plan
- Sample meal plan for CFS diet
- Swap refined carbs for complex ones.
- Help yourself to healthy fats.
- Eat more vitamin B-rich foods.
- Consider cutting back on caffeine.
- Stay hydrated.
- The Best Foods to Fight Fatigue and Get a Natural Energy Boost
- Causes of tiredness
- Nutrition and tiredness
- How can a nutritionist help to combat tiredness?
- What is nutrition for tiredness?
- How to eat when you’re fatigued:
- How to get more protein in your diet
A Final Word on Diet
Experiment with your diet to find one that works best for you, but remember to use common sense.
Many nutritionists, chiropractors, naturopaths, and countless authors of best-selling diet books have special regimens they claim will produce immediate health gains. Often the pressure to adopt one of these diets can be intense, especially if your friends or acquaintances have heard rumors of cases in which people with cancer, diabetes, heart disease, or other conditions have been cured simply by following a particular diet.
Make diet changes slowly, proceed with caution, and keep in mind that you are the best judge of what is good for you.
*Adapted from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome: A Treatment Guide, 2nd Edition by Erica Verrillo.
Food Allergies and Food Intolerance: The Complete Guide to Their Identification and Treatment by Jonathan Brostoff and Linda Gamlin. Healing Arts Press; April 1, 2000.
The Ultimate Food Allergy Cookbook and Survival Guide: How to Cook with Ease for Food Allergies and Recover Good Health by Nicolette M. Dumke. Allergy Adapt, Inc.; November 1 2006
Food Allergy Network
Kids With Food Allergies, Inc.
Fighting Chronic Fatigue Syndrome With a Natural Energy Diet
Jacob Teitelbaum, MD, medical director of the national Fibromyalgia and Fatigue Centers, also recommends increasing water, salt, and your overall protein intake. “Because of the adrenal hormone levels being inadequate , people become dehydrated and need increased salt and water. The exception would be for patients with high blood pressure or heart failure,” says Dr. Teitelbaum. “Also, increasing protein intake tends to help maintain a stable blood sugar.”
Another important recommendation that Teitelbaum makes is to eat frequent, smaller meals rather than three large ones. This helps you avoid gorging yourself and feeling awful later on.
However, Teitelbaum also emphasizes that different approaches help different people, so it may be best to work with a doctor and a nutritionist to come up with a good solution for you. “Overall, instead of a very defined recommendation, remember that each person is different, and one should eat what overall leaves them feeling the best,” says Teitelbaum. “Sugars may leave you feeling better immediately, but then leave you feeling horrible hours later. Take some time to see how foods affect your overall well-being.”
Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is a chronic illness characterized by extreme fatigue that lasts for more than six months. This fatigue cannot be explained away by an underlying medical condition. In fact, one of the disease’s principle challenges is that it’s impossible to diagnose with laboratory tests. However, some professionals believe it is closely related to adrenal fatigue or system wide inflammation of the body.
The process for diagnosis usually begins with ruling out possible underlying diseases and chronic conditions … until the only choice left is chronic fatigue syndrome. Left untreated, it decreases stamina, memory and concentration.
Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) can result in strained relationships with friends and family, especially when it remain undiagnosed and/or untreated. Guilt, anxiety and anger are all common emotional responses for those fighting chronic fatigue. (1)
Currently, over 1 million Americans are suffering from this debilitating illness that manifests with a lack of energy and motivation, and women are 2–4 times more likely than men to be diagnosed. (2)
Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Symptoms
While the term “chronic fatigue” is fairly descriptive of this crippling illness, it doesn’t tell the entire story. Chronic fatigue often starts suddenly, with flu-like symptoms. But unlike the flu, it can last a lifetime.
In addition to the profound fatigue experienced, other serious symptoms often accompany CFS, such as:
- joint pain that moves from one spot to another
- muscle pain
- poor concentration
- loss of memory
- enlarged lymph nodes
- night sweats
- digestive disorders like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
Sufferers of chronic fatigue syndrome also experience significant alterations in levels of irritability, mood swings, panic attacks, anxiety and depression. According to a study published in Family Practice, 36 percent of individuals with CFS were clinically depressed and 22 percent had “seriously considered suicide in the past year.” (3)
Simply, the emotional and mental side effects of CFS cannot be overlooked, and treatment must include the mind, body and spirit.
Causes of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
We still know very little about chronic fatigue, and sadly, the cause is still unknown. While researchers continue to search for the root cause of CFS, there are preliminary findings that hormonal imbalances, poor immune system response, viral infections, chronic low blood pressure and nutritional deficiency are contributing factors. (4, 5)
In addition, research indicates that chronic fatigue syndrome may be linked to oxidative stress, Celiac disease, and food sensitivities or food allergies. (6)
Most researchers believe that it’s a combination of factors that can vary from individual to individual. Viruses that can cause CFS include HHV-6, HTLV, Epstein-Barr, measles, coxsackie B, parovirus and cytomegalovirus. (7)
4 Steps to Overcome Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
Conventional treatment protocols treat the symptoms rather than the underlying causes. Often individuals with chronic fatigue syndrome are prescribed anti-depressants and sleeping pills. In many cases, the side effects from these drugs are actually worse than the original symptoms.
Instead, I recommend the addition of vitamin B Complex, alternative and complementary health practices, a well-balanced diet rich with potassium and magnesium, and the elimination of food allergens.
According to a study in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, acupuncture, meditation, magnesium, l-carnitine and SAM-e (S-Adenosyl methionine), show the most promise in the treatment of chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia. (8)
Step 1: Eliminate Food Sensitivities and Allergens
More and more research is pointing to a link between food allergies and sensitivities and chronic fatigue syndrome. Allergies to certain foods, pollen, metals and other environmental chemicals may be causing the rising number of individuals with CFS. (9)
According to a study published in the Scandinavian Journal of Gastroenterology, IBS, fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue are linked, and researchers were surprised. In a study of 84 patients that had been referred for “unexplained digestive problems,” nearly all patients (except for one) qualified for a diagnosis of IBS, 85 percent had chronic fatigue syndrome and 71 percent had fibromyalgia. The common denominator, researchers in this study believe, is poor digestion and food sensitivities. (10)
Gluten & Other Common Intolerances
For example, one of today’s most common food sensitivities is a gluten sensitivity. Lactose intolerance, a casein allergy and an intolerance of other common allergens also may be at the root of chronic fatigue. Other common allergens include tree nuts, peanuts, dairy, soy, shellfish and yeast.
I suggestion is to consider taking an IgG (Immunoglobulin G) test to help you determine the foods that you are sensitive to — then you can eliminate them from your diet. By getting rid of your personal known allergens, symptoms of IBS, ADHD, cystic fibrosis, rheumatoid arthritis and chronic fatigue can potentially be relieved.
