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Tired all the time? The cause could be what's on your plate

Posted Jun 20 2011 3:03am

People often comment when they first arrive for treatment that they “feel tired all the time” although there’s nothing medically wrong with them. Often, when they complete a food diary and we analyse it, the cause becomes obvious – its what’s on their plate.

Despite an abundance of food in our country, I frequently encounter people who are malnourished. Not starving for calories mind you, because they’re often overweight, but starving for vital nutrients while eating more than enough calories through fat and sugar.  Here’s how it can happen:

-          Many people eat out of packets rather than cooking food from its original source. For example, they will open a bottle of pasta sauce and tip it over their spaghetti rather than making a sauce from onion, garlic, tomato and whatever other ingredients are needed to make a delicious sauce. Processed food is frequently lower in nutrients than its fresh cousins, particularly vitamin C. When you review what you ate over the last few days, how much of it came out of a packet?

-          When finances are tight, many people compensate by increasing what they spend on grain based foods (which are relatively cheap and plentiful) and reducing what they spend on protein-based foods like meat, fish and eggs, which are relatively more expensive. The protein-rich foods are also the nutrient rich foods, particularly for important minerals like zinc, iron and magnesium. So their trolley may look abundantly full, but it may be full of empty calories.

-          It’s easy to buy take-away when you’re busy, and haven’t planned your meals for the week; but then you can find yourself buying take-away more and more. This food is relatively low in nutrients and high in empty calories of sugar and saturated fats.

If you suspect you could fall into the ‘tired and malnourished’ category, here are some suggestions:

-          For one week, purchase foods only in their original state (e.g fresh vegetables, not frozen or canned; whole grains, not bread or pasta; fresh meat, fish and egg) If your diet is normally full of processed foods, this will be quite an adventure!

-          Be organised: Plan your meals a week in advance. Even better, when you cook something freezable, like a casserole, make double and freeze some for a day when you’re too busy or too tired to cook.

-          If your budget is tight, choose low cost meats, dried legumes rather than tinned, and shop around for the best prices on fresh produce. You will need to put energy in to create your meals, but they’ll be healthier. (To make sure I spend enough on the 'right' foods, even when my budget is tight, I spend proportionately: 40% on protein (fish, meat, eggs, legumes, nuts), 40% on fruit & veg, and 20% on everything else (oil, salt, spices etc)

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