Sneaky Foods That Make You Feel Sluggish

Feeling tired all the time isn’t normal. If you’re struggling with sluggish energy every day, you’ll want to shake up your lifestyle. Check your diet first. After all, food literally fuels our bodies.

Sure, everyone knows that eating junk food all the time will zap your energy. But few know that eating certain fruits, lettuce, or white rice during the day could make you feel drowsy too. Whether you suspected these culprits or not, here are several foods that can make you feel sluggish throughout the day.

If you think turkey makes you feel lazy after a Thanksgiving dinner, you’d be wrong.

That Salty Chip Bag

Open bag of Fox Family Salt & Vinegar Potato Chips on a table.
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Potato chips are notorious for making us feel sluggish. One of the reasons that potato chips make us feel groggy is that they tend to be addictive. A 2014 study in Frontiers in Psychology demonstrated that even rats prefer potato chips over a mix with equal amounts of carbs and fat.

The Journal of Nutrition explains that when salt and fat is brought together it causes people to eat 11% more than they would normally. The more chips you eat, the lazier you feel. Try substituting potato chips for kale or sweet potato chips, which have lower fat and salt.

Tart Cherries

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Cherries contain a lot of tryptophan (full name L-traptophan), an amino acid that signals to the body to release sleep hormones. This fruit can even encourage us to sleep right after we eat it. A study in the 2010 Journal of Medicinal Found discovered that drinking cherry juice improves sleep in adults with insomnia.

You can use cherries to your advantage by drinking the juice or snacking on the fruit at night. But during the day, consider alternatives such as peaches, plums, or apricots.

Why Carbs (Not Turkey) Makes You Feel Tired On Thanksgiving

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You’ve probably heard that white bread and other carb-heavy grains will make you feel sluggish. The reason has to do with the amino acid tryptophan, the same one found in turkey. Tryptophan doesn’t immediately release serotonin to make you sleepy; it remains stored until carbohydrates activate it…

According to The National Sleep Foundation, carbohydrates release insulin, which eliminates all amino acids except for tryptophan from the blood. That tiring Thanksgiving dinner stems more from the high carbs than the turkey. Limit your carbs during the day and sleep better at night by enjoying a high-carb snack in the evening.

If your granola mix includes a specific seed, you may want to consume with caution.

Lettuce Is A Sedative

A man shops for vegetables beside Romaine lettuce stocked and for sale at a supermarket in Los Angeles

Of all the vegetables, only lettuce has high lactucin, a compound with a sedative property. In mice, lactucin performed just as well as 30 mg of ibuprofen for relieving pain and calming nerves, according to a 2009 Brazilian study. Further research in Food Science and Biotechnology concluded that lettuce contains “sleep-potentiating material.”

Romaine has the highest lactucin levels compared to red and green lettuce. To cancel out the sleepy effect, mix the salad with plenty of protein.

White Rice Makes You Way Drowsier Than Brown Rice

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While any carb will produce serotonin and prompt sleepiness, white rice seems to do so more than any other grain. Research in a 2014 issue of PLoS One indicates that white rice causes more drowsiness than bread or noodles.

In 2017, The American Journal Of Clinical Nutrition noted that eating white rice four hours before bed will make you fall asleep faster. Dr. Christopher Winter, MD argues that brown rice does not have the same effect. If you want your dose of white rice, have it at night.

Pumpkin Seeds

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In eating 100 g of pumpkin seeds, you’ll absorb 500 mg of magnesium. High magnesium makes people feel drowsier and enhances sleep efficiency, melatonin, and serum cortisol, according to the Journal of Research in Medical Sciences.

In 2016, researchers for Sleep Review analyzed 21 studies and concluded that Zenbev Drink Mix, which is made from pumpkin seeds, “induces sleepiness” and reduces awake time by 39% in participants. If you want to add pumpkin seeds to a meal, toss in some energizing protein to balance the effect.

Everyone’s favorite tea sweetener relaxes us a little too much.

