Get an energy boost from nutrient-packed foods

The kids are home and rambunctious. Work has not slowed down one bit. Whatever happened to the dog days of summer?

If you’re looking for a quick pick-me-up, don’t reach for a bowl of ice cream or a caffeinated energy drink. Instead, go for foods that are packed with nutrients, says author Ellie Krieger, a registered dietitian and host of The Food Network’s Healthy Appetite.

“Research shows that when we feel sluggish and sort of foggy-headed, the foods that can pull us out of that are high in protein and low in concentrated carbohydrates” such as sugar or white bread, she said.

Sugary foods can cause blood sugar to spike briefly, then plunge, leaving you tired and hungry. The goal, Krieger said, is to keep blood sugar levels even. Eating for energy is “eating consistent meals, and not huge meals. A lot of people don’t eat all day, then have a big meal at night. That’s the opposite of eating for energy.”

Ellie Krieger, a registered dietitian and cookbook author, doesn’t obsess over numbers, whether calories or carbs.
“I don’t count anything,’’ she said.
Instead, she advises focusing on “four or five high-energy snacks’’ with the emphasis on “healthy proteins, fruits and vegetables and whole grains — but it can’t be a bowl of pasta with a teensy bit of cheese.’’
She highlighted five foods to pack extra energy into your day:
Shrimp:

Filling, high in protein and fat-free, shrimp can be added to a bowl of gazpacho or served in shrimp cocktail for an elegant snack or lunch.

Almonds:

For an energy blast, said Krieger, “I would pick a handful of almonds. That would give me protein, healthy fat, minerals. That’s going to keep me more alert than something starchy.’’

Other options: almond butter on whole wheat toast.

Kale:
Packed with calcium, vitamins C, B6, K and much more, it has a “lot of nutrients and not a lot of calories,’’ she said. A cup of kale, which can be eaten raw or cooked, has 34 calories.

Hard-boiled egg:
A quick and easy protein source, “I love just a hard-boiled egg and a piece of fruit as a snack,’’ she said. Or add a sliced egg to salad to bolster it with protein. “Choosing foods high in protein and lower in carbohydrates is going to help you keep your energy up.’’

Jim White, a spokesman for the American Dietetic Association, recommends eating five mini-meals a day.

“Two snacks, mid-morning and mid-afternoon, are vital,” he said, and be sure to include protein, good fats and complex carbohydrates, such as whole-grain foods, which break down slowly and provide steady energy.

His snack suggestions include whole-grain crackers and low-fat cheese, celery and natural peanut butter, hummus and baby carrots, or fruit with Greek yogurt, which White said is more protein-packed than conventional yogurt and “is really a power food.”

Energy drinks, he says, “give you that spike, but it doesn’t work to keep you going during the week. I see a lot of people spike up and crash hard.”

Other tips: Get enough sleep and drink lots of fluids, White said.

“The biggest thing is being hydrated — 2 percent to 3 percent dehydration can significantly affect energy.”

Water, low-calorie drinks and summer fruits such as watermelon can help “hydrate you to be at ultimate peak,” he said.

Dietitian Joy Dubost, also an ADA spokeswoman, says exercise is “a natural energy booster … it lifts your mood,” she said. “You feel better and have more energy.”

And don’t forget breakfast.

“A lot of people skip breakfast or have an energy drink or coffee in the morning and think that will do it,” she said.

Not so. After a long night of sleep, “you’re going to be running low and have got to refuel. Breakfast in the morning is critical.”

Start the day with whole-grain cereal or bread, fruit or eggs, along with a calcium source, such as soy or low-fat milk, she says. And don’t be afraid to sample unfamiliar fruits and vegetables, especially during summer, when fresh produce is readily available.

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