Are you surviving on sugar and caffeine to keep you going throughout the day? Low energy not only makes us feel dreadful but it also has a knock on effect on our immune system, mood and emotions. There are many reasons why we may be lacking energy. Ask yourself:
Is my diet ok? Anything lacking?
Do I have any underlying health issues?
Am I sleeping enough?
Am I stressed or depressed?
Our diets can provide us with all the essential nutrients to help fuel us throughout the day but we need to know what to eat and when. We are conditioned to believe that energy foods are carbohydrates or sugars but please change your thinking on this. This type of food is ok if you are about to run a marathon but for most of us, we just need slow release energy foods that will keep our blood sugars stable throughout the day.
Are you the sort of person who swears they need sugar mid morning or mid afternoon to help keep you going? Unfortunately you appear to be stuck in a vicious sugar burning cycle. Refined carbohydrates and sugars will give you an energy burst but within an hour or two you will be left feeling deflated and tired. The more carbohydrates you give your body, the more your body will crave. If you do crave carbohydrates, opt instead for complex, wholegrain carbohydrates and mix these with some protein. This will slow down your digestion, keep you fuller for longer and blood sugar balanced.
The UK diet is more processed than ever before. Being overweight or obese is now the norm with less than 40% of the population at a healthy weight, Processed foods are often devoid of essential nutrients – empty food. A processed diet means you are more susceptible to illness such as mental health problems, including depression, fatty liver disease, diabetes, heart attack, strokes and cancers to name a but a few.
Fill your diet with nutrient rich foods. The following are essential foods which will not only boost energy, they will also ensure good health and boost the immune system.
Iron – Depleted iron levels will contribute to low energy and fatigue. At least 10% of women aged between 20-50 are shown to be iron deficient. Fill your diet with iron rich foods Iron is found in red meats, particularly liver, nuts, seeds, beans, whole grains, and green leafy vegetables. The good news is it is also found in dark chocolate. Iron is absorbed and utilised more effectively alongside vitamin C so add lots of vitamin C rich foods such as berries, fruit and plenty of vegetables.
Vitamin C is needed to keep our immune system in tiptop condition but is also needed for collagen formation, wound healing, gum health and cardiovascular health. You need vitamin C to utilize Iron so if you are anemic, ensure you have adequate amounts of both. Cooking can destroy vitamin C so it is important to try to get some raw sources into your diet every day. Grab handfuls of berries (especially strawberries), citrus fruits, cherries, green leafy vegetables, guava and melon.
Vitamin B12 (Cobalamin) deficiency can cause anemia, fatigue, depression and has even been linked to dementia. Vegans are especially prone to Vitamin B12 deficiency, as the richest sources are found in animal products (although a very small amount is found in some vegetables, yeast spreads and fortified cereals). Best sources are found in liver, red meat, chicken, and oily fish. You can also find B12 in dairy products.
Vitamin E is another fat soluble vitamin and as a powerful antioxidant, helps protect us from free radical damage, helps ease PMT, heals skin, reduces cholesterol and protects against cardiovascular disease. Vitamin E works better alongside vitamin C and selenium. The best source of vitamin E is wheat germ, oils made from seeds (sunflower oils, olive oil, almond oils) and nuts and seeds.
Zinc is another great antioxidant, helping to support the immune system, aiding protein synthesis, maintaining sex health, and plays a vital role for maintaining a healthy heart. Processed foods and high sugar diets can lead to a deficiency in zinc, so opt for a diet rich in lean protein, eggs, seafood’s, nuts, seeds, whole grains and some dairy.
Magnesium is vital for health and most women are deficient. It works in balance with calcium, helps combat stress and eases muscle tension. There is very little magnesium is not involved in – from energy synthesis right through to the metabolism of carbohydrates. When boosting your magnesium levels, opt for whole grains, nuts and seeds, green leafy vegetables, lentils and figs.
Iron is needed to transport oxygen around the body – deficiency can cause anaemia and fatigue. If you are increasing your iron intake, ensure you also increase your vitamin C as this is needed to utilise the iron efficiently. Iron is found in red meats, particularly liver, nuts, seeds, beans, whole grains, and green leafy vegetables. The good news is it is also found in dark chocolate.
Vitamin B6 (also known as Pyridozine) and is needed for the breakdown of proteins and plays a vital role in energy production. It also works alongside iron aiding the transportation of oxygen and maintaining heart health. B6 also works well alongside magnesium and vitamin E in aiding PMT and mild depression. Once again, rich sources are found in liver, whole grains, brown rice and pulses.
Omega 3 – healthy fats are vital for good health. Fill your diet with plenty of oily fish, nuts, seeds, avocados. Antioxidants grab onto healthy fats as it aids their absorption. Avoid low fat foods as these tend to be high in sugar – instead opt for real food with good fats.
Protein – fill your diet with lots of healthy protein such as lean meats, pulses, oily fish. This will keep you fuller for longer and help to balance you blood sugar levels.
How you cook and prepare the food is vital. Vitamins are depleted during processing and cooking, so try to steam vegetables instead of boil, give a quick stir-fry and eat as many raw whole fruits and vegetables every day. Think about how to boost your everyday foods, these really basic switches can really boost your nutrient content. Add a handful of seeds to your salads, sprinkle on your porridge or breakfast cereals. Switch to dark chocolate instead of milk chocolate (aim to be at least 70% cocoa content). Increase your oily fish and only opt for lean protein sources. Always choose wholegrain and try to eat the majority of your foods in its natural, unprocessed state.
If you need to give your diet a helping hand, you could consider purchasing some supplements, however, this does not give you the green light to fill your diet with processed foods! Nothing replaces real food.
- Iron – please do not buy cheap iron supplements as your body can not absorb them. Opt for Iron in citrate form. You can buy a liquid iron/multivitamin called Floradix, available from health food stores and chemists. Take a capful or two a day.
- Co-Enzyme Q10 – although Co-Enzyme Q10 can be made in the body, as we age, this production can decline. Low levels of Co-Enzyme Q10 can cause lack of energy. It has also been shown to help boost weight loss, and protect against heart disease.
- 5HTTP – this is a derivative of tryptophan, an amino acid present in high protein foods and diary products. It helps to influence mood, appetite and aid sleep so if you are struggling with any of these things, which all will deplete your energy levels, this is a good choice.
- Omega 3 – I would recommend a high quality omega 3 supplement or Krill Oil
Sarah Flower is a nutritionist, author of several cookery books and teacher of healthy eating classes across the UK.