Foods & Drinks That Energize You Just as Much as Caffeine
Still chugging those grande lattes and downing energy drinks to keep you from crashing at your desk? Well, caffeine can deliver a temporary buzz, but it won't provide the long-lasting energy your body craves. As it wears off, fatigue settles in, creating a need for more caffeine. Excess caffeine can also strip your body of precious nutrients, dehydrating you, and exhausting you. You end up reaching for more java, which creates a vicious cycle.
Luckily, these foods and drinks can provide you with the energy you need without the crash-and-burn that comes with a coffee hit.
The flavanols in chocolate may reduce LDL oxidation, inflammation, and improve arterial blood flow, which may boost your energy levels. In one study, a group of adults with chronic fatigue syndrome were given 1.5oz of 85% cocoa dark chocolate daily for eight weeks. After eight weeks, the individuals reported less fatigue without weight gain.
The cacao bean is also chock-full of health-boosting compounds, and is also referred to as the "food of gods." Theobromine and phenethylamine are two compounds in chocolate that are associated with serotonin, the "happy" chemical.
Chocolate with the greatest amount of non-fat cocoa solids will provide the most antioxidants, while milk chocolate, chocolate syrup, and white chocolate rank the lowest in flavonoids (antioxidants). Choose unsweetened cocoa powder or chocolate with at least 72% cacao solids, and preferably Fair Trade.
Arugula and bitter greens
We can thank powerful compounds called “glucosinolates” for the bitter taste, strong odors, and excellent health benefits of certain greens. Choose from a bouquet of bitters such as kale, mustard greens, turnips, bok choy, radishes, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, kohlrabi, cauliflower, and, of course, the almighty kale. A treasure trove of nutrients, these babies will keep your heart pumping and body moving.
If you want to boost your performance at the gym, nothing beats beets! Out of all the fruits and vegetables, beets contain the highest concentration of nitric oxide. Nitric oxide (NO), not to be confused with nitrous oxide, is a compound that increases vasodilation, improving the health of your blood vessels. This translates into increased efficiency and performance, with less need for oxygen consumption.
B12 vitamin-rich foods
Also known as the "energy vitamin," B12 is responsible for energy production. So if your body is low or isn't absorbing B12, you may feel sluggish. B12 is present in eggs, meat, fish, dairy, nori seaweed, and some varieties of mushrooms and tempeh, a fermented soy product.
Studies suggest that one in four American adults is deficient and almost two-fifths or more of the population has sub-optimum levels. Older adults are at a higher risk for B12 deficiency, as are vegans. The body requires hydrochloric acid and IF (intrinsic factor) to absorb B12, so deficiency may be due to a lack of the vitamin or lack of absorption. Therefore you may need to supplement with B12, but make sure to consult with your physician and dietitian to help you choose the best option.
One of the most important functions of iron is carrying oxygen to your tissues. Without proper oxygenation your cells quickly start dying, as do your energy levels; this can lead to anemia. Two forms of iron exist: heme and non-heme. Heme iron is found in meat, poultry, and fish, and non-heme iron is found in plants, but is more poorly absorbed. The good news is that adding vitamin C-rich foods to your meal will boost the absorption of non-heme iron. Examples include chickpeas and tomato sauce or stir-fried tofu, and collard greens and fresh-squeezed lemon. Keep in mind that phytates (found in coffee and tea) and calcium can reduce iron absorption, so wait several hours after drinking caffeinated beverages before you consume an iron-rich meal. But also, why are you still drinking caffeine!?
Beans and guac
While all B vitamins help convert food into energy, folate is essential for DNA synthesis and proper brain function. Folate, B12, and B6 are the three vitamin musketeers responsible for controlling elevated levels of homocysteine, which is associated with heart disease. Alcoholism, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), and celiac disease may lower folate levels, which could lead to irritability, forgetfulness, and mental sluggishness. So make sure to eat plenty of leafy greens, beans, avocado, root vegetables, and whole grains to stay alert and full of energy!
A cool glass of H2O
Dehydration can make you feel sluggish and fatigued and can give you a nasty headache. Not fun! Start your day with an 8oz glass of water to boost your metabolism and get your wheels rolling. Drink ½ glass to one glass of water every few hours, and more with increased perspiration and exercise.
Skipping meals can cause dips in blood glucose levels, which can lead to major sugar cravings and fatigue. While some folks can get away with this, many of us will suffer the consequences -- sugar cravings, low energy, and headaches.
If you can't sit down and enjoy a meal, make sure you fuel up with energy-boosting snacks. Stay away from the sugary stuff, chips, and other highly processed foods. Instead, opt for smaller portions of real food. Our body likes to follow a rhythm and schedule so try to eat at about the same time every day. This will maintain adequate energy levels, and balance your blood sugar and mood.
One of the biggest mistakes I see with my patients is that they forget to eat or purposely skip meals to try to lose weight. That's a big no-no!
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Jacqueline is a dietitian based in NYC. When she is not stuffing her face with dark chocolate and kale you can find her shimmying, schmoozing, or in a downward dog. For more information about Jacqueline visit ICraveNutrition.com.