Energy Alternatives for the Human Body
We’ve all felt tired or sluggish – be it a late night at the office, last-minute studying, or a bundle of joy keeping us up at night. Many people turn to caffeine, energy drinks, colas and other quick fixes to try to get their body going. However, there are better solutions.
Energy Drinks: Quick Energy or Slow Health Problems?
Studies have found a strong link between caffeine based energy drinks and increased heart rate and blood pressure. One study in particular found that nearly 20 percent of college students who consumed energy drinks experienced heart palpitations. The occasional cup of coffee or energy drink won’t hurt, but excessive long-term use can pose a health risk. The bottom line: they’re unnatural, and for people with existing cardiovascular ailments or those who take prescription medications, natural energy is a much safer alternative to upping energy.
The Solution: Natural Energy
There are plenty of ways to get natural energy from our diet. Slow-release energy from nuts, fish, and whole grains help keep us energized for hours. Unlike the refined sugar found in colas, candy bars and other processed foods, natural fruit and vegetable sugars provide rich energy without spiking blood sugar. But energy doesn’t have to come from calories. The way chemicals react in our body plays a huge role in how we feel.
Antioxidants – The Key to Unlocking Energy
Antioxidants work by eliminating free radicals – chemicals in the environment that cause damage to our cells and drain our energy. Vitamins and helpful nutrients such as glutathione work to break up the chemical reactions that cause this damage. So, where can we find these helpful molecules? Most nutritionists focus on the A-C-E core of antioxidant vitamins found primarily in fruits, vegetables, and nuts.
Vitamin A refers to two classes of nutrients: retinoids and carotenoids, both of which help with healthy blood flow, immune system integrity, and vision. Look for vitamin A in carrots, sweet potatoes, kale, and other leafy greens. Being fat soluble, vitamin A is best consumed in conjunction with foods rich in healthy unsaturated fats. These include nuts, seeds, and fatty fish.
Perhaps the most abundant core vitamin, C drives healthy immune and brain function. When the brain feels energized, the body is likely to follow. The grocery store or farmer’s market’s produce section holds a world of vitamin C. Berries, citrus fruits, melons, broccoli, bell peppers, peas, tomatoes, even herbs like garlic are all rich sources. Clementines, bananas, and mixed fruit cups make superb energy-boosting snacks for the office, and salads make easy, nutrient-rich lunches. For the most nutrition, look for locally grown produce – they often retain more vitamins and minerals than imported foods.
Vitamin E, commonly classified as tocopherols, helps boost cardiovascular health and reduce the risk of heart disease. It does this by preventing the oxidation of bad LDL cholesterol – a key factor in the development of atherosclerosis. Nuts such as almonds, and leafy green vegetables such as spinach, swiss chard, and mustard greens are rich sources of vitamin E, among many other vital nutrients. One serving of sunflower seeds provides nearly all of the average person’s daily vitamin E needs. Like vitamin A, E is fat soluble, so make sure to add healthy fats to your meal for optimum absorption.
B Complex Vitamins
Like antioxidants, the B class of vitamins offers a variety of energy boosting benefits. They help regulate metabolism, promote brain function, and improve blood flow and liver health. Luckily, most B complex vitamins are easy to come by. Below is a short list of dietary sources. Keep in mind that most whole, unprocessed foods contain decent amounts of at least one or two B vitamins. Eat a varied, balanced diet for best results.
- Vitamin B1 (Thiamin) – sunflower seeds, black beans, lima beans, peas, oats, lentils
- Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin) – spinach, soybeans, beets, mushrooms, yogurt
- Vitamin B3 (Niacin) – seafood, poultry, beef, brown rice
- Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine) – fish, poultry, potatoes, spinach
- Vitamin B12 (Cobalamin) – seafood, beef, lamb, dairy
Instead of a daily coffee, try a daily walk. Studies show that as little as 15 minutes of daily sunlight exposure improves mood, creativity, and overall energy levels. It’s no wonder plants love it so much. Not to mention that sunlight triggers our bodies to produce vitamin D – a nutrient essential for bone health that’s rarely found outside of dairy and seafood.
Each of our bodies is unique. Aging, genetics, and environmental factors all affect the way we produce and process energy. In addition, food allergies, lactose intolerance, and underlying medical conditions make some foods less ideal. You can also find natural energy sources in supplements and herbal remedies. Talk to your doctor or nutritionist about other natural ways to increase your energy.
- Franklin VanOs