Americans are blessed with an abundance of food choices and no shortage of places to fuel up. So why do so many of us feel as if we're running on empty? Because the most readily available foods are usually high in simple carbs, packed with calories, and low in nutrition. To get lasting energy from your food, you need maximum nutrition with every meal. "As a general rule, you want to eat pure foods," says Erika Schwartz, M.D., author of Natural Energy: From Tired to Terrific in 10 Days (G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1998) and her own "Dr. Erika" health advice column. "When a label says low-fat, low-carb, or low-sugar, it's going to have synthetic chemicals in it. So instead of having a protein bar, fill a pouch with almonds and dried fruits."
Here are some other smart-eating reminders:
- Look closely at your sources of protein. Most nutritionists suggest fish and chicken, walnuts and other nuts, and beans and tofu.
- Go for complex carbs, such as multigrain foods, instead of the empty calories you get from white bread or rice. Schwartz also suggests blueberries and other berries, dark chocolate, organic vegetables, and fruits.
- Keep ratio right between omega-3 fatty acids (from fish oil and flaxseed oil) and omega-6 fatty acids (typically from vegetable oils). "You should have more omega-3 than omega-6," says Suzy Cohen, R.Ph., author of The 24-Hour Pharmacist (Collins, 2007). "Too much omega-6 and you'll have inflammation in the body." Walnuts, almonds, wild-caught cold-water seafood, or free-range meats are key sources for omega-3s, says Schwartz.
- Drink a cup of liquid greens every day to get the full dosage of vitamins normally found in several servings of fruits and vegetables, along with chlorophyll, which neutralizes acids in the body. If mixing your own is too much trouble, Cohen recommends looking for various powdered blends (without artificial sweeteners) to find one that tastes agreeable.
- Eat chocolate. According to a 2006 study published in the journal Appetite, chocolate can elevate your mood and give you an energy boost. Too much, however, can add excess calories and sugar to the diet. A little-two typical squares of dark chocolate (also a source of antioxidants) or one truffle-can provide a needed boost to flagging energy.
Homework: Smooth Energy
Smoothies are a good way to get a lot of energy-boosting nutrition without an overload of calories, says Elson Haas, M.D., founder and director of the Preventive Medical Center of Marin, in San Rafael, Calif. (See elsonhaas.com.) Haas, who is also the author of a series of books on health and nutrition, including Staying Healthy with Nutrition (Celestial Arts, 2006), says it's crucial to use the right mix of ingredients in order to get a "long-range energy boost." To do that, you'll need to add protein, for lasting energy, and essential fatty acids, which help slow the absorption of the carbohydrates in the smoothie. In his own recipe, Haas looks to either nut butters or powders made from either rice or hemp, for protein. He finds fatty acid in flaxseed or hemp oil. His mix always includes antioxidant-rich blueberry or pomegranate powders, and organic green powder for its potent blend of nutrients and amino acids. His word of advice: Use organic ingredients whenever possible.
1 cup water or orange juice
½ to 1 cup in-season fruit, like berries
1 to 2 tablespoons flaxseed or hemp oil
1 to 2 tablespoons nut butter or 1 scoop protein powder, per label instructions
1 scoop green powder per 12 ounces of smoothie
1 scoop blueberry or pomegranate powder; ice or water to dilute, if needed
Pulse all ingredients in a blender or food processor until smooth.
Per serving: 767 calories, 47 g fat (4.5 g saturated), 87 g carbohydrates, 8.8 g protein, 8 g fiber, 156 mg sodium (15% Daily Value).