Do you often find yourself chugging coffee in the mid-morning, hoping to find the energy to propel you to lunch—only to find yourself dragging an hour after your mid-day meal? It’s all too common in this fast-paced world to feel low on energy.
Anyone who has experienced that “depleted” feeling likely looks for mid-morning or mid-afternoon snacks to get through the day. If you can relate, make sure you don’t draw your energy boost from the wrong sources. A sugary soft drink, a bag of burgers, a high-calorie chocolate bar, or a pack of Twinkies are counter-productive, sending you on a sugar high that will have you coming down all too fast.
“Snacks provide a large percentage of daily calories for many Americans,” as Health.gov puts it in Dietary Guidelines for Americans. “And unless nutritious snacks are part of the daily meal plan, snacking may lead to weight gain.”
Experts recommend that with snacks, you should keep the calorie count to somewhere between 100 and 150. And steer clear of choices that are high in salt; that bag of chips is tempting, but leave it in the vending machine. And limit or avoid snacks that have a high glycemic index; they’re typically high in carbs and sugar and can create a quick but brief energy boost followed by drowsiness and, yes, more hunger.
Best Bets for Natural Energy Boosters
Rather than grabbing the odd snack on the fly, put some thought into snack foods and plan ahead, keeping a supply of natural energy booster snacks on hand. Concentrate on the types of food you want in your regular meals: ones that are rich in proteins, fiber, and healthy fats. Such choices offer a more gradual release of sugar into your bloodstream, thereby curbing your appetite for a longer period while also giving you a longer-lasting energy boosts.
Your best choices for snacks come from these food groups:
Fruits: There are enough options in the fruit family that you can alternate selections all month without getting bored. Bananas are among the most effective natural energy boosters; a single medium-size banana supplies more than 400mg of potassium, which helps prevent high blood pressure; around 3g of fiber for digestive health; and around 15g of total sugar, giving them a low glycemic index. (Glycemic index, or GI, measures how a carbohydrate-containing food raises blood glucose, according to the American Diabetes Association. Foods are ranked based on how they compare to a reference food—either glucose or white bread. A food with a high GI raises blood glucose more than a food with a medium or low GI.)
Apples, too, are an ideal energy-boosting snack, giving your body vitamins and antioxidants. (To add an extra boost of energy, spread a tablespoon of peanut butter on slices of banana or apple.)
Grapes, blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, and oranges or tangerines also will pick you up. Their vitamin C and folic acid will give you the energy you crave in between meals. And don’t stop there: Cantaloupe, mangos, and papayas are great sources of B-vitamins, important for your body’s metabolism and energy level.
Vegetables: The classic snack veggies are, of course, celery and carrot sticks. Celery gives you fiber, potassium, B vitamins, and vitamin C. A teaspoon of peanut butter on a celery stick adds an extra dollop of protein and energy; a few raisins on top (making it “ants on a log,” as kids know) sweeten the treat. If you’re carrying carrots to work, bring a small container of hummus for dipping—and for extra protein. Carrots are high in fiber; like celery, they help you fight off hunger.
Other natural energy boosters in this category include sliced bell peppers, grape tomatoes, and cucumber slices. The latter is a hydrating, nutrient-full veggie that’s convenient, inexpensive, and satisfying either alone or with hummus.
Whole grains: Grains supply “complex carbohydrates,” making them among the best energy-boosting foods you’ll find. Bring a baggie full of whole-grain crackers to work for that mid-afternoon snack and top them with such spreads as hummus (made from high-protein garbanzo beans, a great source of fiber, healthy fats, and protein) or peanut butter.
Eggs: They don’t smell that great in a small office, but hard-boiled eggs offer B6 and B12 vitamins plus folate, thiamin, and riboflavin. Eggs are also a top source of amino acids. Drawn from protein in our diets, amino acids are known as building blocks of neurotransmitters, the chemical “messengers” that allow our brain cells to communicate with each another.
Low-fat or fat-free dairy products: A six-ounce helping of nonfat yogurt fills you with calcium and protein as well as potassium, zinc, and vitamins B6 and B12. Complement your yogurt snack with a tablespoon or so of granola and/or berries for extra nutrients with minimal glycemic index effect.
Unsalted nuts and dried fruit: Trail mix is a popular choice as a snack, and one of the easiest and quickest fixes you can cobble together on your own. Start with unsalted nuts: Almonds, pistachios, and walnuts all provide energizing protein, magnesium, and healthy fats. Add in some dried fruits; you’d be surprised at how many different types are available, from the obvious (dried bananas, apples, raisins, and cranberries) to the unusual (dried mango, guava, and starfruit, for example). If you can’t resist that chocolate fix so many of us need, a sprinkling of dark chocolate pieces into your mix will do the trick—and give you some caffeine.
Seeds: Sunflower seeds are another good choice; they provide around double the protein you’ll get in walnuts and pecans. And their phytochemicals are thought to lower bad cholesterol while promoting cognitive functions—just what you need for that afternoon meeting. And don’t forget pumpkin seeds, which give you protein as well as magnesium and iron. Avoid salted sunflower and pumpkin seeds. Seeds, by the way, are another top source of amino acids (see “Eggs” above), as are nuts.
Watch your portion size—a quarter-cup will lift you up. Going with larger portions—and the accompanying carbohydrates—can cause low blood sugar and bring on that tired feeling in the mid-afternoon.
Originally posted in April 2016 and updated.
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