Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is a disorder that is characterized by extreme fatigue not attributed to any underlying condition. The fatigue experienced by those affected is often worsened with additional physical or mental activity and is not improved with rest.
CFS also goes by the name myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME) and systemic intolerance disease (SEID). However, while chronic fatigue is a common trait among these definitions of the disorder, variations may exist depending on which is chosen.
The cause of chronic fatigue syndrome is currently unknown. Various theories exist regarding its development, ranging from viral infections to psychological stress, but none can truly be defined as being the definitive cause of the disorder.
Chronic fatigue can affect people in different ways, making treatment plans just as varied. People may find benefits from using antidepressants or psychological counseling. The food you eat may also impact symptoms of fatigue, with a chronic fatigue diet possibly giving you the relief you seek.
The following are some of the best foods to eat for a CFS diet, as well as foods you should avoid.
Chronic fatigue syndrome diet: Foods to eat
Contain a high amount of carbohydrates—the main energy source of the body. Including whole grains in your diet will also help regulate the digestive system, allowing it to maintain good working order. Healthy grains include brown rice, barley, quinoa, and oatmeal. However, if eating excess carbohydrates is not desired, choosing to incorporate more fruits and vegetables into your diet would be an acceptable substitute. Fruits and vegetables have the advantage of having essential minerals that can help those suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome.
A common component of meats, animal proteins contain the maximum amount of essential amino acids required by your body. However, not all meat is made equal, as red meat may lead to unwanted health problems if eaten in excess. Healthy sources of animal protein include fish, eggs, and chicken breast. While protein can be found in plant products as well, they are not as good as animal protein when looking strictly at nutritional value. Some plant sources of protein include nuts and beans.
Not all fats are bad for you. In fact, individuals with CFS are encouraged to consume adequate amounts of healthy fats while still avoiding unhealthy ones. Healthy fats can help improve poor immune systems, hormone imbalances, and also help cognitive functioning. Fats are also an excellent source of energy. A great source of healthy fats is extra virgin olive oil, which has proven to not only be an abundant source of omega 3’s but has also shown to significantly reduce cell death and decrease memory loss—a common trait of CFS patients, according to an Iranian study. Other sources of healthy fats include coconuts and avocados. Fats from meat and fish are also healthy.
Fruits and vegetables
As a general rule, all fruits and vegetables are considered good for those suffering from CFS. Previous research into chronic fatigue syndrome patients found elevated levels of methemoglobin (MetHb), a marker for oxidative stress. Consuming foods that have high antioxidant properties can help mitigate free radical damage. Blueberries have been found to carry the highest ORAC (oxygen radical absorbance capacity) value, translating to high antioxidant activity, neuroprotective properties, and the ability to protect red blood cells from oxidative damage.
Rich in omega-3’s and omega-6’s, flax seed oil is great for improving blood circulation and is beneficial for your joints. This versatile oil can be used in virtually any recipe. It is a great addition to smoothies, soups, and practically anything else you can think of.
Foods to avoid for CFS patient
While coffee has many health benefits, caffeine may inevitably be your undoing. While caffeine can improve your energy for a short duration, it may give you a false sense of energy and lead you to overdo it, expending more energy than you can spare. Too much caffeine may also impact your sleep, preventing energy recovery.
Although eating unhealthy food can be an occasional guilty pleasure, eating chips, chocolate, and other processed junk foods on a consistent basis can eventually make you feel ill, zapping your energy levels. Try substituting chocolate for a piece of fruit every so often. While fruit does contain sugar itself, it also has many nutrients that your body needs.
By limiting your intake of dairy, or cutting it out of your diet completely, you can expect to see an improvement to your energy level within a few weeks. This may not be easy for some, so you could substitute cow’s milk for rice or almond milk to make the transition a bit easier. Coconut yogurt is also completely dairy free.
