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The Best Energy-Boosting Foods To Combat Winter Sluggishness

Vogue Arabia, June 2020. Photo: Stephan Glathe

With winter round the corner, many of us may be feeling more lethargic than usual. There are several possible reasons why – from increased melatonin production making us feel sleepier, to a lack of sunlight and therefore vitamin D – but the good news is that there are ways to mitigate winter’s effects through what you’re eating. “We want to focus on foods that help encourage satiety, keep our blood sugar steady and deliver the core nutrients we need that, over time, cultivate a robust metabolism and emotional state,” says Rhian Stephenson, founder of Artah Health. Here’s what to put on your plate.

Eat your omegas

Of all the macronutrients – protein, carbohydrates and fat – fat is the most energy dense, providing more than twice as many calories per gram as its counterparts. Omega 3s are essential fats that the body must source from food, because it doesn’t produce them itself. As well as being particularly key to heart, brain and eye health, omega 3s support the immune system and provide the body with energy. Although we could all stand to incorporate more into our diet year round, during the winter in particular dietary habits mean we tend to eat less. If you can’t get your hands on enough fish (around two portions a week of things like tuna, trout or salmon is ideal), other good sources of omega 3 include flaxseed, walnuts and chia seeds.

Balance your blood sugar

“In addition to eating foods that are nutrient dense, it’s important to consider what foods to include and exclude to help create balanced, stable blood sugar, which has a direct effect on our energy,” says Stephenson. High carb foods like bread and pasta can cause blood sugar to spike which can lead to feelings of sluggishness, so if you need to energize, swap high GI and carb-rich foods for leafy greens like spinach and broccoli and legumes like chickpeas, which absorb into the bloodstream more slowly. “Blood sugar needs to be tightly regulated in the body for us to function well,” Stephenson explains. “We want to see a gradual rise and fall in blood sugar, not a spike.” To really eat optimally for your blood sugar levels and ensure consistent energy, the order in which you eat your food also matters, as it helps buffer the digestion of high GI foods. High-water food and foods that are rich in fibre should be eaten first, followed by protein, fats and finally carbs and high sugar foods.

Top up your vitamin D

The hormone thyroxine helps to control our ability to produce energy. Like many hormones, it relies on a plentiful supply of vitamin D in order to function properly, so if you’re in need of an energy boost, keeping your vitamin D levels topped up is one of the best things you can do. Remember the SMASH acronym, which stands for salmon, mackerel, anchovies, sardines and herring – all excellent sources of vitamin D. If you’re not a fan of eating fish, egg yolks, mushrooms and red meat also contain some. If you know you’re likely to flag during the day, pre-preparing some hard boiled eggs to take with you on the go is a great idea, while sardines on spelt toast makes for a healthy and energizing lunch.

Don’t look for quick fixes

If you’re feeling zapped of energy it can be tempting to reach for something sugary, whether that’s a can of fizzy drink or a handful of biscuits. But, “sugary and ultra processed foods will drain our energy”, warns Stephenson. “Diet soda may give you an initial boost in concentration from the caffeine, but it’s full of artificial, nonnutritive sweeteners and artificial flavorings that can impact our energy and mood after the fact.” Don’t be duped by supposedly healthier options either, things like breakfast bars are often dressed up as nutritious options but are laden with sugar. “It’s also important to avoid acellular carbohydrates; so things like fruit juice, liquid sugars and refined flours, which will cause a rapid rise in glucose.”

Opt for liquid energy

If you feel your energy levels flagging before a workout or it’s hard to put together a snack when you’re feeling tired, there are liquid options that can give you a boost. “Don’t underestimate the power of electrolytes if you’re feeling mentally fatigued,” says Stephenson, whose Cellular Hydration powder contains electrolytes like magnesium, potassium and vitamin C and delivers an instant injection of energy. Poor circulation can also be a culprit when it comes to fatigue, so look for things that will kick start blood flow and get your energy levels back on track. “I like things like ginger and green tea, which can be stimulating and are great for our microbes and circulation,” she adds.

Time your energy boost

What you eat for breakfast is important for setting the tone, and your energy levels, for the day ahead. “I recommend focusing on four components: protein (aim for 20-plus grams), fibre, phytonutrients and fat,” explains Stephenson. “This will give you a solid metabolic foundation and be beneficial for blood sugar. It’s important to avoid sugary foods and high-starch breakfasts, especially when they also lack protein. This will send your blood sugar haywire and subsequently, will have a negative effect on energy.” Some sensible breakfast choices Stephenson recommends are scrambled eggs or scrambled tofu with avocado, mushrooms or tomato, or Greek yoghurt with berries, nuts, seeds and a boiled egg. If your options are limited, even savoury leftovers from the night before can make for a sensible breakfast.

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