To find out which foods are perfect to energize the modern woman, ENTITY (where this article of mine first appeared!) chatted with a variety of nutrition experts and dietitians, ranging from celebrity nutritionist Lisa DeFazio to Julieanna Hever, an R.D. also known as The Plant-Based Dietitian.
Here are over 13 energy-packed foods that can be the modern woman's secret weapon during busy days!
If you want to feel energized but avoid the crash later, protein is a girl's best friend. "[Eating protein in a snack] will extend the energy boost, helping to prevent dips, since it takes longer to digest," explains Tammy Lakatos Shames and Lyssie Lakatos, registered dietitians and fitness coaches better known as The Nutrition Twins. "Protein is also essential for growth and repair, helping your body recover from exercise and other physical strain, and helping you to feel more energetic."
So what are some of the best sources of protein for you to enjoy?
The Nutrition Twins suggest halibut because it "is rich in vitamin B6, which your body needs to make melatonin and serotonin, hormones essential to get a good night’s sleep. Nothing gives you more energy than a good night’s rest. Plus, halibut is a good source of omega 3s, and research shows that higher omega 3 levels are also associated with a better night’s rest." If you're more of a salmon kind of girl, that's also a smart choice. Lisa DeFazio says salmon offers plenty of the "B vitamins and protein that are critical for energy and muscle building."
|Like in my sweet potato salmon sliders!|
Going vegetarian doesn't mean you have to miss out on natural energy boosters, according to Lisa Moskovitz, a Weight Management, Disease Prevention, & Sports Nutrition Specialist as well as the CEO and founder of The NY Nutrition Group. "As a leading source of high quality protein, eggs - including the egg yolk - are chock-full of energizing nutrients," she explains. "Eggs provide iron, which helps deliver oxygen in your blood, b-vitamins, which convert the food you eat into energy, and selenium, which helps increase blood flow."
If ever there was a controversial food, soybeans are it. In fact, research is still torn on whether soy benefits or promotes breast cancer; improves or harms people's memory as they age; and really helps prevent heart disease. According to Moskovitz, though, "soybeans in the form of tofu, edamame, or even soy milk are a vegan's best friend. They're not only a great source of complete protein, fiber and b-vitamins, but also fatigue-fighting magnesium and blood pumping iron."
Whole grain carbohydrates
When asked about what people should know about nutrition but probably don't, DeFazio responded: "Carbohydrates do not make you fat, and they are not the enemy. Carbohydrates fuel your body!" She suggests people eat everything from brown rice to corn tortillas to potatoes. Other nutritionists' favorites, though, include:
Pronounced "key-nu-wah," this grain burst into the foodie scene a few years ago and has been hailed as a gluten free superfood ever since. In the minds of Tammy Lakatos Shames and Lyssie Lakatos, quinoa's healthy reputation is well-deserved. "It contains energy revving quality carbohydrates (they're stored in the muscles as glycogen, the body's main fuel source) that provide the fuel for your brain and for your muscles," they say. "It’s also got both fiber and protein [8 grams per cup!] to help extend that energy boost."
|Or the best of both worlds with quinoa flakes oatmeal!|
If you want a more traditional grain to include in your diet, oatmeal is the energy booster you've been looking for. "Oats are an example of a whole grain which is rich in complex carbohydrates as well as fiber," says Moskovitz. "This helps provide a steady source of energy into the body without causing spikes or dips in energy levels. Oats are also a rich source of energizing iron and B-vitamins."
Maybe you should try ditching the coffee and load up on oatmeal instead?
6. Almond Butter
If the only nut butter you've ever tried is peanut butter, it's time to expand your (edible) horizons. When compared, almond butter offers more Vitamin E (an antioxidant that can help prevent cell damage), more magnesium (which supports your metabolism) and double the amount of iron. DeFazio particularly likes that almond butter "provides protein and healthy fats."
