Nutrition – fatigue and food

Tuesday 08 May 2018

This month I want to look at foods that have been shown to help boost energy because they are rich in the B group of vitamins and magnesium. These nutrients in particular have been shown to be necessary for the energy centre of the cell for the production of energy.  Both of these nutrients can become very depleted when the body is under any type of stress.

The exact causes of cancer fatigue and how best to treat it isn’t always clear and usually it is a result of more than one thing.

So, more about the foods that have been singled out as being very rich in B vitamins and magnesium and some simple ways to use them.

The first may surprise you, a food that was once restricted!!

These are an excellent source of vitamin B12 which helps to release the energy from the food, aids the manufacture of red blood cells, and helps the body to process another B vitamin, folic acid. Eggs also contain choline, a nutrient used to make the brain chemical acetylcholine which helps alertness.
There are no longer any restrictions on the number of eggs that you can eat in a week so unless you are a vegan use them regularly, cooked simply poached, boiled or scrambled, or as the base for a frittata, in a kedgeree, or as a baked egg custard. I am sure that you can think of many other ways. They are so convenient, a little power house in a shell!!

They are rich in B vitamins and have the added bonus of being low in the glycaemic load, this means that they are digested and broken down into glucose gradually, helping to prevent peaks and dips in blood glucose levels. They contain soluble fibre which helps to keep the digestive tract healthy.
The obvious thing to think of is porridge sweetened with agave nectar or xylitol. Think of oatcakes as a snack with hummus or a nut butter spread on them. Muesli of course is another idea. Also use oats in flapjack, again using agave nectar or acacia honey instead of syrup, and I also use oats along with wholemeal flour in my crumble topping to give more texture and a nutty taste.

These are very rich in vitamin B6 which is one of the key energy boosting B vitamins involved in more than 100 enzyme reactions and most importantly is needed for the efficient metabolism of protein, fats and carbohydrate foods. It is also needed for a sharp brain and healthy immune system. It helps promote the formation of white blood cells and haemoglobin, the oxygen carrying component of red blood cells. We also know that avocados are rich in monounsaturated fats which have been shown to lower bad cholesterol (LDL) and increase the healthy cholesterol (HDL).

Use avocados mashed on toast as a quick snack, sliced with a salad, in guacamole, or add to fruit or vegetable smoothies to give a calorie dense drink with a silky smooth texture

Kale is a positive powerhouse of energy due to its high content of magnesium, needed to trigger the release of ATP, which works like a rechargeable battery to release and store energy that powers the cells. It helps muscles contract and relax, aids nerve function, keeps the heart beat strong and steady, and works with calcium to build strong bones.

Use it simply steamed, as part of a stir fry, in soups and smoothies, and wilted in a salad. To do this, simply remove the stalks from the kale and discard, put the leaves in a large bowl. Add 1-2 tsps of garlic salt and massage the kale with your fingers. After a few minutes it will soften and wilt. You can then add other ingredients like chopped tomato and mushrooms or red onion and a dressing of your choice, I enjoy this with a tahini dressing.

These are a brilliant source of soluble fibre, for slow and steady glucose release. They are also very rich in B vitamins, iron and magnesium. They provide complex carbohydrates for sustained energy release.

There are of course many different types of lentils and all are good in a soup, a dahl, or mixed with cooked rice or in a salad to add texture as well as nutritional value. They of course can be used in a casserole or stew as a meat extender, simply stir them in raw at the beginning of the cooking process and they will not only be nutritionally good but act as a thickening agent to make the dish very wholesome.

These are little powerhouses, packed with potassium and electrolytes needed for optimum nerve and muscle performance. They are rich in soluble fibre and B6, plus many other energy boosting vitamins and minerals.

They make an excellent instant snack, added to smoothies, sliced over breakfast cereal, or added to cakes to add natural sweetness and give a moist texture.

Salmon is a really good source of vitamin B6 as well as other energy boosting B vitamins, magnesium, potassium, and of course omega 3.

The simplest way to cook salmon is to poach it in some water for 10 mins on a very low heat and serve with cooked vegetables or a salad. It is a good fish to use in sandwiches, as part of a fish pie (good topped with celeriac rather than mashed potato) or flaked through some cooked brown rice or quinoa with fresh herbs and tomatoes.

Coconut is of course at the moment enjoying the status of being a super food and next month I am going to focus on the coconut products that are available to us and how to incorporate them into the diet. But for now the fatty acid structure of coconut makes it a very useful source of energy. The medium chain fatty acids are digested and absorbed very quickly and are used as a source of instant energy and not stored as fat. Coconut is rich in lauric acid and caprylic acid which are not only a source of instant energy but have been shown to boost the immune system.

I use coconut butter for my stir fries and sometimes in cakes instead of butter. It works very well as the fat in a crumble or added to a smoothie to give a high energy instant drink. Some people I have met actually use it on bread and toast instead of butter.

So vital for rehydration. Our brains are made of approximately 80% water making them very sensitive to dehydration. They can quickly become sluggish and energy levels will take a nosedive. The amount that you drink each day depends on your energy levels but generally 1.2 to 1.5 litres a day is advised. Many people I know who are having chemotherapy dislike the taste of water so I suggest making a fruit or herbal tea, allowing it to chill and sipping this over the course of a day. If you suffer from nausea then infuse some freshly chopped ginger with boiling water, allow it to cool and sip this slowly. It is generally preferred sweetened with some honey and a slice of lemon.

The other side of the coin
Of course it is worth considering here the foods that drain you of energy. Contrary to popular belief, sugar and sugary foods deplete your energy. Sugar causes wild fluctuations in blood sugar levels which is a real contributor to fatigue. Sugar also depletes the immune system and so is best to avoid if possible.


Blog originally written by Caroline May 2015 checked April 2020

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