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Nutrition 101

Q: Why do I Always Feel Tired After Lunch?

Q: Why do I Always Feel Tired After Lunch?

Culinary Nutritionist Natalia Hancock answers a common question regarding tiredness after eating and sugar crashes.

As a nutritionist, I get a lot of questions about tiredness after eating. In my experience, people tend to think that there's something specific in their food that triggers tiredness. That's sometimes the case, but there can be another scientific reason for that mid-afternoon sleepiness.

Our brain and intestines are two organs that require great amounts of energy to work effectively. When a large, calorie dense meal is consumed at lunchtime, your brain diverts energy towards digestion, sending red blood cells over to help break down the food and carry nutrients to the rest of your body. As your intestines work overtime to break down and metabolize the large meal you just ate, the rest of your body slows down and relaxes. This might make you feel lethargic since your brain doesn’t have as many red blood cells to help it function.

In addition to the digestive system working overtime to break down your lunch, the types of food you eat can promote the feeling of fatigue. A “sugar crash” - the result of eating a large amount of simple or high-glycemic index carbohydrates - can leave you feeling tired, lethargic and possibly irritated. The mechanism by which this occurs is related to a rapid rise in blood sugars after eating. The hormone insulin gets released from your pancreas to help store the sugar or glucose you just consumed as glycogen. As a result, an abrupt drop in blood sugar ensues and you are left feeling physically drained.

To avoid feeling tired after lunch you need to first make sure you are getting enough sleep! Seven to eight hours is ideal. Secondly, go for a lighter, more nutrient dense lunch. Skip the giant pepperoni slice, 20oz soda and chocolate chip muffin and aim for more reasonable portions that are balanced with fiber-rich carbohydrates (fruits, vegetables, legumes or whole grains), protein and healthy fats.

Infographic: Benefits of Fiber

Unsweetened tea, seltzer or water are great choices for beverages that are refreshing but will not add on extra calories. A lunch that won't make you feel tired is seared salmon over sautéed vegetables and flavored seltzer, or ½ cup of chicken salad over greens, fresh veggies and legumes at the salad bar with an unsweetened green tea.

nutrition advice, nutrition facts

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