10 Foods That Give You Energy
Tired of being tired all the time? Skip the second (or third) cup of coffee and start noshing on food. Real food. That’s your ticket to all-day energy: "A combination of carbohydrates, protein, and healthy fats provides the body with the nutrients and energy it needs," says QualityHealth’s Nutrition expert Alison Massey, RD, CDE, LDN, MS, Director of Diabetes Education at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore.
Here’s how these important nutrients work:
Carbohydrates, as the primary fuel source for the body, provide quick energy. Opt for complex carbs like peas, beans, whole grains, and vegetables, which also deliver the vitamins, minerals, and fiber important for overall health. Simple carbs found in fruit, milk, and other dairy products are fine, but limit the simple carbs found in processed foods like cake, candy, and soft drinks, as well as the sugar you put in your coffee.
Protein is important for energy when carbohydrates are not available in the body; it also helps with tissue repair, immune function, and making essential hormones and enzymes.
Fats are the most concentrated source of energy, and play a vital role in helping us absorb fat-soluble vitamins (like vitamins A, D, E, and K) and maintaining cell membranes.
It’s important to eat balanced meals and snacks, but some choices are smarter than others when it comes to lasting energy. Here are 10 of your best bets:
1. Whole Grain Cereals
High in dietary fiber, which can help slow the breakdown and absorption of sugar, whole grains also contain B vitamins and minerals. Adults should eat 5 to 8 servings of grains per day, half of them in the form of whole grains. (A serving is 1 slice of bread or cup of cereal, or ½ cup of cooked rice, pasta, or cereal.)
Whole grain cereal not only starts you on your way, it provides nearly all of your daily vitamins and minerals. Add some milk or yogurt for extra protein.
Oatmeal has been shown to lower cholesterol, and oat products are also some of the best sources of soluble fiber, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. There are two types of fiber, soluble and insoluble, and we need both. Soluble fiber, found in oats as well as nuts, seeds, beans and peas, helps slow digestion and absorption of sugar to keep blood sugar and energy levels consistent. Add milk or yogurt to oatmeal for extra protein, or drizzle with honey.
3. Green Juice
Drink your spinach! The leafy green is an excellent source of iron, folate, and vitamins A and K. Like other leafy greens, spinach also provides fiber, magnesium, and calcium. Iron carries oxygen throughout your body so cells can produce energy. When your body is low in iron, you may feel fatigued and weak.
Kiwis are a good source of both potassium, which is necessary for muscle health, and vitamin C, which helps you absorb iron. And it’s quite tasty, too. Slice kiwi in a fruit salad, layer in a yogurt parfait, or add to a tropical salsa.
This fish is not only high in protein, but its high concentration of omega-3 fatty acids and vitamins B6, niacin (a.k.a. vitamin B3) and riboflavin (B2) help your body convert food into energy. What’s more, the omega-3’s in the fatty fish benefit the heart and the brain. The American Heart Association recommends two to three servings of fatty fish per week.
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend eating three cups of legumes each week. Your options include kidney, pinto, black, lima, and garbanzo beans; black-eyed and split peas, and lentils. All are excellent sources of plant protein, fiber, and other energy-boosting nutrients like iron and zinc. Even better, beans are very versatile: They can be added to soups, burritos, pastas, and pureed to make healthy dips and spreads.
The nutrient-dense nut is high in protein, manganese, copper and riboflavin, which all help release energy from proteins. Eating just one ounce (approximately 23 nuts) a day provides an significant amount of vitamin E and magnesium, which helps the body build bone and release energy from muscles. Indulge accordingly!
8. Greek Yogurt
Thicker and tarter than other kinds of yogurt, the combo of protein, fat, and carbs in this super-healthy dairy product (along with its lower sugar content) will give keep your energy levels even. Buy plain yogurt and add fresh fruit and granola or drizzle with honey for breakfast or a snack.
9. Brown Rice
Brown rice contains the healthiest part of the grain, the bran, which provides fiber (and has been removed in white rice). Fiber not only slows digestion, but also slows the absorption of sugars, which keeps blood sugar—and energy—levels even. This whole grain is also rich in manganese, a mineral that helps you produce energy from protein and carbs.
Not only are soybeans fun to eat, the legume also contains fiber, complex carbs, and healthy fat, not to mention 6 grams of protein per 2/3 cup. Another way these beans helps up energy: They're rich in magnesium and B vitamins. Snack on them, or toss in a salad or stir-fry.
Alison Massey, RD, reviewed this article.
Massey, Alison, RD. Email interview. March 10, 2015.
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