If you're eating a reasonable amount of any nut or seed, recent research suggests you'll be less prone to heart disease, strokes and diabetes. However, Moskovitz likes pistachios in particular. "Not only are all nuts a good source of healthy monounsaturated fats, but pistachios also have an excellent source of lean protein, blood sugar stabilizing fiber, b-vitamins, iron and selenium," she says.
|My fave source? Setton Farm's Pistachio Chewy Bites!|
It's hard to go wrong with fruit. "Fresh fruit is the perfect energy-boosting food since it is high in simple carbohydrates that absorb quickly into the bloodstream," says Hever. "Fresh fruit offers a quick fix, while providing ample nutrition." If you want the ultimate energy fix, though, try out:
You may have heard the myth that apples contain caffeine or can "wake you up" when you eat them. Unfortunately, this is just that: a myth. However, Moskovitz says: "These crisp juicy fruits are not only a great source of energizing water but their high antioxidant content has been shown to improve breathing, which makes sustained exercise feel much easier." So, even though apples may not energize you like caffeine, you may still feel like a beast during your workouts!
Bananas are often promoted as ideal pre-workout meals, and for good reason. According to DeFazio, "Bananas provide carbohydrates and potassium to give the body quick fuel, and they maintain hydration due to their high potassium levels."
|That's right. Banana Ice Cream is officially an energy booster!|
10. Leafy Greens
Sure, maybe eating spinach won't magically transform you into Popeye. However, Hever points out that leafy greens "are the most nutritionally dense foods of all, and they provide thousands of energy-enhancing phytonutrients with very few calories and a ton of culinary possibilities." If you're not sure where to start, spinach is a rich source of iron and can help prevent or correct anemia, which often makes people feel constantly fatigued. Chard is also packed with magnesium, which makes it women's BFF to fight stress, PMS and sleep problems.
11. Sweet Potatoes
For DeFazio, sweet potatoes are a winner for being a "high fiber source of carbohydrates." Hever agrees, pointing out that, like other starchy vegetables, potatoes "are wonderful sources of complex carbohydrates and phytonutrients. Because of their macronutrient profile, they are ideal for steady energy levels." The extra kick of antioxidants found in sweet potatoes is just a colorful (and tasty) bonus.
|The best stuffed baked potato there is...|
Sure, mint probably doesn't initially come to mind when you think of getting your daily dose of veggies. However, the Nutrition Twins think that it should. "When you smell peppermint, it activates the trigeminal nerve, which stimulates the area of the brain responsible for arousal. This can make you feel more alert," they explain. "Thanks in part to its anti-inflammatory antioxidant rosmarinic acid, mint also calms your insides and eases indigestion, making you feel healthy and energetic." So the next time you make a fruit salad or flavored water, throw some mint inside!
One food/drink that nearly every nutritionist we talked to mentioned was good ol' water. "Dehydration can affect energy and performance a lot quicker than a poor diet," says Moskovitz. "Staying hydrated by drinking plenty of water is another important habit that keeps energy levels at their peak."
|Bonus points if you drink it out of a cup like this!|
Another favorite beverage of the Nutrition Twin? Black, green and oolong tea. "These contain the amino acid theanine, which improves attention and alertness. Tea also has low levels of caffeine (35-50 mg/ cup compared to 8 ounces of brewed coffee’s approximately 100-140 mg, though the coffee at Starbucks can be much higher, depending on the size) which also gives an energy boost." Studies have also found that green tea can help prevent a variety of cancers, promote fat burning and reduce the risk of Alzheimers; black tea can reduce the risk of stroke and lung damage from cigarette smoke; and oolong tea can lower bad cholesterol.
The Bottom Line
Of course, it's important to remember that, for the best energy levels, you should rely on a balanced diet more than just a few of these energy boosting foods. "Eating the right foods with the right balance of carbohydrates, protein and fat keeps blood sugars steady, feeds glucose to the brain so you can focus, and provides calories so your body can function," says DeFazio. "Your diet is your body's fuel, like gas for your car."
|Bonus points if you can get plenty of these in one meal!|
*Although I wrote this article, it first appeared here at Entity Magazine. Click here to read more of the articles I've worked on for Entity!*
*Also found at Pretty Pintastic, Dare to Share, Snickerdoodle Sunday*
What's your go-to energizing snack? Love any of the items on this list? Comment with your ideas below!