When ordering the IgG test, be sure to add on a Candida albicans test. According to a study published in the Journal of Orthomolecular Medicine, an astounding 83 percent of participants who followed an anti-candida diet experienced a reduction in their symptoms related to chronic fatigue syndrome! (11)
My candida diet includes foods high in probiotics including kefir, yogurt, sauerkraut and kimchi, as well as green vegetables, flax and chia seeds, and unsweetened cranberry juice. It also requires the elimination of foods that feed the candida in the body. These include sugar, fruit, alcohol and grains.
When candida is left untreated, it causes an inflammatory immune response and creates holes in the intestinal lining, leading to leaky gut.
Casein, a protein in dairy, can cause serious allergic reactions. A casein allergy is more than just lactose sensitivity; it stems from the immune system producing antibodies to protect against protein and can cause the body to release histamine. This can cause hives, nasal congestion, wheezing, the swelling of the lips, mouth, tongue, face or throat, and even anaphylaxis. (12)
Of course, the best way to avoid these symptoms is to avoid casein. This protein is concentrated in high-protein dairy products, including yogurt, milk, cheese and ice cream. However, most individuals will not have a problem with ghee or clarified butter.
In addition, bacteria called H. pylori are believed to be a contributing factor, and they are common in nearly two-thirds of the world’s population. (13) This unfriendly bacteria attacks the lining of the stomach; left untreated, these germs can lead to stomach ulcers.
Researchers found that once H. pylori was out of the body of study participants, their physical and psychological symptoms, including those from IBS, fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue, got well.
Step 2: Increase Your Vitamin B Intake
According to a study published in the Journal of Royal Society of Medicine, researchers found a direct link between reduced vitamin B levels and chronic fatigue syndrome. (14)
The study focused on B-6, riboflavin and thiamine, and researchers believe that B6 (or pyridoxine) is particularly important. Vitamin B6 rich foods include wild tuna and salmon, bananas, grass-fed beef, sweet potatoes, turkey, hazelnuts, garlic and cooked spinach.
Vitamin B6 helps to prevent and relieve fatigue, and it supports a healthy immune system. As stated above, some researchers believe that certain viruses play a role in CFS, therefore increasing B6 levels can be a helpful treatment. B6 helps supports T-cell functioning, allowing them to more adeptly fight infections.
Importance of Methylation
Methylation is the term given to the process in the body where methyl compounds (one carbon, three hydrogen atoms) are used in the critical functions of the body — immune function, energy production, mood, inflammation, nerve function, detoxification, and even DNA — all of which are challenges in chronic fatigue syndrome patients.
Methylation helps you process toxins, make hormones, and even helps in the production of neurotransmitters such as melatonin. How well your body can methylate effects all of these important areas. Poor methylation can lead to a variety of chronic conditions including certain types of cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, allergies, digestive upset, mood and psychiatric disorders, and chronic fatigue.
Methylation requires Vitamin B6, folate and B12 in order to methylate and for your body to function at a cellular level. When you have a vitamin B12 deficiency, it impairs the methylation process and can cause numerous malfunctions that directly contribute to chronic fatigue syndrome.
It’s estimated that nearly 40 percent of Americans have a vitamin B12 deficiency. Many symptoms of the deficiency echo the symptoms of CFS. These include a lack of motivation, low energy, poor focus, poor memory, emotional mood swings, fatigue, muscle tension and more.
Vitamin B12 can boost energy, reduce depression, prevent against neurological degeneration and protect against some types of cancers. B12 is a critical nutrient that supports the methylation cycle and can help to stimulate improved moods, more energy and better cognitive function. (15)
Vegans and vegetarians are at particular risk for B12 deficiency, as it’s most commonly found in animal foods. Vitamin B12 rich foods include beef liver from grass-fed cows, sardines, tuna, raw cheese, cottage cheese, lamb, raw milk, eggs and wild salmon.
To effectively treat chronic fatigue syndrome, the B vitamins are essential. In addition to vitamin B–rich foods, a vitamin B complex supplement can help. Overall, the B vitamins work together to support healthy metabolic functioning, hormone production and vitality.
Step 3: Increase Potassium and Magnesium Intake
Research shows that both potassium and magnesium can help improve the symptoms associated with chronic fatigue syndrome.
In a study published in the UK medical journal The Lancet, chronic fatigue syndrome patients were found to have low magnesium levels that accounted for a low red blood cell count.
In this study, patients that were treated with magnesium supplements self-reported improved energy levels, a more balanced emotional state and less pain. At the end of the six-week study, all patients that were given magnesium had their red cell magnesium levels return to normal. (16)
If you have chronic fatigue syndrome, consider adding these magnesium–rich foods to add to your diet: spinach, chard, pumpkin seeds, yogurt and kefir, almonds, black beans, avocados, figs, dark chocolate and bananas.
These delicious foods can help you overcome chronic fatigue, one of the symptoms of a magnesium deficiency, and support healthy nerve function, healthy blood sugar levels, blood pressure regulation, and much more. It’s estimated that nearly 80 percent (!) of Americans are currently deficient in this essential mineral.
Potassium is responsible for proper electrolyte balance in the body. Potassium-rich foods include avocados, spinach, sweet potatoes, coconut water, kefir and yogurt, white beans, bananas, acorn squash, dried apricots and mushrooms.
Symptoms of a potassium deficiency include the common CFS symptoms: fatigue, irritability and muscle cramps. Eating a diet rich in potassium can help to relieve these symptoms, particularly when foods that cause allergies have been removed.
Step 4: Build Peace and Relax
CFS can be debilitating both physically and mentally. Suffering from persistent exhaustion, reduced brain cognition, chronic muscle and joint pain, stress, and even guilt takes a toll on the body, and psyche.
Long-term stress control and relaxation must be a vital portion of any protocol used to overcome chronic fatigue syndrome. While seemingly impossible, it’s imperative that sufferers of CFS do their best to effectively manage stress, and rest.
The Power of Rest
“Rest” means more than just sleep. Dedicate one day per week when you don’t have any responsibilities or commitments. Truly commit to a full day of rest. This gives your body and mind a much-needed respite — helping to fight stress, anxiety and exhaustion. It’s also important during the week, if you are having a particularly difficult day, to not overtax yourself.
While regular exercise supports wellness and helps to diminish stress, individuals with chronic fatigue syndrome need to exercise at a controlled intensity. High-intensity workouts can leave you drained for several days.
Exercise therapy has been shown to help with fatigue, mental clarity and depression in patients with chronic fatigue syndrome. (17) According to a study released in the European Journal of Clinical Investigation, individuals with CFS were recommended to perform aerobic activities, at the clinic twice per month, in combination with at-home exercises for roughly 5-15 minutes in duration, five days per week. (18)
Chronic fatigue syndrome sufferers commonly experience difficulty with their sleep. In particular, falling and staying asleep, restless legs, nighttime muscle spasms, and vivid (sometimes frightening) dreams. It’s important to establish a regular bedtime routine, which includes a physical and emotional wind-down period.
