Raise your hand if it feels like you’re running on fumes or you’re tired all the time. Yep, we thought so. But consider this: It’s not just your endless to-do list and inconsistent sleep schedule that’s sapping your energy—it could also be your seemingly healthy diet. We’re not talking about the obvious lethargy-inducing doughnuts and refined carbs, but many healthy eats that can actually mess with your digestion, spike blood sugar, and literally wake you up in the middle of the night.
Here, eight surprising foods that are sucker-punching your stamina, with the energy-boosting swaps to make instead:
Plain porridge is a fantastic energy food, but adding maple syrup or opting for instant flavoured packages means loads of added sugar—and, consequently, a quick blood sugar spike and energy-sucking crash later, says Dr Michelle Babb, author of Anti-Inflammatory Eating Made Easy. In fact, just one-quarter cup of maple syrup—easy to drizzle even if you think you have a light hand—packs a whopping 50 grams of sugar.
Power up: Stick with oatmeal, but top your bowl with energy-sustaining fixings like nut butter, chopped nuts, or chia seeds. “These contain protein and healthy fats to minimize your body’s blood sugar response,” says Babb.
The problem with nuts: They’re easy to overeat, which, in turn, can leave you dragging, says Babb. That’s because nuts are high in fat, some of which is good for you, but too much will end up taxing your digestion and may even boost hormones that contribute to sleepiness. (Check out 3 more downsides to eating too many nuts here.)
Power up: Divvy up one-quarter cup servings of nuts into snack-size bags so you don’t overeat. Better yet, pair nuts with an apple for a dose of fibre to help fill you up without all the extra fat and calories.
FAT-FREE FLAVOURED YOGHURT
Not all yogurt is created equal. In fact, a 180ml container of fat-free strawberry yoghurt from a well-known organic brand packs an insane 35 grams of sugar—that’s way more than a Snickers bar. Crash city!
Power up: Opt for plain Greek yoghurt and top it with berries and nuts. Greek yoghurt packs twice the blood sugar-stabilizing protein of regular yogurt, and high-fibre berries deliver a dose of sweetness without the crash.
Just because you see “veggie” is in the name, don’t assume you’re getting a daily hit of greens. These salty, crunchy, ultra-processed sticks are often made primarily from potato starch, a refined carb that will leave you feeling lethargic if you overdo it, says Babb.
Power up: Make your own veggie chips or fries using fresh kale, sweet potatoes, or beets. Too much work? You can also go old school and pack raw carrots with hummus for a traditional snack that packs energy-sustaining protein and fiber.
Research shows that wine before bed messes with your sleep cycle and can cause next-day grogginess. Even though a glass or two can cause you to fall asleep faster, your snooze time is often short-lived, lasting just a few hours before you wake up tossing and turning. Plus, alcohol is dehydrating, which can cause fatigue and mess with focus.
Power up: Skip the nightcap, or have your last drink two to three hours before bed. Wine with lunch or dinner is a better bet—and don’t forget to toss back a glass of water for every drink you have.
If you have sleep problems, you may want to consider tweaking your coffee habit and have your first cup later in the morning after levels of the stress hormone cortisol, typically higher when you wake up, begin to stabilize. And don’t even think about having a cuppa after 3 p.m.: Research shows that consuming caffeine less than six hours before bed can cause you to lose an hour or more of quality sleep.
Power up: Drink your morning brew between 10 a.m. and 12 p.m. for an optimal energy boost—that’s when cortisol levels naturally start to taper, so you’ll truly benefit from the caffeine boost. And cut yourself off around 3 p.m., or approximately six hours before you hit the sack.
Don’t be fooled by store-bought fruit smoothies: they are a ticking sugar bomb in disguise with sometimes over 50 grams of the sweet stuff and not enough fat, protein, or fibre to keep your engine revved. You can do as much damage at home, too, if you’re forgetting to add a source of protein or fat to your homemade blend.
Power up: Make your own smoothies from fruit and/or veggies, but always include a source of protein and/or a healthy fat like nut butter or avocado.
Sure, they may be packed with vitamins and minerals, but energy bars are often loaded with sweeteners that can cause drastic fluctuations in energy levels, especially if you’re eating them as a snack and not to power through a workout. In fact, the first ingredient in one very well known energy bar is brown rice syrup. “These are pretty much going to behave like candy bars in your body,” says Babb.
Power up: Opt for energy bars made from real food. The shorter and more recognisable the ingredient list is on a bar, the better. Also, make sure sugar or another sweetener isn’t the first thing listed, and opt for bars with a decent amount of fibre and protein.
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