Condiments’ High Sugar Causes Drowsiness

A currywurst (lit. curry sausage) with french fries and ketchup are on a table.
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Ideally, condiments have 0 g of sugar. But if you buy yours from the store, this usually isn’t the case. One tablespoon of ketchup contains 4 g of sugar, and teriyaki sauce offers 7 g of sugar per tablespoon. Even light or fat-free dressings add on 6 g of sugar every two tablespoons.

Besides releasing sleep hormones through the orexin cells, sugar can pull you out of deep sleep throughout the night, according to The National Sleep Foundation. Homemade sauces and dips, as well as low-sugar alternatives such as avocado and hummus, can halt this effect.

Honey Stocks Your Liver. Yes, This Matters

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Honey’s natural sugars stock the liver with glycogen. Glycogen is a form of glucose that breaks down in the liver and makes us feel relaxed and tired. A 2012 study in Pediatrics found that consuming just half a tablespoon of honey will make both adults and children fall asleep in only 30 minutes.

Honey also raises insulin, which triggers the amino acid tryptophan. Try to limit honey intake in your nighttime tea. Raw honey will restock your glycogen levels, which consumes slowly, allowing you to sleep through the night.

Remember that “banana for breakfast” fad? Here’s why it might not work well…

Salmon and Halibut

Scottish salmon on a bed of greens.
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The 2017 issue of Nutrients asserts that of all animal products, eggs and fish supply the most melatonin. Seafood, notably salmon and halibut, carry high levels of vitamin B6, which the body breaks down to create melatonin.

The sleep hormone also gathers in the pineal organ of fish, especially in Pacific salmon, says Volume 14 of General and Comparative Endocrinology. If you’re grappling with grogginess throughout the day, save your seafood dishes for dinner.

Chocolate Might Not Cause Tiredness, But It’ll Contribute

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Many people believe that chocolate’s serotonin content contributes to drowsiness. But a 2013 review in the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology argues that serotonin in food only activates with less than 2% of protein. Most chocolates contain 5% of protein which negates this effect. The lazy post-chocolate feeling boils down to sugar content and emotional eating.

A 1998 study in Psychopharmacology suggests that people tend to consume more chocolate while feeling sad. Strong emotions take up a lot of energy, and the added sugar will result in a crash that leaves you feeling exhausted.

Bananas Straight Up Contain Melatonin

Daniil Medvedev of Russia eats a banana during a change of ends during his match
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Bananas provide several vitamins and minerals that relax the body and promote tiredness. One large banana provides 487 mg of potassium: 10% of an adult’s daily recommended dosage. Potassium relaxes the muscles, which can make people feel drowsy, according to a 1991 Sleep journal study.

Along with containing high magnesium, bananas also release the sleep hormone melatonin. Scientists wrote in the Journal of Pineal Research that melatonin levels rose dramatically two hours after adults ate a banana. Hence, that “banana for breakfast” diet may exhaust your mornings in the office.

Coming up: two breakfast dishes that, ironically, make you want to crawl back into bed.

Eating Eggs For Breakfast Can Make You Crawl Back Into Bed

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Despite being deemed the ideal breakfast dish, eggs are one of the few foods that naturally contain vitamin D. This vitamin tells the brain that it’s time for bed. Several studies, including 2018 research in Nutritional Neuroscience, agree that higher vitamin D advances sleepiness in people with sleep disorders.

In contrast, one 2013 study in Brain, Behavior, and Immunity alleges that vitamin D interrupts melatonin production. With eggs’ high protein content, the drowsy effect from vitamin D may not inhibit certain people.

Kiwis’ Serotonin Can Make People Sleepy

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Although kiwi makes an excellent addition to fruit salads, this summer fruit could leave you feeling lazier than ever. Kiwis have high antioxidants, which researchers are just beginning to correlate with calmness and sleepiness. Scientists at the Taipei Medical University in Taiwan found that adults who ate kiwis an hour before bed fell asleep faster.

Kiwi also naturally contains serotonin, which stimulates the production of melatonin according to the Journal of Neurochemistry. You can turn kiwi into a healthy dessert at night, or eat it with more protein during the day.