Yes, this means unplugging from technology —including computers, tablets, television, and smartphones — at least 90 minutes prior to bed. According to a recent study in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, the use of interactive technology devices one hour prior to bedtime results in poor sleep and general sleep disturbances. (19)
Make your bedroom a haven for relaxation and escape from the stressors of the day. Your bedroom should be cool in the evenings to help facilitate sleep, and the lighting shouldn’t be too harsh. Setting the stage for restful sleep really is half the battle to fall asleep fast and stay asleep.
Essential oils are wonderful to help when you can’t sleep. Try a few drops in a diffuser or dotted on your temples. Essential oils that aid in relaxation and sleep include eucalyptus, lavender, valerian, Roman Chamomile, marjoram, bergamot, clary sage, jasmine and ylang ylang.
Avoid caffeine, alcohol and tobacco, as these stimulants can cause additional restlessness at night. Be sure to exercise at least four hours before going to bed, as exercise can also act as a stimulant and create restless sleep.
Incorporate deep breathing exercises, massage therapy, meditation, yoga and muscle relaxation techniques into your daily routine as they can help manage symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome. (20) As part of your wind-down routine, especially if you experience restless legs or muscle cramps at night, try massaging my homemade muscle rub into your legs, or take a nice relaxing bath with epsom salts to soothe achy muscles.
Try progressive muscle relaxation during your wind-down period. The goal is to isolate each muscle group, and then tense and relax them. You can start at your head or toes, but many find that working the way up the body is more beneficial.
Start by visualizing the muscles in the target area, and then tense/contract them for five seconds; then relax and exhale through your mouth. Move to the next muscle group, tense/contract them, and then relax. Continue until you’ve completed each muscle group in turn.
This can help facilitate muscle relaxation throughout the body and encourage a good night’s sleep. This process is also great during the night if you awaken to muscle cramps or restless legs.
Take a vacation! A change of scenery is important from time to time, for it allows our body and our minds to recover from our daily lives. Get away with family or friends, or even by yourself, to fight burn out, relieve stress and stimulate closer relationships.
Travelling opens up new doors, changes our perspective, and gives our minds something to focus on instead of our daily tasks. Just like regular exercise, regular vacations and getaways are imperative for long-term health and wellness.
Ideas for soothing retreats include yoga weekends, trips to a dude ranch, a cottage on a quiet beach or lake, or a cabin in the mountains, with a stack of your favorite books.
Chronic fatigue syndrome can cause a division in relationships, as sometimes people simply do not understand your level of exhaustion, pain, and lack of interest.
After you have eliminated foods from your diet that are causing the symptoms of CFS, and you’ve increased your vitamin B, potassium and magnesium intake, your energy levels will increase.
Then reach out to your friends and schedule get-togethers where you can catch up, share a good laugh or two, and re-engage. Research has proven that social support is essential for maintaining psychological and physical health! (21)
Read Next: 3 Steps to Heal Adrenal Fatigue
Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS for short) is a life-changing chronic disease with no known cause and no known cure. The best-known symptom is constant fatigue that gets worse after doing anything, but doesn’t get better after resting. People with CFS often have unrefreshing sleep or struggle to fall asleep at all, even though they’re exhausted. Other symptoms include muscle or joint pain, headaches, and impaired memory or concentration.
CFS is incredibly hard to diagnose because the symptoms can also be symptoms of so many other things. It’s usually diagnosed by exclusion: if you don’t have a huge list of other diseases and you fit the CFS criteria, that’s (presumably) what you have.
Treating CFS is incredibly challenging, and it seems like almost everything has been tried at one point or another: antidepressants, cognitive behavioral therapy, light boxes, you name it. But here’s a look at some recent studies exploring a potential link between diet and CFS.
Chronic Fatigue and Diet
Nobody can find one “cause” of CFS in the same way that there’s one “cause” of Chickenpox or strep throat. But there still are several suspected triggers, including…
- Nutrient deficiencies.
- Acute stress (mental or physical).
- Infections and immune disorders (specifically, CFS often seems to show up immediately following an infection, such as mononucleosis or Lyme disease).
- Gut health and gut dysfunction.
…and all of those potential triggers should sound familiar as problems that can be affected in various ways by diet and lifestyle.
Nutrients and Nutrient Deficiencies
Nutrient deficiency is probably the most obvious way that diet can modify any kind of disease. Specifically, for CFS:
- Vitamin D levels are lower than they are in the general population (although this could also be reverse causation: people don’t get CFS because Vitamin D levels are low; their Vitamin D levels are low because they have CFS and tend to stay inside most of the time)
- Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) levels are also lower in people with CFS, and there’s evidence that it may be causative. This study found that 69% of subjects who tried CoQ10 found it helpful.
- Magnesium is another nutrient of interest. For example, this review found that magnesium supplementation was one of the complementary and alternative therapies with the strongest supporting evidence.
From a dietary perspective, here’s how you could get more of those nutrients…
- Vitamin D: wild-caught cold-water fish, time in the sun, or a supplement if you can’t get outside.
- CoQ10: meat, organ meats, particularly heart, fish, and a little bit in vegetables.
- Magnesium: nuts, spinach, avocado, most meat and fish.
Wild-caught fish: a convenient source of magnesium, CoQ10, and Vitamin D all in one tasty package.
Mental or Physiological Stress
Stress also has a lot to do with diet and lifestyle. Even though we typically think of “stress” as emotional or psychological stress, food can absolutely contribute. Eating gut-irritating foods, or foods that you’re personally intolerant to, is a physiological stressor. Omega-6 overload or a diet high in sugar can be an inflammatory stressor. And restricting fat, carbs, or calories counts as “stress,” too!
This suggests that eating a low-stress diet might be helpful for CFS. Think anti-inflammatory foods, antioxidants, avoiding gut irritants, balancing Omega-6 and Omega-3 fats, and getting enough carbs, fat, and calories.
Infections, Immunity, and Autoimmunity
Then there’s the question of infections and the immune system. There’s mounting evidence that CFS has an autoimmune component. This is backed up by the fact that CFS is extremely common in people with Type 1 diabetes (an autoimmune disease), but it doesn’t seem to be explained by blood sugar, and it’s not so closely connected with Type 2.
Autoimmune diseases are definitely influenced by diet, so the autoimmune connection to CFS raises the possibility that an autoimmune diet might be an option to explore.
Finally, there’s some interesting research connecting fatigue symptoms to overall gut health. In this study, for example, the researchers concluded that “the comorbid triad of IBS, chronic fatigue, and musculoskeletal pain is striking and may point to a common underlying cause.” CFS also has significant overlap with depression and other psychiatric disorders, and considering that gut health is such a critical driver of brain health, the CFS-depression link is more evidence that some kind of gut problems may be involved.
