Whether you’re consistently ordering take-out or can’t remember the last time you ate a vegetable, many of the signs that you should be eating better are obvious. However, how you feel before and after eating is an equally important part of the equation. From feeling sluggish throughout the day to aches and pains that just won’t go away, here are some signs that your eating habits need to change.
- You’re Exhausted – While everything from poor sleep to stress can leave you feeling exhausted by the end of the day, in many cases, persistent fatigue comes from what you are—or aren’t—eating. If you’re consuming a lot of refined carbohydrates and sugar without enough healthy fats, protein and fiber, your blood sugar can become erratic, causing energy lows and highs. Exhaustion can also be due to low iron levels. Iron is an essential mineral that keeps your energy levels high helping to transport oxygen throughout the body so it can function at its best. But when iron levels are low, energy can lag. Your body isn’t able to make enough of the red blood cells that carry oxygen and keep you charged. That’s why one of the most common signs of anemia (low iron levels) is fatigue. If you’re dragging all the time, consider your diet and adjust accordingly.
- You’re Overweight – This one may seem obvious, but you might not be aware of just how much your weight is affecting your health. The typical American diet consists of more fast food, sugar and processed foods than it should. These foods typically contain high amounts of saturated fats, trans fats, sodium, and many more calories than most people should consume in one meal. A Harvard review of 16 studies reported by PubMed concluded that fast food consumption may be worsening America’s obesity epidemic. Sweet foods and sweetened drinks are also high in sugar that can pack on extra pounds. A separate review of 30 studies published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition concluded that high consumption of sugary drinks contributes to weight gain and obesity.
- You’re Experiencing Mood Swings – Not only can what you eat affect how you feel, but how you feel can also greatly impact what you eat. Every food you consume triggers a different chemical response in the brain, which is partly why it is so important to eat a variety from each of the food groups. For example, carbohydrates increase a chemical called serotonin, which has a calming effect on the body. This is thought to be the reason people commonly crave carbs when they’re stressed. Protein-rich foods release a group of chemicals that assist in promoting feelings of alertness, and healthy fats make up brain cell membranes and are critical for normal brain function. A poor diet, which lacks these key nutrients, can therefore greatly affect your mood. When your brain is unable to receive the nutrients it requires, blood sugar can drop and become erratic, leaving you feeling unfocused, overly emotional, and irritable.
- You Have Bad Teeth – The sugar in sweets and sweetened beverages encourages bacteria to produce acid that eats away at tooth enamel, eventually leading to tooth decay. Every time bacteria comes in contact with sugar or starch in the mouth, acid is produced that attacks the teeth for 20 minutes or more, according to the American Dental Association. Some soft drinks contain a whopping 11 teaspoons of sugar in a single serving. The ADA recommends limiting sweets and sugary drinks, brushing twice a day, flossing once daily and having regular dental checkups.