7 Essential Nutrients to Naturally Boost Energy
Guest Article by Sarah Flower
Are you surviving on sugar and caffeine to keep you going throughout the day? Low energy not only makes us feel dreadful but it also has a knock-on effect on our immune system, mood and emotions. There are many reasons why we may be lacking energy. Ask yourself: Is my diet lacking anything? Am I sleeping enough? Am I stressed or depressed?
Our diets can provide us with all the essential nutrients to help fuel us throughout the day but we need to know what to eat and when. We tend to believe that energy foods are mainly carbohydrates or sugars but the reality is very different. This type of food is optimal if you are about to run a marathon but many of us should opt for slow-release energy foods which will keep our blood sugars stable throughout the day.
Are you the sort of person who swears they need sugar mid-afternoon to keep going? You might be stuck in a vicious sugar-burning cycle. Refined carbohydrates and sugars will give you an energy burst but within an hour or two you will be left feeling deflated and tired. Moreover, the more carbohydrates you give your body, the more your body will crave. If you do crave carbohydrates, opt instead for complex, wholegrain carbohydrates and mix these with some form of protein. This will slow down your digestion, keep you fuller for longer and stabilise your blood sugar levels.
The UK diet has become more processed than ever before. The nation is gradually gaining weight and it is now estimated that only 40% of the population are considered to be at a healthy weight. Processed foods are often devoid of essential nutrients – empty food, and a processed diet means you are more susceptible to illness such as mental health problems, fatty liver disease, diabetes and heart attack to name a few.
Fill your diet with nutrient-rich foods. The following are essential nutrients which will not only boost your energy, but also ensure a healthy immune system:
Iron - Depleted iron levels will contribute to low energy and fatigue. At least 10% of women aged 20-50 are shown to be iron deficient so fill your diet with iron-rich foods. Note that iron is absorbed and utilised more effectively alongside vitamin C so add also lots of vitamin C-rich foods such as berries, fruit and plenty of vegetables to your diet.
Sources of iron: red meats, particularly liver; nuts, seeds, beans, whole grains and green leafy vegetables. The good news is that it is also found in dark chocolate!
Vitamin B12 (Cobalamin) deficiency can cause anemia, fatigue, depression and has even been linked to dementia. Vegans are especially prone to Vitamin B12 deficiency, as the richest sources are found in animal products (although a very small amount is found in some vegetables, yeast spreads and fortified cereals).
Sources of vitamin B12: Liver, red meat, chicken and oily fish. You can also find B12 in dairy products.
Vitamin E is another fat-soluble vitamin and as a powerful antioxidant, helps protect us from free radical damage, helps ease PMT, heals skin, reduces cholesterol and protects against cardiovascular disease. Vitamin E works better alongside vitamin C and selenium.
Sources vitamin E: wheat germ, oils made from seeds (sunflower oils, olive oil, almond oil) and nuts and seeds.
Zinc is another great antioxidant, helping to support the immune system, aiding protein synthesis, maintaining sex health, and plays a vital role in maintaining a healthy heart. Processed foods and high sugar diets can lead to a deficiency in zinc.
Sources of zinc: lean protein, eggs, seafood, nuts, seeds, whole grains and some dairy.
Magnesium is vital for health and most women are deficient. It works in balance with calcium, helps combat stress and eases muscle tension. There is very little in which magnesium is not involved – from energy synthesis right through to the metabolism of carbohydrates.
Sources of magnesium: whole grains, nuts and seeds, green leafy vegetables, lentils and figs.
Vitamin B6 (also known as Pyridozine) is needed for the breakdown of proteins and plays a vital role in energy production. It also works alongside iron, aiding the transportation of oxygen and maintaining heart health. B6 also works well alongside magnesium and vitamin E in aiding PMT and mild depression.
Sources of vitamin B6: liver, whole grains, brown rice and pulses.
Vitamin C is needed to keep our immune system in tip-top condition but is also needed for collagen formation, wound healing, gum health and cardiovascular health. You need vitamin C to utilize iron so if you are anemic, ensure you have adequate amounts of both. Cooking can destroy vitamin C so it is important to try to get some raw sources into your diet every day.
Sources of vitamin C: berries (especially strawberries), citrus fruits, cherries, green leafy vegetables, guava and melon.
Finally, how you cook and prepare the food is vital. Vitamins are depleted during processing and cooking, so try to steam vegetables instead of boiling them, give them a quick stir-fry and eat as many raw whole fruits and vegetables as you can. Think about how to boost your everyday foods. Here are some basic hacks to help boost your nutrient content: add a handful of seeds to your salads, porridge or breakfast cereals; switch to dark chocolate instead of milk chocolate (aim for at least 70% cocoa content); switch to oily fish and only opt for lean protein sources; always choose wholegrain and try to eat the majority of your foods in its natural, unprocessed state.
If you need to give your diet a helping hand, you could consider purchasing some supplements; However, you still need to ensure you are packing in plenty of nutrient-dense food. Remember, nothing replaces real food.
Iron – Try not to buy cheap iron supplements as your body cannot absorb them. Opt for iron in citrate form. You can buy a liquid iron/multivitamin called Floradix, available from health food stores and chemists. Take a capful or two a day.
Co-Enzyme Q10 – although Co-Enzyme Q10 can be made in the body, as we age, this production can decline. Low levels of Co-Enzyme Q10 can cause lack of energy. It has also been shown to help boost weight loss, and protect against heart disease.
5HTP - this is a derivative of tryptophan, an amino acid present in high protein foods and dairy products. It helps to influence mood, appetite and aids sleep so if you are struggling with any of these things, it may be that you are not getting enough 5HTP.
Omega 3 - I would recommend a high quality omega 3 supplement or Krill Oil.
Discover the foods that can naturally boost your energy levels - check out nutritionist Sarah Flower's Energy Shopping List!