Since diet is so important in maintaining good gut health, this suggests that dietary therapies to improve gut function, like eating probiotic foods, might be part of a strategy for managing CFS.
Diet and CFS: What’s the Evidence that it Actually Helps?
The research above implies that the ideal diet for managing CFS would be…
- High in important nutrients, especially magnesium, CoQ10, and Vitamin D.
- Anti-inflammatory and low in potential stressors.
- Designed to support good gut health and heal any problems that might exist.
- Potentially some kind of autoimmune-specific protocol.
- Not just a diet, but also a lifestyle including plenty of sleep and stress management.
So has any of this actually been tested? Actually, yes!
In this study, researchers found that all of their patients with CFS had problems with the mitochondria (these are the structures inside cells that provide energy to the cells). The researchers told 34 CFS patients to eat a diet that was essentially Paleo (which they entertainingly refer to as an “evolutionarily correct stone-age diet”). The patients were also instructed to take some basic supplements, get enough sleep, and manage their stress.
A Paleo diet would naturally be high in all the nutrients mentioned above, anti-inflammatory, and gut-healing, even if it wasn’t specifically designed as an autoimmune protocol. Combined with the sleep and stress management, it basically hit all the important points. And just as you’d expect, all the patients who complied with the treatment protocol improved.
There’s also some evidence that dietary antioxidants (which reduce oxidative stress and help fight inflammation) are helpful. This study, for example, found that chocolate rich in antioxidants helped improve chronic fatigue symptoms, but low-polyphenol chocolate didn’t.
In other words, there is some evidence that Paleo-style dietary strategies can be one way to approach managing CFS.
Keeping it All in Perspective
With every article discussing something like “Paleo and chronic fatigue” there’s the temptation to fall into the “miracle cure” trap. But if there is a “miracle cure” for CFS (unlikely), then we certainly haven’t discovered it yet, and at any rate, food isn’t it. CFS is a complex disease and eating more salmon or less sugar is not the “magic bullet” that will instantly erase such a complicated web of problems.
What food might be able to do is to help alleviate some of the stress, inflammation, and immune issues that precipitate CFS in the first place, or possibly help address those issues in people who already have CFS and are trying to manage symptoms so they can have a normal life. The human studies are still thin on the ground, but they do provide some evidence that a Paleo-style diet can help manage CFS if it’s used prudently and in conjunction with treatment from an actual doctor.
Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is a disorder that is characterized by extreme fatigue not attributed to any underlying condition. The fatigue experienced by those affected is often worsened with additional physical or mental activity and is not improved with rest.
CFS also goes by the name myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME) and systemic intolerance disease (SEID). However, while chronic fatigue is a common trait among these definitions of the disorder, variations may exist depending on which is chosen.
The cause of chronic fatigue syndrome is currently unknown. Various theories exist regarding its development, ranging from viral infections to psychological stress, but none can truly be defined as being the definitive cause of the disorder.
Chronic fatigue can affect people in different ways, making treatment plans just as varied. People may find benefits from using antidepressants or psychological counseling. The food you eat may also impact symptoms of fatigue, with a chronic fatigue diet possibly giving you the relief you seek.
The following are some of the best foods to eat for a CFS diet, as well as foods you should avoid.
Chronic fatigue syndrome diet: Foods to eat
Contain a high amount of carbohydrates—the main energy source of the body. Including whole grains in your diet will also help regulate the digestive system, allowing it to maintain good working order. Healthy grains include brown rice, barley, quinoa, and oatmeal. However, if eating excess carbohydrates is not desired, choosing to incorporate more fruits and vegetables into your diet would be an acceptable substitute. Fruits and vegetables have the advantage of having essential minerals that can help those suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome.
A common component of meats, animal proteins contain the maximum amount of essential amino acids required by your body. However, not all meat is made equal, as red meat may lead to unwanted health problems if eaten in excess. Healthy sources of animal protein include fish, eggs, and chicken breast. While protein can be found in plant products as well, they are not as good as animal protein when looking strictly at nutritional value. Some plant sources of protein include nuts and beans.
Not all fats are bad for you. In fact, individuals with CFS are encouraged to consume adequate amounts of healthy fats while still avoiding unhealthy ones. Healthy fats can help improve poor immune systems, hormone imbalances, and also help cognitive functioning. Fats are also an excellent source of energy. A great source of healthy fats is extra virgin olive oil, which has proven to not only be an abundant source of omega 3’s but has also shown to significantly reduce cell death and decrease memory loss—a common trait of CFS patients, according to an Iranian study. Other sources of healthy fats include coconuts and avocados. Fats from meat and fish are also healthy.
Fruits and vegetables
As a general rule, all fruits and vegetables are considered good for those suffering from CFS. Previous research into chronic fatigue syndrome patients found elevated levels of methemoglobin (MetHb), a marker for oxidative stress. Consuming foods that have high antioxidant properties can help mitigate free radical damage. Blueberries have been found to carry the highest ORAC (oxygen radical absorbance capacity) value, translating to high antioxidant activity, neuroprotective properties, and the ability to protect red blood cells from oxidative damage.
Rich in omega-3’s and omega-6’s, flax seed oil is great for improving blood circulation and is beneficial for your joints. This versatile oil can be used in virtually any recipe. It is a great addition to smoothies, soups, and practically anything else you can think of.
Foods to avoid for CFS patient
While coffee has many health benefits, caffeine may inevitably be your undoing. While caffeine can improve your energy for a short duration, it may give you a false sense of energy and lead you to overdo it, expending more energy than you can spare. Too much caffeine may also impact your sleep, preventing energy recovery.
Although eating unhealthy food can be an occasional guilty pleasure, eating chips, chocolate, and other processed junk foods on a consistent basis can eventually make you feel ill, zapping your energy levels. Try substituting chocolate for a piece of fruit every so often. While fruit does contain sugar itself, it also has many nutrients that your body needs.
By limiting your intake of dairy, or cutting it out of your diet completely, you can expect to see an improvement to your energy level within a few weeks. This may not be easy for some, so you could substitute cow’s milk for rice or almond milk to make the transition a bit easier. Coconut yogurt is also completely dairy free.
Excess inflammation has been found to be a component of chronic fatigue syndrome, so avoiding foods that lead to excess inflammation could provide some benefit. Some of these inflammatory-inducing foods include fried foods, processed meats, and high sugar products. Foods known for their anti-inflammatory properties include fish and olive oil.
Your body craves sugar, as it is its primary energy source. But taking too much sugar can lead to a sudden crash, leading to excessive tiredness. Refined sugars are known for causing high peaks of energy that eventually dies down, so it is recommended to consume more foods that are naturally sweetened with a bit of protein to help even out blood sugar and energy levels. One such option is berries with plain unsweetened yogurt.