Another Breakfast Food That’s Better At Night: Oatmeal

Arthur Manjourides, 66, eats a large bowl of oatmeal with raisins and pecans
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Of all the cereals, oats yield the most melatonin. The scientific journal Nutrients explains that breads with crusts provide less melatonin than oats and barley. Oatmeal offers both tryptophan and enough carbohydrates to activate the amino acid, which signals to your brain that it’s time to sleep.

Oats also have vitamin B1, which researchers at the University of Maryland call “the anti-stress vitamin” for its ability to relax the body. If you’re aiming for a stress-free morning, heat a bowl of oatmeal. If you want to keep your eyes open at work, though, save it for the evening.

Think you’re in the clear when you buy fat-free foods? Guess again.

Red Meat is Hard To Digest

Close up shot of the hands of a butcher cutting a piece of meat.
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Red meat, especially beef, tends to be harder for the body to digest. The human body comes with plenty of enzymes built to break down meat, but red meat has more protein and fat than vegetables or grains, which requires more energy to deconstruct.

Researchers still don’t know why digestion makes people feel tired. Scientists at Japan’s Kyorin University hypothesize that blood flow to the intestines “dramatically increases,” which zaps the rest of your energy. Since digesting red meat requires more blood flow, beef causes people to feel more groggy than other foods.

Figure Out How Figs Make You Foggy

Common fig fruit, close up of a transversal cut of the sweet delicacy.
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Figs pack on potassium, calcium, iron, and magnesium. Calcium and magnesium both help the brain generate melatonin and just one cup of figs present 241 mg of calcium and 25% of an adults’ recommended magnesium. These vitamins encourage a physiological sensation that tells our body to start dozing off.

“These minerals help with blood flow and muscle contraction, which are key for falling asleep,” reports Jaclyn London, RD, MS, CDN, Nutrition Director at the Good Housekeeping Institute. A small number of figs combined with other food and protein should negate these effects, however.

Flavored Yogurt, Even If It’s Fat-Free

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All dairy products contain calcium and tryptophan that can make you sleepy (hence the Old Wives’ Tale of drinking warm milk before bed). On top of that, artificially sweetened dairy products can result in an intense energy crash. Men’s Health reports that one container of fat-free certified organic yogurt packs 35 g of sugar, more than a Snickers bar.

The high amount of fat and sugar triggers the orexin system, which tells your body to hit the hay. Replace these products with unsweetened Greek yogurt to enjoy more protein and not crash later.

If you like to blend smoothies in the morning, make sure you’re not making a grave error…

Watch Your Walnuts

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While nuts provide a great dose of protein and healthy fats, eating too many can make you doze off. The American Sleep Association credits walnuts with having high magnesium and serotonin. But the nut’s most exhausting feature is the fat content.

Australian research in 2016 reported that people who ate 135 g of fat every day were 78% more likely to feel sluggish during the day. One cup of walnuts adds 52 g of fat to your diet. Measure out your nuts in small portions; for instance, 13 walnuts constitutes a 104 cal snack.

Cottage Cheese

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Like other dairy products, cottage cheese consists of tryptophan amino acids, the ultimate sleep-causers. On top of this, the National Sleep Foundation illustrates that cottage cheese’s protein casein digests slowly and prompts these hormonal changes for hours to come.

The combination of harder digestion and tryptophan can force you to nod off during work. Cottage cheese makes a great late-night snack, especially when paired with a melatonin-rich fruit like raspberries. To stay awake during the day, though, limit your cottage cheese consumption.

Not All Fruit Smoothies Are Created Equal

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The National Sleep Foundation proposes that fruits, with their natural melatonin and antioxidant content, make you tired faster. When you eat fruits as a side, you probably won’t register these effects. But an entire meal of fruits– especially bananas, kiwis, pineapple, and oranges–will likely have you nodding off.

When crafting a smoothie, double-check that you have enough protein to override fruit’s melatonin. Most store-bought smoothies have over 50 g of sugar and little to no protein, which will only make you feel groggy later.