Fatigue is one of the factors that contribute most to poor quality of life, poor performance at work and is strongly linked with depression.

Feeling tired has become very common in the hectic pace of the pressurized lives we lead. Time to dig around in your vegetable garden and shop for foods that will boost and sustain your energy.

Fatigue is not an ailment or illness, it often is a symptom of an illness, or perhaps a result of lifestyle factors such as too little sleep, too much stress and can even result from too much or too little exercise.

“Can that be true?! Too little exercise can make me tired?” Definitely. A person that is unfit gets fatigued much faster during a stressful, busy day, compared to a person that is fit and strong. Sort of makes sense now, doesn’t it?

FACTS FIRST

Want to fight fatigue? First find out why you are tired. Diseases such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes and infections are known to cause fatigue. But what if you do not have any of these diseases? There may still be some medical reasons for fatigue that are easy to treat.

Is your blood pressure too low? Low blood pressure can make one feel lightheaded, or create a sensation of tiredness, without any actual low energy levels or fatigue.

Why? Your circulatory system consists of a closed system of blood vessels, with the heart pumping blood around your body. Adequate pressure is needed for sufficient distribution of blood to the muscles and the brain. In cases of low blood pressure, insufficient oxygen reaches these parts of the body, causing a sensation of physical and mental fatigue.

Did you know? Fatigue is one of the factors that contribute most to poor quality of life, poor performance at work and is strongly linked with depression.

Where can I have it tested? Normal blood pressure levels are 120/80 mmHg. Blood pressure can be tested at your nearest pharmacy, clinic or medical practice.

What next? If your blood pressure is low, typically no medication is required and there are not serious health threats.

Try these recommendations to help normalise low blood pressure:

Water

Dehydration is known to cause fatigue as it contributes to low blood pressure and poor energy turnover. Make sure to drink 6-8 glasses of water per day (rooibos tea with no sugar can count as water). Increase your water intake on hot days or when you perspire a lot due to work or exercise.

Electrolytes

Bananas are a natural source of potassium and can be eaten to reduce your salt intake.

Losing salts (electrolytes such as sodium and potassium) through sweating on hot days, or when you exercise, could further contribute to low blood pressure. Too much table salt can be harmful, so rather look out for natural sources of potassium: tomatoes, celery, dried guava roll, raisins, bananas and potatoes.

Caffeine

Caffeine increases blood pressure, which is why it should be taken with caution by people with high blood pressure.

Individuals with low blood pressure are likely to experience a spike in their perceived energy levels after a strong dose of caffeine from a strong cup of coffee or a caffeinated energy tonic. A word of caution: what goes up, must come down. Caffeine is therefore not your new best friend!

Are you iron deficient?

Iron plays an important role in energy release, as it is the oxygen-carrier in your red blood cells. A deficiency of iron causes anaemia, which is known to cause fatigue. There are different types of anaemia, so it would be best to have a blood test to find out what the best treatment would be.

Where can I have my iron levels tested? Iron or haemoglobin levels can be tested at your GP practice, most advanced healthcare clinics and selected pharmacies with clinics. More thorough tests can be done at a pathology laboratory, by prescription from your medical doctor.

What next? Based on your results, your doctor will indicate if medication is needed, or whether a regular iron supplement would be sufficient. Dietary sources of iron include red meat, organ meats, pilchards, and vegetarian options include raisins, molasses syrup and dark green leafy vegetables such as spinach.

Are my antidepressants making me tired? Medication prescribed for the treatment of depression is known to reduce the levels of certain B-vitamins in your body. That is a problem, as the B-vitamins are important for the release of energy from the foods we eat, during our daily activities and especially during exercise.

If you are taking antidepressants, make sure to take a supplement with vitamin B complex daily. A normal multivitamin would be sufficient, or for optimal intake, a strong dose of vitamin B complex is ideal.

High energy foods

Foods that are high in energy, are high in carbohydrates, fats and/or proteins. Carbohydrate-rich foods contain sugars and starches that provide instant energy. The most popular examples are not always the healthiest ones: sweetened soft drinks, biscuits, sweets and bread. The problem with consuming these foods is that even though they give you a quick energy boost, the energy does not last long, making you feel tired and hungry a few hours later.

The best energy foods are those with:

  • complex carbohydrates: wholegrain bread, muesli, brown rice and wholegrain cereals,
  • healthy fats and oils: avocado, nuts, seeds, oily fish such as sardines, mackerel and pilchards,
  • protein: peanuts, sunflower seeds, eggs, meat, chicken, fish, lentils and beans.

Energy releasing foods

The B-vitamins and magnesium are important for energy conversion and energy release in the body. This basically involves the conversion of energy from the foods we eat, to muscle energy or brain power, when we need it most.

8 Vitamin B Food Sources

  1. Bovril

    Foods that are high in energy, are high in carbohydrates, fats and proteins.
  2. Marmite
  3. Milk
  4. Red meat
  5. Eggs
  6. Wholegrain cereals
  7. Beans and lentils
  8. Sunflower seeds

8 Magnesium Food Sources

  1. Red meat
  2. Dark green leafy vegetables (spinach, swiss chard, rocket)
  3. Dark chocolate
  4. Pumpkin seeds

    Red meat is one of the 8 magnesium food sources.
  5. Coconut
  6. Banana
  7. Avocado
  8. Yoghurt

TIPS & IDEAS

Don’t go to work “on an empty tank”. Your body needs good nutrition to sustain good energy levels during a busy day.

Snack meals for breakfast: If you don’t have time, or if you simply do not like eating breakfast, no stress! As long as you have some type of nutritious snack before 9 AM, you’re good to go! Examples include: a slice of toast with peanut butter; a protein or muesli bar; an apple; a boiled egg; or what about a banana?

How low GI can you go? Low glycemic index (GI) carbohydrate foods keep energy levels sustained for longer. Low GI bread or cereals are ideal for long, busy days.

Get some sleep: Are you tired because you are not sleeping enough? Chamomile tea is a natural remedy that promotes peaceful sleep. It naturally contains sleep-promoting or mild sedative components which also help to reduce anxiety.

Andrea Du Plessis
Andrea du Plessis is a well-known registered dietician with a passion for healthcare through nutrition, natural remedies and a healthy lifestyle. She regularly presents talks and educational workshops on nutrition throughout the country. Du Plessis is also known as the resident health and nutrition expert on SABC3’s Expresso breakfast TV show.