Foods that come prepackaged or contain a lot of preservatives tend to have fewer nutrients than their whole food counterparts while having a similar or increased number of calories. Choosing to eat more plant products such as legumes, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains will help support the body and give you the energy you need.
Tips for the chronic fatigue syndrome diet plan
While drinking water will not provide you energy per say, it is required by the body for the transport of essential molecules and other particles around the body. This includes the removal of waste products and the initiation of many metabolic processes. Being dehydrated is also known to make your more tired.
Keep a food and symptom journal
Writing down all the foods you ate is a great way to find out which improve your symptoms and which worsen them. Recording how your felt day to day may also help provide your doctor with valuable information about your diagnosis. By doing this, many CFS patients have discovered that their symptoms are associated with irritable bowel syndrome—a condition that 35 to 90 percent of CFS patients also have.
Don’t cut it all out
It is important to keep your expectations in check and not to overdo your CFS diet. It may be tempting to cut out all foods you believe are causing your fatigue symptoms, but you shouldn’t. Speaking to your doctor about which foods you should be eliminating from your diet will give you a better idea of the right diet plan for chronic fatigue syndrome without overtaxing your body and cutting out important nutrients.
But do experiment with your diet
It is a good idea to try new foods and see what leads to improvements in your energy levels and which don’t. Certain combinations of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats may work better for some and not others, making this process one that has to be done on an individual basis. There is no standard diet plan for chronic fatigue syndrome. Working with your doctor or a dietician can help get you on the right track
Try smaller, more frequent meals
Doing this can help those who feel that they are too tired to eat or don’t feel hungry. Not eating can lead to weight loss and increased symptoms of fatigue. Eating smaller meals more frequently will help keep your energy levels up.
Meal plan and prep when you can
Having a meal plan and preparing your meals ahead of time can make it easier to eat food that improves CFS symptoms. By having a plan in place, you can ensure meals are ready to go when you need them. The thought of cooking food is often one of the biggest hurdles when you have chronic fatigue, but with a little preparation, you can give yourself the best chance to stay energized.
Sample meal plan for CFS diet
An easy to prepare meals that are packed with nutritious leafy greens. Add kale, spinach, or any of your favorite greens with a fresh apple into a blender and drink.
Egg sandwich: Packed with protein, eggs are a great way to start your day, and by making them into a sandwich they can be even easier to take on the go. This is great as you never know when you will need a boost of energy.
Chicken Cobb salad
This nutritious salad can be made with the following ingredients
- Cooking spray
- 1 1/2 pounds skinless, boneless chicken breast cutlets
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- 8 cups mixed greens
- 1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
- 1/3 cup diced peeled avocado
- 2 tablespoons sliced green onions
- 1/3 cup fat-free Italian dressing
- 2 tablespoons crumbled blue cheese
- 1 bacon slice, cooked and crumbled
Thai tempeh buddha bowel
An easy to make meal, but may require a trip to the specialty store. Best of all, this recipe is 100 percent vegan. It is essentially a bowel packed with raw and/or roasted vegetables, grains, beans, and topped with a sauce if so desired. Typically ingredients of this dish include:
- Red bell pepper
- Roasted sweet potatoes
- Sauce, this could be a mix of cashew butter, curry paste, coconut aminos seasoning (soy-free sauce), and a touch of rice vinegar.
Related: Overcoming chronic fatigue syndrome: Steps to follow
If you’re having trouble managing your chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), you might want to take a look at your diet.
Characterized by extreme exhaustion, fuzzy thinking, and a general feeling of blah-ness, chronic fatigue syndrome affects more than 1 million people in the U.S. alone, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. (These symptoms are general and can signal health issues aside from CFS, too. If you think you may have CFS see a medical professional for a diagnosis.) And while there are no known cures, healthy lifestyle choices—including eating the right foods—can go a long way towards keeping symptoms in check.
“Making small changes over time can lead to a full recovery,” says Rachel Straub, MS, CSCS, a nutritionist who has CFS. “Finding a diet you can stick to consistently that enhances your energy is essential.”
Here are five small diet changes that can help you do just that:
Swap refined carbs for complex ones.
Unlike whole, complex carbs, refined grains go through a milling process that strips multiple layers of the grain, removing nutrients, like fiber, in the process. In turn, things like baked goods, white bread, and white pasta move through the digestive system more quickly than complex grains. This causes blood sugar levels to spike and then quickly crash. While this might leave someone without CFS feeling a little more sluggish than usual, people with CFS tend to have poorer than average blood sugar regulation, so nutrient void carbs will likely leave them feeling totally wiped, cautions Taz Bhatia, MD, an integrative physician and author of Super Woman Rx.
To keep your blood sugar even keeled and your energy levels up, reach for complex carbohydrates like whole wheat bread, barley, oats, millet, quinoa, and wild rice. (This ultimate guide to cooking whole grains may come in handy while you’re trying new dishes.) They’re rich in fiber, so they digest at a slower rate and keep your blood sugar and energy levels more stable, says Saundra Dalton-Smith, MD, an internist and author of Sacred Rest. If you have trouble digesting gluten, as many people with CFS do, stick with gluten-free options like brown rice, quinoa, or sweet potatoes. (Yes, sweet potatoes are both a veggie and a complex carb. Fun fact, right?)
Uh oh. This is your body on sugar:
Help yourself to healthy fats.
Like many chronic diseases, CFS is linked to heightened levels of inflammation. While trans fats are known to make inflammation worse, healthy fats can help ward it off, according to Harvard Women’s Health Watch. Healthy fats also digest slowly, so they promote stable blood sugar and energy levels, Bhatia and Dalton-Smith note.
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Sources of healthy unsaturated fats include nuts and nut butters, olive oil, avocado, and wild salmon. On the flip side, common sources of trans fats include fast food fries and nuggets, commercially prepared pies, non-dairy creamers, and butter flavored microwave popcorn. To identify sources of trans fat, read ingredient labels and look for the word “hydrogenated.” This should tip you off to the fact that traces of trans-fat are present in the product—even if it claims to be “trans-fat free.” (If there’s less than 0.5 grams per serving, food makers can legally make this claim.)
MORE: 8 Ways You’re Still Eating Trans Fat When You Think You’re Not
Eat more vitamin B-rich foods.
Namely, ones that are high in vitamin B12 (like poultry, eggs, and fish) and folate (like leafy greens, broccoli, and citrus fruits). These vitamins play an important role in helping mitochondria—the part of your cells responsible for producing energy—function properly, Bhatia explains. And Institute of Neuroscience and Physiology findings suggest that getting enough could help relieve symptoms in people with CFS. Your doctor can help you determine how much B12 and folate you should aim for each day. (Here’s how to get enough vitamin B12 without eating meat.)
