Is your diet making you sick?

Poor eating habits can lead to common ailments.

Many people think that symptoms like headaches, fatigue, mood swings, chronic bloadtedness and constipation are always the result of a serious medical condition. But before you get too worried, you might want to look at your eating habits – what are you eating or not eating – or consult a registered dietician to evaluate your diet.

Fatigue & Weakness

Food is the body’s fuel – without it, your system starts shutting down. When not eating enough food during the day, your body breaks down muscles to get to the stored energy in muscle fibers. This leads to feeling weak and tired. A dietician can calculate your daily kilojoule need – and if you still have these symptoms after changing your eating habits; you should consult your doctor.

Mood swings and cravings

Macronutrients constitute the majority of one’s diet. These are carbohydrates, protein and fat. They are the key sources of energy and are essential for growth and other body functions. We need these substances in the correct quantities. Cutting down on carbohydrates and replacing it with protein leads to a decrease in serotonin production in your brain. Serotonin is a chemical in the brain that regulates mood and appetite. Cutting out carbohydrates also leads to low blood sugar levels – which aggravates irritability and mood swings even further. Aim to have at least six servings of carbohydrates daily. One serving is 1 slice of whole wheat bread or ½ cup of cooked pasta, brown rice etc.

Headaches and migraines

Certain foods trigger headaches, while skipping meals and not drinking enough fluids may also play a role. Cheese, chocolate, caffeine, red wine / alcohol, avocado, nuts, tuna and overripe bananas contain tyramine which affects the dilation of blood vessels in the brain. Write down all the foods you have eaten that day when a headache strikes. If your list contains some of the trigger foods mentioned above, avoid it for several weeks. Slowly introduce the items one by one until your headache returns and you can identify culprit foods. The process might be complicated though. It might depend on the quantity of trigger food you eat, you may not get a headache for several hours or days after eating a trigger food and often food is a trigger only when combined with other triggers that might be present like hormonal changes or stress. See a doctor if you headache becomes so painful and sudden that you cannot function normally.

Bloatedness & constipation

Dietary fiber is divided into two types: insoluble fiber and soluble fiber. The main difference is that soluble fiber dissolves in water. On the other hand, insoluble fiber, found in whole wheat, nuts, popcorn, skins of fruit and vegetables, pips and seeds pass largely unaltered through the gut and is fermented in the colon leading to the formation of gas and an extended stomach. Thus, to prevent bloatedness – insoluble fiber foods should be avoided for a few weeks and reintroduced one by one to identify culprit food that contribute to stomach distention. Our bodies need 25 – 30 g of fiber daily, and while eliminating insoluble fiber, it is important to still have enough fiber – in the form of soluble fiber. Soluble fiber are found in the flesh of apples, pears and bananas; butternut, carrots, gems, brown bread oat bran and oats. Soluble fiber also absorbs water in die colon and assists in the formation of soft stools and stimulates bowel movement.


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Claudine Ryan, Registered Dietitian, RD (SA)

Written by : Claudine Ryan, Registered Dietitian, RD (SA)

Claudine Ryan holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Dietetics and is registered with the Health Professions Council of South Africa. Claudine is passionate about people and their health, and enjoys helping others to optimise their health and manage their chronic lifestyle related diseases through sound nutritional therapy and practical advice.