The Other Energy Crisis
By Julie Mancuso
Winter has stormed in unapologetically, wreaking havoc on our roads, our balmy weather and our energy. Getting through the work day poses a challenge at the best of times, let alone when facing glacial and gloomy conditions.
Suffering from inadequate sleep and drained by the demands of daily life, we resort to seemingly magic potions to prop ourselves up: coffee, soda and energy drinks. But magic potions exist only in fairy tales, and we soon discover that the energy obtained from these drinks is short-lived and not without its drawbacks.
When consumed regularly and in excessive amounts, caffeine—our daily crutch—can induce feelings of restlessness, nervousness and insomnia. As a result, it should be consumed in moderate amounts.
Other ways of boosting energy and vitality exist, not the least of which is getting adequate sleep daily—a critically important component of overall health and well-being, one that cannot be overstated.
But consuming certain foods, too, can catalyze our energy and sustain us through those long days.
So hold off on that cup of java, and pass up that sugar-laden soda or energy drink, and embrace the energy of these extraordinarily powerful foods in their stead:
Water…with a Lemon
Although not a food, per se, lemon water works wonders.
Dehydration, or lack of adequate water intake, causes fatigue. Many studies show that people report feeling tired and lethargic when they don’t drink enough water.
Even a slight dip in our bodies’ water consumption can impair thinking and allow muscle weakness and fatigue to set in.
For those of us who find that sipping plain water is just too plain, add a lemon slice. Lemons not only improve the taste by giving it some zest, they have an alkaline effect on the body, raising the pH of body tissue.
And why is this important?
Human tissue breaks down faster in acidic conditions, paving the way for many potential ailments which, amongst other things, can sap the energy out of us in the long-term.
Lemons also contain vitamin C, which helps boost the immune system by increasing resistance to a number of pathogens. With a strong immune system, we become less susceptible to being taken down by some energy-draining ‘bug’.
What’s more, lemons act as a great source of electrolytes—something few people realize. Forget those sports drink monstrosities—they’re nothing but lemons; conversely, a squeeze or two of lemon juice can introduce potassium, calcium and magnesium to our plain old water, restoring electrolyte balance and giving us the energy we require to get through our day.
Tip: Choose organic lemons to avoid the pesticides found on the skin.
These tiny fruits punch well beyond their weight when it comes to health benefits. Nuts are a high-energy food, perfect as a pick-us-up snack. High in healthy fats, protein, and energy-boosting vitamins, nuts provide us with a near-instant surge in energy.
As difficult as it is to consume these kernels of energy in public, with nut allergies omnipresent, finding a way to munch on a handful or two throughout the day—without compromising the lives of the those who are allergic, of course—can give us that desired energy burst often obtained via the less healthy options.
When energy begins to tumble, reach for a bag of mixed, unsalted nuts instead of reaching for those car keys and heading down to the coffee shop, where the unhealthy temptations beckon.
The word Chia, roughly translates to “strength”. These tiny nutrient-rich seeds have been consumed for centuries by the Aztecs and the Mayans, who used them to better performance and improve endurance.
Chia seeds contain protein, fibre and omega-3s, which fight chronic inflammation—the scourge of energy. Additionally, chia seeds are a great source of iron and potassium, which help with tiredness and increase energy. Iron deficiency alone does not allow for the sufficient production of hemoglobin, effectively limiting the oxygen delivery to the body by the red blood cells. With reduced oxygen, the table is set for weakness, fatigue and anemia.
Chia seeds are just one of the ways to increase the intake of iron and uplift that energy.
They can be sprinkled throughout the day and on just about anything: salads, yogurt, oats and even smoothies. Do so, and you, too, can reap wonderful benefits from this miniscule seed.
Avid tennis fans know that during the long, gruelling matches, professional tennis players often resort to eating a banana as a quick energy booster—and with good reason.
High in potassium, B-vitamins, and other minerals and nutrients, bananas are widely consumed as a nutritious, high-energy, low-glycemic snack by all types of athletes. The naturally-occurring sugars (sucrose, fructose and glucose) found in bananas also contribute to the instant energy explosion.
What’s more, bananas are a convenient and portable snack that can be eaten on-the-go as a replacement for that caffeinated, sugary, and let’s face it, unhealthy soda. As such, the banana should be our daily go-to friend.
Recommended by nutritionists and health experts the world over, this old standby of athletes has earned its reputation as an energy-elevating food.
Because oatmeal is rich in B-vitamins, it helps our bodies metabolize energy, turning food into fuel.
High in fibre and slower to digest, oatmeal keeps you full for longer. For these reasons it is favoured by endurance athletes, such as long-distance runners.
If oatmeal is indispensable to sportsmen and sportswomen, who require a constant, unwavering supply of energy, imagine what it can do for an average person and his or her everyday energy levels.
Fruit in general is a great, healthy way to increase the energy level throughout the day. We can find oranges, in particular, near the top of the list.
Since oranges contain a variety of vitamins, minerals and nutrients, they are vital to proper nourishment and sustained energy. Amongst these, potassium (the all-important electrolyte), folate, and B- and C-vitamins are found in high amounts, meting out energy, and giving us a thrust when our body feels depleted—without the sugar spike and the ensuing crash.
Chocolate to the rescue?
Dark chocolate (70% or higher) is high in iron and magnesium, helping to prevent anemia and fatigue.
In addition to stimulating endorphins, doling out serotonin and improving our mood, dark chocolate contains a small amount of caffeine and theobromine, which provide a proverbial kick.
Chocolate, and cocoa specifically, has been shown to increase blood flow to the brain, improving cognitive function. In other words, our reasoning, attention and memory are all revived when oxygen-rich blood circulates.
Caution, however, ought to be exercised. Chocolate should be consumed in moderation, if overall health is the goal. Despite all the mentioned benefits, chocolate is high in sugar and fat—which can and will rear their ugly heads by harming our health in the long run, when eaten often and in large amounts.
We must keep in mind that a little chocolate goes a long way, so eat, but don’t overeat.
It’s a fact: Our energy level fluctuates throughout the day, dipping when we don’t want it to, causing us to feel run down and derailed. To recoup this loss, we often reach, and unwisely so, for the most readily available sustenance: coffee, soda and energy drink. And with each sip, we take comfort in the assurance that we will get an instant energy surge, placing us right back on track.
This boost, however, supplies only temporary relief, resulting in a sudden, unavoidable collapse. This is to say nothing of the other harmful side effects that accompany the frequent consumption of these beverages.
When winter grabs us with her frigid hands, sapping every ounce of our energy, we must choose our sustenance wisely, and avoid grabbing that quick, stopgap fix.
Forget the cheap and look deep, and energy will not abandon you when you need it most.
Julie Mancuso is a registered holistic nutritionist trained by the Canadian School of Natural Nutrition. She has worked as a nutritionist In Toronto and New York City for over 10 years. Health, wellness and holistic nutrition are a passion for Julie. Entering the profession after some harrowing health problems of her own, Julie discovered that the holistic approach works. With her new vocation in tow, Julie has devoted her time to helping others find solutions to their varied health ailments, including weight loss and digestive problems. Julie is a counsellor, a blogger and a holistic health advocate at JM Nutrition.