Excess inflammation has been found to be a component of chronic fatigue syndrome, so avoiding foods that lead to excess inflammation could provide some benefit. Some of these inflammatory-inducing foods include fried foods, processed meats, and high sugar products. Foods known for their anti-inflammatory properties include fish and olive oil.
Your body craves sugar, as it is its primary energy source. But taking too much sugar can lead to a sudden crash, leading to excessive tiredness. Refined sugars are known for causing high peaks of energy that eventually dies down, so it is recommended to consume more foods that are naturally sweetened with a bit of protein to help even out blood sugar and energy levels. One such option is berries with plain unsweetened yogurt.
Foods that come prepackaged or contain a lot of preservatives tend to have fewer nutrients than their whole food counterparts while having a similar or increased number of calories. Choosing to eat more plant products such as legumes, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains will help support the body and give you the energy you need.
Tips for the chronic fatigue syndrome diet plan
While drinking water will not provide you energy per say, it is required by the body for the transport of essential molecules and other particles around the body. This includes the removal of waste products and the initiation of many metabolic processes. Being dehydrated is also known to make your more tired.
Keep a food and symptom journal
Writing down all the foods you ate is a great way to find out which improve your symptoms and which worsen them. Recording how your felt day to day may also help provide your doctor with valuable information about your diagnosis. By doing this, many CFS patients have discovered that their symptoms are associated with irritable bowel syndrome—a condition that 35 to 90 percent of CFS patients also have.
Don’t cut it all out
It is important to keep your expectations in check and not to overdo your CFS diet. It may be tempting to cut out all foods you believe are causing your fatigue symptoms, but you shouldn’t. Speaking to your doctor about which foods you should be eliminating from your diet will give you a better idea of the right diet plan for chronic fatigue syndrome without overtaxing your body and cutting out important nutrients.
But do experiment with your diet
It is a good idea to try new foods and see what leads to improvements in your energy levels and which don’t. Certain combinations of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats may work better for some and not others, making this process one that has to be done on an individual basis. There is no standard diet plan for chronic fatigue syndrome. Working with your doctor or a dietician can help get you on the right track
Try smaller, more frequent meals
Doing this can help those who feel that they are too tired to eat or don’t feel hungry. Not eating can lead to weight loss and increased symptoms of fatigue. Eating smaller meals more frequently will help keep your energy levels up.
Meal plan and prep when you can
Having a meal plan and preparing your meals ahead of time can make it easier to eat food that improves CFS symptoms. By having a plan in place, you can ensure meals are ready to go when you need them. The thought of cooking food is often one of the biggest hurdles when you have chronic fatigue, but with a little preparation, you can give yourself the best chance to stay energized.
Sample meal plan for CFS diet
An easy to prepare meals that are packed with nutritious leafy greens. Add kale, spinach, or any of your favorite greens with a fresh apple into a blender and drink.
Egg sandwich: Packed with protein, eggs are a great way to start your day, and by making them into a sandwich they can be even easier to take on the go. This is great as you never know when you will need a boost of energy.
Chicken Cobb salad
This nutritious salad can be made with the following ingredients
- Cooking spray
- 1 1/2 pounds skinless, boneless chicken breast cutlets
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- 8 cups mixed greens
- 1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
- 1/3 cup diced peeled avocado
- 2 tablespoons sliced green onions
- 1/3 cup fat-free Italian dressing
- 2 tablespoons crumbled blue cheese
- 1 bacon slice, cooked and crumbled
Thai tempeh buddha bowel
An easy to make meal, but may require a trip to the specialty store. Best of all, this recipe is 100 percent vegan. It is essentially a bowel packed with raw and/or roasted vegetables, grains, beans, and topped with a sauce if so desired. Typically ingredients of this dish include:
- Red bell pepper
- Roasted sweet potatoes
- Sauce, this could be a mix of cashew butter, curry paste, coconut aminos seasoning (soy-free sauce), and a touch of rice vinegar.
Related: Overcoming chronic fatigue syndrome: Steps to follow