Digestion and fatigue

Digestion is the mechanical and chemical action to break down food for absorption into the bloodstream.

Eating healthy food options will not only give you the energy for your day, but will help reduce the likelihood of fatigue. The right foods in the right quantities at the right time allows you to remain active and alert.

Did you know that a meal takes about 15 hours to travel from the mouth to the rectum, stopping in the stomach for three to five hours. And that a stomach can hold as much as two litres of food? True.

We humans are programmed to be awake during the day and alseep at night. Many other processes also follow this pattern, including digestion.This is because digestive juices (stomach acids and enzymes) are mainly secreted during the day. If you are required to work outside of ‘normal hours’, be aware, and your body will probably tell you, that digestion slows at night and can lead to tummy troubles. These effects can be worsened by drinking tea, coffee, or alcohol and can lead to peptic ulcers.

There are many factors that might produce symptoms of tiredness and sluggish behaviour. One of these is low blood sugar level. Not eating, or eating the wrong food at the wrong time will contribute to unstable blood sugar levels.

The way blood sugar levels react to different foods is known as the glycaemic index (GI) of foods.

High GI foods make your blood sugar levels rise and fall quickly, whereas low GI foods make the blood sugar level rise and fall slowly.

High GI foods are ideal when you are doing physical work and need energy quickly.

  • Examples of high GI foods include hot chips, cakes, muesli bars, rice, bread, Coco Pops and potatoes.

Low GI foods are ideal for maintaining a stable blood sugar level, and for slowly raising blood sugar to avoid the fast drop in level and energy that can happen after eating high GI foods. Low GI foods are ideal as snacks during a duty period or long flight.

  • Examples of low GI foods include oranges, baked beans, porridge, chocolate, pasta, apples, grapes, peanuts or cashews.
  • Intermediate GI foods include banana, basmati rice, ice-cream, sugar, weetbix, flavoured milk drinks, soft drinks, biscuits and pineapple.

Diabetics will be aware of the GI and will know the effects of the food groups on their condition. Their medical advice will suggest they stay away from high GI foods to help regulate their blood sugar levels.

Another group of foods that can help you stay awake and active is low-fat proteins. Their digestion is linked to a process involving amino acids which lead to increases in the levels of stimulating chemicals in your body.

  • Examples of low-fat proteins are hard-boiled eggs, cooked and canned fish, low-fat dairy products, protein shakes and lentils.

You might also consider making sure you get enough fibre uptake from fresh fruit and vegetables in your diet.

Another important consideration is the level of minerals and salt you are consuming. The recommended daily intake of salt is 3.8 grams – one teaspoon. Any more than this can result in high blood pressure, which can lead to stroke, heart disease and kidney disease.

It is important that you maintain a balanced diet. In general, a low-fat diet of mainly low and intermediate GI foods with some good quality protein is the best option.

Don’t overeat. Large meals at irregular times will drain your energy and allow fatigue to start. So eat regular, smaller meals.

Food fights fatigue! Eat to stay alert.