Food ComaHave you experienced the feeling of being sleepy right after eating a meal, specifically on a meal high in calories? There is a condition to that, and it is known as a Food Coma or postprandial somnolence/lethargy. Defined and described by Merriam-Websters, a food coma is a colloquial term for the sleepiness or drowsiness that follows a large meal, often the Thanksgiving feast. This occurs because the body needs to divert blood and energy towards digestion in lieu of other functions. This experience can sometimes last for a few hours. According to Isabel Smith, a New York City-based registered dietitian explains that “food comas can be caused by both eating too much and by eating too many carbohydrate-rich foods including potatoes, rice dishes, pastas, breads and desserts."

How to prevent food coma? Not all types of food cause you to yearn for a nap. Food coma is usually more prominent after a meal rich in fat and refined carbohydrates or a high-calorie meal. Hence, what you eat and how much you consume make a difference to your alertness after meals. If you want to avoid the embarrassment of being caught catching a snooze in that post-lunch meeting, try making a few simple changes to your food preference:

  • Go for lower calories. Instead of heavy meals, choose meals that are lower calories (below 500 kcal). Check out food stalls with the Healthier Choice identifier which indicates that they sell lower-calorie meals. When dining at restaurants, opt for items with the Healthier Choice identifier on their menus.
  • Take it slow. Wolfing down your meal at top speed means you are more likely to overeat before your brain has time to tell you that you’re full. Studies have shown that it takes about 20 minutes from the start of the meal for your brain to start signaling fullness. Enjoy your food slowly or you’ll be dozing off even faster.
  • Siu dai, please. When ordering beverages, keep it plain. Water has no calories and is healthier with your meals. Fruit juices* and sugar cane juice are high in sugar content and should be avoided. If you must have a freshly brewed drink such as coffee or tea, ask for the “siu dai” (less sugar) version instead. As for dessert, cut out the cakes and ice-cream and eat fresh fruit.
  • Choose more wholegrain and fiber. Meals with complex carbohydrates such as brown rice and quinoa as well as meals with more fiber take​ more time to digest. These food keeps you feeling full for a longer period compared to refined carbohydrates such as white rice and white bread. Therefore, opt for wholegrain and eat more veggies and fruit!
  • Trim the fat. If you’re a meat lover, choose lean cuts such as chicken breast. In addition, have deep-fried food no more than twice a week. Instead of deep-fried chicken wings, try ordering chicken dishes which are grilled or steamed. It pays to choose your fats wisely. Watch out for saturated fat in food such as laksa and nasi lemak or oil in fried noodles and roti prata. Save these for occasional treats and choose less oily meals that are less likely to trigger food comas.

While food coma isn't comfortable, a periodic episode of postprandial lethargy isn't likely to cause hurt. However, please be very careful to lessen your high-calorie food intake before driving, operating machineries and activities requiring better focus as food coma can somehow cause you much trouble or even death. In truth, it reminds us to stay to smaller, less greasy meals next time. So, take adequate rest after your big meal if you would like to and if you have the luxury of time. If not, better observe moderate food practices most of the time to keep your body healthy, active, and alert.

NO I Zamubec Alomar C. Adlawan


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