One thing to keep in mind? Eating B-rich foods might not be enough, even if you dutifully meet your daily quota. That’s because some people are missing the enzymes needed to absorb B vitamins from food, Straub says. A simple blood test can determine whether you have absorption issues. If you do, your doctor might recommend that you get regular B12 shots in addition to eating plenty of B-rich foods, Bhatia says.
Consider cutting back on caffeine.
In small doses, caffeine might give you a boost. But like refined carbs, going overboard can cause your energy levels to spike high and crash hard. This will leave you desperately craving even more caffeine just to get back to baseline. This kind of vicious cycle can set you up for extreme energy highs and lows. It can also tax your adrenal glands, which can leave you feeling even more tired and achy, say Bhatia and Straub.
MORE: 10 Things You Didn’t Know About Caffeine
So how much caffeine can you have without suffering uncomfortable consequences? In general, experts recommend sticking to 400 milligrams or less, which is the equivalent of two 16-ounce coffees. But that’s not a one-size-fits-all recommendation, especially for people with CFS. Pay attention to how your caffeine consumption makes you feel, and adjust your intake accordingly. “Some people are more sensitive to caffeine than others,” Straub says. “If it aggravates your symptoms, you should cut it out, or at least try having less.” (Can’t imagine life without your daily cup of Joe? Here’s what happened when one editor gave up coffee for 10 days.)
Even mild dehydration can leave you feeling tired and foggy-headed. “Without adequate hydration, toxins can’t be released properly through your sweat glands,” Dalton-Smith explains. “Blood also can’t flow efficiently to bring disease-fighting white blood cells to where they’re needed most.”
Since hydration needs can vary based on factors like age, size, climate, and activity level, your water needs might be higher or lower than the standard eight-glass-a-day recommendation. Instead of going by that, just look at your urine. If it’s dark yellow, there’s a good chance you need to drink more. If it’s pale yellow or clear, you’re probably right on target, Dalton-Smith says. (Make one of these sassy water recipes and staying hydrated will be a breeze.)
Marygrace Taylor Marygrace Taylor is a health and wellness writer for Prevention, Parade, Women’s Health, Redbook, and others.
The Best Foods to Fight Fatigue and Get a Natural Energy Boost
2. Chia Seeds
Talk about something small but mighty. Chia seeds help with hydration by absorbing 10 times their weight in water. Plus, they have the right ratio of protein, fats, and fiber to give you an energy boost without a crash.
With all its protein, fiber, and iron, quinoa is the perfect thing to reach for when you’re looking to recharge. And if you need an on-the-go upper, whip up these quinoa muffin bites and grab ’em before hitting the road.
5. Green Tea
By now, it’s no secret that green tea has a slew of health benefits. You can add “putting some pep back in your step” to the long list. The combination of caffeine and L-theanine gives you energy without the jitters. Bonus: Research suggests that green tea boosts brainpower as well, which may come in handy when you’re down to the wire at work.Green+tea+extract+enhances+parieto-frontal+connectivity+during+working+memory+processing.+Schmidt+A,+Hammann+F,+Wölnerhanssen+B.+Psychopharmacology,+2014,+Mar.;231(19):1432-2072. Take the time to brew the tea yourself because store-bought varieties often have lots of added sugar.
The cozy breakfast food—though, let’s be honest, you can enjoy it any time of the day—will keep energy levels up. That’s because it’s high in fiber and comes with a decent dose protein. Plus, oatmeal has a low glycemic load, a fancy scientific way of saying it stabilizes blood sugar levels. (Just make sure to steer clear of instant oatmeal packets, which can be packed with sugar and salt.) Oatmeal is also super versatile—just take a look at these 30 delicious recipes to keep food boredom at bay.
Certain kinds of fat are friends, not foes, particularly when you’re talking about replenishing your energy. And almonds are packed with healthy monosaturated fats that are just what your body needs for a pick-me-up.
Beans keep you going thanks to a stellar trio of carbs, protein, and fiber. The protein fills you up, the carbs provide energy, and the fiber helps regulate blood sugar. Black beans in particular are your BFFs when it comes to an energy boost—try this black bean soup recipe next time your tank needs refilling.
9. Whole-Wheat Bread
Your body needs carbs for energy, but not all carbs are created equal. Whole-wheat bread is great for a long-lasting energy kick. It’s a complex carb, meaning it raises your blood sugar gradually instead of hiking it up at turbo-speed.
If you regularly question why you feel tired all the time, you may put it down to long working days or too many late nights. Often, your solution may well be a good night’s sleep and scheduling in some relaxation time. But for many, it’s more complex than that.
There may be no clear link between cause, effect and cure. Instead, the causes can be connected, feeding off each other and exacerbating the initial feelings of fatigue. So, understanding the various causes and their relationship is important, as is understanding how to manage fatigue effectively.
In this respect, it’s well worth considering the role that nutrition plays – not only in combating fatigue but also how poor nutrition may itself be a factor leading to feelings of tiredness and fatigue.
This page will explore tiredness in more detail, highlighting the various causes and uncovering the relationship between tiredness and nutrition. We will look into a number of specific energy-boosting foods and find out how a nutritionist can help.
Causes of tiredness
Tiredness and exhaustion are fairly common problems in society today. There are many factors that can cause fatigue and you may experience many of these throughout your lifetime. Below are a few key causes of tiredness:
Often, prolonged feelings of exhaustion may be the result of deeper medical problems, particularly where other symptoms are also experienced. Examples include weight-loss, a change in bowel habits or extreme thirst. Medical advice should be sought in such situations.
There are a vast number of medical conditions that can deplete energy and leave you unusually tired. Some of the most well-recognised causes of tiredness include anaemia, chronic fatigue syndrome/ME, diabetes and glandular fever, amongst other connected conditions. Other, less recognised causes include an underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism), food intolerances such as coeliac disease and hypoglycaemia.
Read more about the link between medical conditions and tiredness.
Weight issues (although not primarily medical in themselves) may also be a cause of tiredness and can lead to medical issues that also cause fatigue. For instance, being underweight or overweight can contribute to tiredness, as the body could be lacking in important nutrients that support growth and normal bodily functioning. Because of this, the body has to work harder to perform everyday activities.
The very nature of our lifestyles can lead to feelings of tiredness. Living in a 24/7 world where technology has created a society that never sleeps, we seem to be running our lives at a breakneck speed and rarely take time out.
As a result, our behaviours and the way we choose to live our lives can exacerbate feelings of exhaustion and fatigue. These behaviours include:
- drinking too much alcohol
- consuming too much caffeine
- working late shifts or long hours with long commutes
- snacking on the go and eating an unhealthy diet
- not getting enough exercise
- never taking time out to relax and recuperate
All of these factors have an impact not only on our bodies, but on our minds too.
