Wednesday, April 17, 2013

★ 10 Healthy foods that BOOST ENERGY

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Need a midday energy boost? Steer clear of the candy and caffeine. Instead, try these healthy foods to energize your afternoon.

Medically reviewed by Niya Jones, MD, MPH

Smart Snacking Starts Here

When your energy is low, you might reach instinctively for caffeine or candy to provide a quick boost. Unfortunately though, the effects of both are short-lived and can set you up for a crash. Choosing healthy foods that are rich in protein, fiber, complex carbohydrates, and other nutrients will give you a lift and also contribute to overall good health. Here are 10 top food choices that will give you the energy to keep your motor humming. Some are great as go-anywhere snacks; others are smart choices for a lunchtime meal that will power you through the afternoon.

No. 1: Almonds

Almonds are standouts among healthy foods, as they contain important nutrients like magnesium and B vitamins which help convert food to energy. "Research shows that people with low magnesium levels tend to tire more quickly during exercise due to magnesium's role in energy metabolism," explains Rachel Berman, RD, the author of Boosting Your Metabolism for Dummies and the director of nutrition at Insufficient B vitamins can lead to fatigue, irritability, and poor concentration.

No. 2: Air-Popped Popcorn

Your body thrives when you fuel up on whole-grain carbohydrates. "Thanks to fiber, whole grains help prevent the blood sugar crashes that happen after consuming refined or simple carbohydrates," Berman says. Popcorn is unique among traditional crunchy snacks, like chips. It's a whole-grain healthy food as long as you don't douse it with butter, salt, or oil. It also tends to keep you satisfied longer than chips and crackers because it provides volume.

No. 3: Peanut Butter

Do you try to avoid peanut butter because you think it's fattening? Though it is a calorie-dense food — a little goes a long way — it provides a great-tasting energy boost. Its healthy fats, protein, and fiber help stave off hunger and blood sugar crashes. Instead of covering your morning toast with butter or jelly (no protein or fiber), top it with all-natural, nutrient-rich nut butters that contain nothing but nuts, Berman suggests. Just be sure to avoid brands with added sugars.

No. 4: Salmon

It isn't called brain food for nothing. Salmon owes that moniker to its omega-3 fatty acids, nutrients that have been found to improve memory and reduce depression as well as boost energy and mood, Berman says. According to a review of brain foods in the journal Nature Reviews Neuroscience, studies on seniors and children alike have found positive brain benefits from healthy foods, like salmon, that have omega-3s along with other nutrients. Salmon is also a rich source of protein, which promotes muscle building to keep the body functioning at its best.

No. 5: Bananas

Bananas are nature's prepacked and portable healthy snack. They're filled with fiber, B vitamins, and potassium — nutrients that promote sustained energy and muscle function, Berman says. Bananas are particularly appealing as a pre- or post-workout snack. Pair a banana with a glass of low-fat milk or a cup of yogurt for an energizing combination of fiber and protein — a combo that also makes a great breakfast to start your day.


No. 6: Kale

Skip the watery iceberg lettuce and boost energy with your salad by using nutrient-rich kale as a base; kale is also great as a cooked as a side dish, chopped into soups, and tossed with whole-wheat pasta. Kale contains the amino acid L-tyrosine, which helps give you a mental lift, as well as a number of antioxidants and fiber to fill you up and help keep your blood sugar stable, says Berman.

No. 7: Oatmeal

Oatmeal is another smart way to start your day. Its secret is its fiber. Because fiber takes so long to digest, having this healthy food for breakfast should power you through the entire morning, compared with a breakfast of white toast and jelly, explains Melinda Johnson, MS, RD, a spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics based in Chandler, Ariz. You'll stay focused on the tasks at hand rather than slumping midmorning and dashing for the vending machines.

No. 8: Pistachios

Powerhouse pistachios have an irresistible buttery flavor. Protein, fiber, and heart-healthy monounsaturated fat add up to a perfectly satisfying snack that's high in nutrients. Pistachios' rich protein content makes them an ideal food for energy all day long, says Kari Kooi, MS, RD, a corporate wellness dietitian at Methodist Hospital in Houston. Though nuts are calorie dense, 25 pistachios have only 100 calories.

No. 9: Hummus

Hummus is a Mediterranean dip whose few simple ingredients all contribute nutrients for energy: pureed garbanzo beans, sesame-based tahini, olive oil, and lemon juice. The fiber and protein provided by the beans stabilize blood sugar, take the edge off hunger, and boost energy, Kooi notes. When used as a dip for nutrient-rich veggies, such as red pepper strips or carrot sticks, hummus makes for a protein-packed treat. Or use it as a sandwich spread instead of mayonnaise.

No. 10: Greek Yogurt

This healthy food delivers twice the amount of hunger-satisfying protein as regular yogurt, making it a superpowered breakfast, lunch, or snack. "The thick, indulgent texture is the perfect canvas for a variety of toppings that can make it even more substantial," Kooi says. Mix in fresh berries and chopped nuts for a nutrient-packed treat. Make sure you select nonfat or low-fat Greek yogurt, though, because the full-fat kind has almost twice the calories. 

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