Have you ever had one of those days where you just can’t seem to maintain your energy levels through the day? I run into patients that have this issue happening on a frequent basis, and compare their energy fluctuations to being on a roller-coaster ride. They have periods of high energy followed by periods of low energy and can never seem to stay on a level course. When we start to analyze their diet and eating schedule, a certain pattern begins to emerge. They usually start the day off with some caffeine in the form or a coffee, soda or energy drink and mix in a quick dose of carbohydrates in the form of a pop tart, doughnut, bagel, waffle, or colorful sugar coated cereal. They are choosing foods that are convenient and easy to grab in the morning, but these foods start the roller coaster ride for the rest of the day.
How the Body Converts Food in to Energy
Some of you might need a quick refresher of how our bodies utilize food as energy. The main source of energy for the body is glucose, which is assembled from digested food. An easily accessible building block is sugar, which is quickly converted to glucose. After eating a meal, glucose levels will increase in the body, and those levels are kept in check by cells in the pancreas that release the hormone insulin. Insulin allows the free floating glucose to enter the cells of the body for use or for storage as Glycogen. If too much glycogen is available it is converted to triglycerides for storage in fat cells.
This system works well under normal circumstances, but when we consume too much sugar, the body runs into some trouble. Have you ever been on a sugar high? After eating a lot of sugar the body produces a ton of glucose and you have boundless energy. Have you ever crashed shortly after this sugar high? The body responds by releasing insulin, but over shoots the desired mark and you become sluggish, irritable and weak. Artificial sugars can also cause a release of insulin without adding to the sugar floating around the body. In this case you also experience the crash. The term for this crash is known as hypoglycemia and occurs when glucose levels drop below the normal threshold. Characteristics of hypoglycemia are weakness, fatigue, drowsiness, and decreased cognition.
Let’s go for a ride on the roller-coaster and see how this all fits together!
- The consumption of large amounts of easy to access sugars begin the ascent up the hill from the loading platform.
- The amount of glucose floating around skyrockets, which provides a much needed boost of energy. As the body becomes more and more saturated with glucose we climb higher and higher up the hill.
- Towards the top of the climb, the pancreas responds to the excess glucose by releasing insulin. Once the insulin is released, we have a short stop at the top of the hill, just before the decent.
- The insulin has now caused the body to pull the free floating glucose into storage, and at this point we are barreling down the steep slope to the bottom.
- Large amounts of sugar or artificial sugars cause too much insulin to be released, and the roller-coaster has now shot past the original loading platform and into a pit.
- The only way to get out of this pit is to either ride it out until the body begins to release some of that stored glucose or to pump in more sugar from the outside. The quicker and easier solution is to dump more sugar into the body and climb back up that hill, but remember we will be back at the bottom of the pit.
This roller-coaster can be never ending for some people, and over time the cells of the pancreas that produce insulin stop working like they should and so do the insulin receptors that trigger the cells to store glucose. This is known as type II diabetes. Type II diabetes had been called adult-onset diabetes because it only affected older adults and never children or teens, but over the past two decades children as young as 7 years old have been diagnosed with type II diabetes. Children now account for 20%-50% of all new cases of type II diabetes. If you would like more information on type II diabetes check out this link.
So how do you avoid this roller-coaster?
The first thing would be to drop the added sugar found in premade convenience foods and replace them with foods and drinks that produce a steady release of energy. In general low sugar, moderate to high fiber, healthy fats and lean protein are the keys to providing sustained energy. Below are a few foods and drinks that provide a consistent release of energy.
- Fresh fruit and vegies – Fruit and vegetables are nature’s version of fast food! Most fruit is fair game with berries taking the top spot, but make sure to avoid fruits high in sugar like bananas, mango, pineapple, grapes, papaya, and watermelon.
- Tree Nuts and Butters – Tree nuts are another quick and easy snack food and they provide healthy protein and fats to keep you feeling full! Raw almonds, cashews, pecans, walnuts, macadamia nuts, Brazil nuts and pistachios are great choices. Avoid peanuts which are actually a legume and have a high incidence of allergic reaction and sensitivities.
- Water – keep the body hydrated! Drink half your weight in ounces of water, and drink more if you are active. Drinking plenty of water helps flush out toxins and improves joint mobility. Avoid soda, flavored waters, and even juices, due to their added sugars, artificial sugars, and dyes.
- Protein – It’s not just meat! Protein comes from meat, beans, nuts, quinoa, rice, eggs and many other sources. Protein provides a building block for muscles. Avoid soy protein if possible.
Here are a few more food ideas!
- Split an avocado open, add some salt, pepper and olive oil.
- Cook up a dozen eggs along with some sausage or bacon at the beginning of the week and you have a quick meal ready to reheat every morning.
- Mix up a bowl of rice, beans and some chili powder and cumin for a protein packed dish
- Slice up apples and dip them in some almond butter
- Spice up your water by soaking pieces of fruit in your pitcher or bottle.
- Keep a bag of almonds handy.
In general, making your own food and snacks from scratch is always better than buying premade foods but if you look hard enough you can find some healthy premade foods. If you are looking for more guidance don’t hesitate to schedule a nutritional consultation next time you are in the office.