Mental health problems such as depression and anxiety are common causes of tiredness. Particularly if you feel anxious or stressed, it’s possible you are struggling to sleep; research from the Mental Health Foundation shows a link between insomnia and low energy levels.
If you’re worried about your mental health, talking can help. Visit Counselling Directory for more help and support.
Dealing with the worries and strains of life can make you feel drained – even the positive ones such as moving house or starting a new job.
Nutrition and tiredness
We know that tiredness is a complex issue. There may be underlying medical conditions causing feelings of exhaustion or there may be psychological issues causing stresses and draining an individual. Alternatively, it may be a person’s lifestyle, whether by choice or otherwise, that is generating these feelings.
To complicate it further, it may be a combination of different factors or one factor leading to another that is leaving you feeling continually tired. For this reason, it can be difficult to identify a specific cause and effect on your own. So first of all, it is important to discuss any symptoms of fatigue and low energy that are present for a prolonged period with your GP.
But, whether your fatigue is the result of lifestyle, psychological, or medical causes, it is often beneficial to address the issue from a holistic perspective – and understanding the nutritional impact of diet is essential. Eating a balanced diet could be a defining factor in helping to address tiredness and maintain a healthy lifestyle.
How can a nutritionist help to combat tiredness?
A balanced diet can address many of underlying health issues, but it’s important to remember that there is no one nutrient that’s responsible for all health ills, and there is no one nutrient that will make us healthy. It really is about our overall dietary pattern.
A nutritionist can provide expert advice and support to help you make safe and effective changes to your diet and lifestyle in order to combat tiredness. They will carry out an assessment of your needs and will explore the causes of tiredness in your life that may benefit from nutritional support. From here, you will be given a tailored diet plan outlining all the ways you can introduce foods that give you energy into your diet.
Seeing a nutritionist can be a great way to make long-term changes to your health and energy levels. If you’re ready to take the next step, contact a nutrition professional today.
What is nutrition for tiredness?
A nutritional plan to combat fatigue will revolve around energy-boosting foods. That’s foods that form part of a balanced diet and provide optimum nutritional value to support bodily functions, improve emotional and physical health and promote overall well-being. A healthy balance of all the main food groups – starchy foods, five portions of fruits and vegetables, dairy and protein – is considered essential to help combat tiredness in the long-term.
Remember, no single food, including those mythical ‘superfoods’, can compensate for unhealthy eating. And there’s no evidence that one single food can provide an energy boost. It’s all about balance.
Tiredness can have a big effect on our appetite. Some people find that they are more hungry, or crave the wrong types of foods when experiencing fatigue, whilst others may lose their appetite when tired. To combat this, eating at regular times important, as this helps to keep your blood sugar levels steady for longer periods, which keeps tiredness at bay.
It would be better to never skip a meal and focus on slow-burning starches such as oats, whole grain bread, rice, pasta and breakfast cereals to provide a slow gradual energy release, as well as a good dose of nutrients and minerals.
Eating a good breakfast
Many people don’t think about their body’s dietary needs when rushing around in the morning – so, skipping breakfast seems the easiest option to save time. But by mid-morning they find themselves flagging. If this sounds like a habit you’ve got into, now might be the right time to re-evaluate your early morning routine to combat tiredness.
Studies have shown that eating a nutritious breakfast can improve concentration and alertness. It can also stop you from unhealthy snacking throughout the morning, which in turn can prevent obesity and diabetes.
Here are a few examples of energy-boosting foods if you need something quick and easy to prepare:
- cereal with yoghurt and fruit
- whole grain bagels with cheese
- scrambled eggs on toast with fruit
- overnight oats or porridge
- sliced hard-boiled eggs in whole wheat pita bread
- whole grain toast with peanut butter and fruit
Also, beware of the sugar content in your breakfast. Studies have discovered that children who eat a breakfast that is high in sugar are usually hungrier at lunch time and eat even more sugary snacks.
After eating an energy-boosting breakfast to combat tiredness, you shouldn’t stop there. Healthy eating should continue throughout the day.
Although carbohydrates don’t have the best reputation, the nutrient is actually your body’s preferred source of energy. Experts say that the best way to maximise your body’s potential for energy is to eat a mixture of simple and complex carbohydrates.
The slow-burning, complex carbohydrates should make up the majority of carbs that we eat. These sustain blood sugars and without them, the body loses steam and you become tired. A few examples of complex carbohydrates include starchy vegetables and whole grains such as brown rice, wheat, oats, potatoes and carrots.
Remember, the quick energy boost released by a chocolate bar or other sugary snacks may satisfy us in the short run, but the increased blood sugar levels quickly dip, often resulting in us feeling more tired. This doesn’t mean that you should ignore the simple carbohydrates altogether though. Rather than reaching for the sugar, go for carbs such as those found in vegetables, fruit and honey, which can provide a good source of immediate energy.
For optimum absorption, aim to eat complex carbohydrates that have a high fibre content. Fibre helps the carbs you eat to be absorbed at a slower pace into your body. So you will gain a sustained energy source, rather than a small burst.
Do you struggle to reach your daily intake? Read our 10 tips to get more fibre in your diet.
Fat provides the highest concentration of energy of all the nutrients. This calorie density, along with our seemingly unlimited storage capacity for fat, makes fat our largest reserve of energy. However, just like carbohydrates, not all fats are created equal.
Trans saturated fats, often referred to as ‘bad fats’ are linked to some chronic illnesses, heart disease and some types of cancer. However, the ‘good’ fats (unsaturated) are a source of concentrated energy that can help you prevent feeling tired all of the time.
Unsaturated fats that are found in avocados, canola oil, olive oil and nuts have been linked to a decrease in the risk of heart disease.
Carbohydrates and fats provide your body with raw energy, but it’s protein that regulates the release of that power. Protein assists growth, maintains cells, preserves lean muscle mass and transports vitamins and hormones.
Sources of protein include:
- Seafood – Fish is typically low in fat and a great source of protein. Salmon, while higher in fat, provides us with heart-healthy omega-3 essential fatty acids.
- Eggs – Medium-sized eggs have around 6g protein and are easily digestible.
- Milk – Dairy foods are great sources of protein and provide our bones with a dose of calcium.
- Yoghurt – Natural yoghurt and Greek yoghurt are good protein sources, perfect fuel for after exercise.
- Soya – Soya protein foods, such as tofu, can help post-workout and are thought to help lower cholesterol. Some soy products can fit in with a healthy diet to provide an extra protein boost.
- Beans and pulses – Cheap, easy and a good source of fibre and iron! Although they do not contain the full complement of amino acids, they can certainly boost the protein content (and health qualities) of a well-balanced diet.
