With the cold weather and start-of-the-year projects keeping us on our feet, we need energy from as many sources as we can get. Our daily energy levels depend on so many things—sleep, stress, hydration, emotions, our environment, and of course our food. Rather than defaulting to caffeine, sugar or energy drinks, which all have their own negative health effects and can lead to an energy crash, try optimizing your energy in a sustainable way with what you eat.
A diet that supports immune function, combats inflammation and helps regulate blood sugar is optimal for supporting energy levels. At The Tasteful Pantry we believe that eating healthy snacks at regular intervals throughout the day can provide sustained energy boosts between meals. As you may imagine, highly processed and sugary foods contribute to inflammation and energy rollercoasters, so stay away from those. Here are some specific suggestions on foods to include in your diet to boost your energy.
- Beans and Legumes are packed with resistant starches. These starches are a kind of fiber that act as prebiotics to promote healthy gut bacteria and boost energy. They slowly release protein and energy, helping prevent a mid afternoon crash. Add some beans or legumes to your lunch salad.
- Whole Grains provide complex carbs, fiber, B-vitamins and iron, all which will keep you energized until your next meal. Oats are a good way to start the day—they have soluble fiber that prevents spikes and crashes. Granolas contain oats and other whole grains and are a great way to start the day. Brown rice is also a good source of complex carbs and magnesium (low magnesium levels can hinder your body’s metabolism).
- Quinoa deserves a category of its own since it contains twice the protein of most other grains and all the essential amino acids for optimal energy. It is actually a seed, not a grain and is naturally gluten free.
- Nuts and seeds contain fiber and healthy fats and digest slowly, therefore they are great for sustained energy. Chia and flax seeds have been known for centuries for sustained energy and metabolism. Snacks are the perfect time to add nuts and seeds.
- Coconut oil and Coconut consist primarily of medium chain triglycerides, a type of fat that is turned into energy quickly and efficiently.
- Dark chocolate energizes by providing an excellent source of iron, magnesium and antioxidants. The darker the better—try 70%.
- Citrus fruits are high in Vitamin C that boosts our immune system and gives us a burst of energy (great for pre-workout!).
- Avocados are full of heart healthy monounsaturated fats that promote vitamin and mineral absorption. Getting the maximum effect from your nutrients means additional energy to carry you through the day.
- Salmon contains omega-3 fatty acids that are needed for energy production, brain activity, and maintaining heart health.
- Curry and other spices such as turmeric, cinnamon, and cumin can boost energy levels with antioxidants, normalize blood sugar levels and promote good circulation.
- Eggs are high in iron and protein to give you sustainable energy throughout the day. Choline is a type of B-vitamin found in eggs that is required for brain function and energy production.
- Greek yogurt contains probiotics, which are known for being a key part of healthy digestion but also boost our immune system and energy levels.
- Kale is a superfood, high in calcium and energy boosting vitamins and minerals.
- Tea: Ginger tea is filled with antioxidants and could wake you up just with its strong spicy flavor! Green tea has caffeine but also L-theanine, an amino acid that makes you feel alert and invigorated without the jitters you get from coffee.
- Bananas are rich in potassium and B Vitamins and are slow to digest, helping keep blood sugar levels stable. Want a quick banana snack to keep in your bag? Try these Barnana snacks.
- Edamame is a soybean with slowly digested fiber, magnesium and B vitamins, healthy fat, and a ton of protein.
- Trail mixes and energy bars are great sources of many of the above foods that provide a balance of protein, complex carbs and healthy fats. In choosing healthy energy bars or trail mixes watch the sugar content. Also, look for sugar substitutes such as sugar alcohols (mannitol, zylitol, sorbitol, etc.) that can create gastrointestinal issues. Many energy bars contain too much saturated fat so look at the fat source. Carbs coming from unprocessed fruits are the best carb sources. Fats coming from nuts and seeds are best.
- Good Hydration: Water is an integral part of keeping your cells hydrated and working at optimal levels. Even the mildest dehydration can zap energy levels. If you have trouble getting in enough water during the day, consider herbal teas or diluted juice (dilute the juice with water on a 1:1 ratio to limit your sugar intake) instead of electrolyte replacement drinks that can be high in sugar and sodium. Those juices that are antioxidant rich—orange, pomegranate, acai, grape, etc. are particularly good. Melons are loaded with vitamins and minerals and provide a good amount of water for hydration.
Enjoy and good luck!
Lea Basch is a registered dietitian and has been in the nutrition industry for over 30 years, most of which she spent at Longmont United Hospital in Boulder, Colorado, where she was one of the founders of the facility’s nutrition program. Longmont’s Planetree philosophy of caring for the body, mind and spirit of patients is very much in line with Lea’s interest in both traditional and alternative therapies for treating chronic illnesses. Gluten-intolerant herself, Lea now focuses much of her time on the latest research and issues relating to gluten-free diets and other food intolerances. She is a diabetes educator and is a Registered Dietitian with the American Dietetic Association. Lea’s lifelong passion has been combining the science of nutrition with the heart that it takes to change lifelong habits.
Lea received her BS and MS in Nutrition and Dietetics at Florida International University and BA in Education at University of Florida. Ask Lea your nutrition questions at Lea@tastefulpantry.com