Thursday, 4 November 2010

Turn back the clocks, turn up the energy!

Keeping energy levels high during the colder, darker months of the year can be a challenge. As we snuggle down into our shorter days we often feel less energized and motivated to make healthy choices such as exercising and snacking. This can become a vicious cycle- eating comfort foods, feeling less energized, then turning to those same foods. Breaking the cycle is easier than you think- energizing foods don't have to taste like cardboard OR take hours to prepare. I've already spoken about how eating regularly and preparing balanced meals can help with energy levels- but what about snacks?
Snacks can not only help to boost our energy levels between meals but they can also prevent us from eating meals that are too large (which can zap energy).

An energy boosting snack should contain 3 elements:

  1. Carbohydrates. This macro nutrient is the preferred source of fuel for our brain. Carbs turn into blood sugar which feed all of our cells- brain cells and muscle cells included! Eating low glycemic index carbs helps to stabilize energy levels- avoiding sugar highs and lows. Complex carbs such as fruit, whole grain crackers and pita bread are quick and easy examples.
  2. Fibre. This nutrient is technically in the carbohydrate family. It provides zero calories BUT helps to slow down how quickly we digest sugar and starch. We want the process of digestion to be slowed somewhat so that the energy from the food can slowly make its way into our bloodstream. Rather than a tidal wave of energy (resulting in an energy crash) we want a constant drip. Fibre is found in whole grain foods, fruits and vegetables.
  3. Protein. The role protein plays in energy levels is similar to fibre. It helps to keep us feeling fuller longer by slowing down digestion. It also brings a nice variety to the snack thus avoiding monotony. It is not a calorie free food and therefore portion sizes (like any food) should be according to your true hunger. Contrary to popular belief, protein does not technically provide energy to the body but instead is better used to boost the immune system and repair tissue. That is why it is important to include a source of complex carbs.

A few food examples are:

A handful of dried fruit and nuts
One tablespoon of peanut butter on whole-wheat crackers
Sliced veggies dipped in hummus
Air-popped popcorn sprinkled with shredded Parmesan cheese
Pita chips with bean dip and sliced avocado
Low-fat cottage cheese with fruit and almonds
A fruit smoothie made with low-fat yogurt or milk

So go forth and snack wisely in the wintry months!
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