In diets where your body doesn’t get enough fat and carbohydrates to fuel it, protein provides the energy.
Water moves food through your intestines, helps regulate your body’s temperature and helps with joint movement. Also, it’s crucial for the production of energy molecules. According to experts, dehydration is one of the main causes of tiredness and having a lack of energy. If you’re not well hydrated, instead of supplying you with energy, your body will focus its resources on maintaining your water balance.
To combat tiredness, it’s advised to take a water bottle around with you throughout the day and replacing soft drinks with water. Aim to have at least two litres of water a day, and for an extra energy boost, consider adding a slice of fresh lemon.
Also, watch your alcohol intake. Alcohol can not only dehydrate you but also disturb your sleep, leading to tiredness the next day.
Read more about the importance of hydration.
Food and drink to avoid
Another way to fight your prolonged fatigue would be to avoid a number of foods that can result in tiredness:
- Processed foods – If your diet consists mostly of processed foods you may also find your levels of tiredness increase, compared with a diet consisting of fresh fruit and vegetables. Many prepackaged foods contain high levels of sodium and sugar so it’s worth trying to reduce these in your diet.
- Caffeine – It’s well known that caffeine, found in coffee and energy drinks acts as a stimulant and can improve the feelings of alertness, countering the effects of fatigue. However, too much caffeine, particularly in people who aren’t used to it, may cause the adverse effects of irritability and headaches. Cutting back on caffeinated drinks can help stabilise your energy levels to help you feel better. Why not try a natural, caffeine-free energy drink to see if you notice a difference in your energy levels?
- Unhealthy fats – Trans fats that are found in snacks, fried foods, baked goods and margarine. Saturated fats that are found in cream, meat, lard and butter, and are thought to increase the risk of heart disease. Of course, any of these foods are fine occasionally, but try to limit them from your diet if you’re feeling tired all the time.
- Refined carbohydrates – Refined, sugary carbs add little nutritional value to your diet. Instead, try to choose complex carbohydrates and whole grain foods to ensure your body gets the nutrients it needs.
Suffer the afternoon slump? Take a look at our expert tips for boosting energy in the afternoon.
All content displayed on Nutritionist Resource is provided for general information purposes only, and should not be treated as a substitute for advice given by your GP or any other healthcare professional.
Fatigue is harder to pin down than just “being tired.” Fatigue is daily lack of energy, a kind of weakness or inertia that you feel throughout your whole body. It’s a loss of interest in people and the things you normally like to do. Physical exhaustion blends with low spirits, and you wind up with fatigue.
Fatigue is the most common side effect of cancer treatment. Some doctors estimate that 9 out of 10 people experience some fatigue during treatment.
Complex and varied factors cause fatigue, even after breast cancer treatment is completed. Nausea and pain, hot flashes, steroids, stress, and depression all may contribute to fatigue. What you eat can also affect your fatigue:
- Poor nutrition: Eating less and not getting enough of the nutrients you need because of treatment side effects can cause fatigue.
- Dehydration: You may be dehydrated because you’ve been vomiting or have had diarrhea after treatment. Or maybe you’re just too tired to keep drinking liquids. This can lead to an imbalance in electrolytes and can make you feel weak.
Learn more about the causes of fatigue and other steps that can help.
If you’re fighting fatigue, it’s important to make sure you’re getting enough protein as well as total calories. These amounts will be different for different people. Together, you and your doctor or your registered dietitian can come up with an eating plan that works for you.
Here are some general guidelines for how much protein and calories you need:
- If your weight is staying about the same during treatment, you need 15 calories a day for each pound you weigh. So if you weigh 160 pounds, you need 2,400 calories a day to maintain your weight.
- If you’ve lost weight during treatment, add another 500 calories to your daily diet. So if you weighed 130 pounds and lost weight during treatment, you need 1,950 plus 500, which equals 2,450 calories a day.
- Protein helps heal and rebuild tissues. During treatment, eat half a gram of protein for each pound you weigh. So if you weigh 160 pounds, try to get 80 grams of protein in your diet each day.
You should also make sure to get enough vitamins and minerals. Getting these nutrients from foods rather than from supplements is best. But if you aren’t eating very much because of treatment side effects, ask your doctor about taking a multivitamin.
Also make sure you’re drinking enough liquids, especially water. If you have side effects such as vomiting and diarrhea, you need to drink more liquids than normal. Besides water, good choices are fruit juice, sports drinks, and broth. Caffeinated beverages (coffee, tea, soda pop) actually can dehydrate you, so stick to other choices.
How to eat when you’re fatigued:
- Cook in bulk. When you have the energy to cook, make a large batch of something nutritious (vegetable pasta, tuna casserole, rice and beans) and freeze it in single-serving containers. Then when you’re too fatigued to cook, you can quickly heat one container and eat. If your friends or family offer to cook for you, ask them to do the same.
- Eat a lot when you’re feeling good. Try to eat your biggest meal when you have the most energy and the biggest appetite. If you get tired by the end of the day, eat more at breakfast and lunch.
- Eat several nutritious snacks during the day to boost your calorie and protein intake. String cheese, raisins, yogurt, baby carrots, and cut-up vegetables are easy to keep handy. This way you don’t have to face eating a big meal.
- Try a prepackaged liquid nutritional supplement or an energy bar rather than skip a meal entirely. Every little bit helps.
How to get more protein in your diet
Good sources of protein include lean meat, fish, poultry, dairy products, nuts, dried beans, peas and lentils, and soy. To get more protein each day, try some of these tips:
- Add cheese to sandwiches, fish, vegetables, soups, casseroles, pasta, rice, and noodles.
- Add lean meat, fish, or tofu to pasta sauce, casseroles, chili, soups and sauces. Stir-fry it with vegetables for a quick and delicious meal.
- Use milk instead of water in cooking when possible.
- Eat hard-boiled eggs. Keep them in the refrigerator as a snack. Add chopped hard-boiled eggs to salads and sandwiches.
- Add nuts, seeds, or wheat germ to casseroles, breads, cookies, cakes, muffins, pancakes, and cereal. Sprinkle it on ice cream and fruit.
- Add several kinds of beans to pasta sauce and chili.
- Add peanut butter to sandwiches, toast, crackers, muffins, and fruit slices. Use it as a dip for raw veggies.
- Use yogurt as a dip for fruit and veggie slices or cookies.
- Add frozen yogurt or ice cream to your decaf coffee or tea, or hot chocolate.
- Mix cottage cheese with salsa and chopped avocadoes to make a tasty dip.
“For three years during the 10-year period between my two breast cancers I experienced overwhelming and debilitating fatigue. No physical reason could be found. I wasn’t depressed. I just lived with it, and eventually the fatigue slowly lifted.”
— Diana Dyer, M.S., R.D. Was this article helpful? /
Last modified on March 26, 2014 at 12:19 PM