Do you find that you are rushing around all day, either forgetting to eat, or snacking on foods that you know aren’t good for you? And then by the time it’s the children’s teatime, grazing on their leftovers? No energy or inspiration left at the end of a long day to make a proper dinner for you? As a consequence, are you feeling constantly tired and low in energy? You are not alone! The way in which you eat can have such a huge impact on the way you feel. I have clients who are constantly surprised at how making a few simple changes to their diet can transform their energy levels.
Where most of us tend to go wrong is that we seek instant gratification – that “I need chocolate right now” scenario! And this is not about greed (or not usually anyway!), but us allowing our blood sugar levels to plummet to a point where our body feels that it needs something sweet – that sugar hit. And if we didn’t know before, with all the recent media attention we certainly know now, how detrimental excess sugar consumption can be to our health. Experts are urging us to cut our sugar intake, avoid processed foods and pay close attention to food labels. Sugar, it emerges, is everywhere, and has a multitude of different identities and hiding places!
However, the reality is that when two hands and five spare minutes are a luxury, you may not have the time (or the energy) to be drawing up weekly meal plans, making every dish from scratch, and scrutinising each food label you come across (which you often need a degree in chemistry to decipher anyway) . With this in mind, I have put together my six top tips to reducing your sugar intake, whilst giving your energy levels a much needed boost:
1. Quit sugar, not snacks – having regular, healthy snacks throughout the day can really help when you are trying to reduce your sugar intake. This will help stop your blood sugar levels dropping too low, which is when you become tired, grumpy and craving an instant sweet pick-me-up. Some good snack ideas include:
– 2 oatcakes spread with nut butter (almond, cashew or peanut) and sliced banana
– Rice cake with sliced avocado & a squeeze of lemon juice
– Pot of probiotic unsweetened natural yoghurt with fresh berries
– Tablespoon of hummus with vegetable crudités (sugar snap peas, carrots and red pepper all have a natural sweetness to them)
2. Fat is your friend (really!) – most of us still cringe at the word “fat”, but the fact is that healthy fats should be included in every woman’s diet. They boost the metabolic rate (helping you to burn body fat), stabilise mood and are great for satiety – they fill you up which will help to stop you reaching for the sweet stuff! Avocado, olive oil, fish, nuts and flaxseed all contain these good healthy fats.
3. Never leave home alone – always make sure that you have a bottle of water and a portable snack in your bag. Not only is dehydration one of the leading causes of fatigue and low energy, but when we are thirsty we often mistake this for hunger. And by having a healthy snack in your bag you are much less likely to have that piece of cake in Costa!
4. Portable protein – getting plenty of protein into your diet is the key to keeping your appetite at bay, and your blood sugar levels balanced. Have some pre-cooked boiled eggs in the fridge which make a fantastic to-go snack. Another good idea is to make up a trail mix of your favourite nuts and seeds and keep this in a large jar. You can then have a handful of these as a snack, or fill a small Tupperware container if you are going out.
5. Be wary of dried fruit – there has recently been a surge of “health” bars coming onto the market, which on closer inspection are not quite what they seem. These bars are very often dried fruit based, and whilst a little dried fruit is ok, it is a very concentrated form of sugar (yes, it’s fruit sugar, but to the body I’m afraid it’s just sugar). You don’t have to scrutinise the nutritional information. Quite simply if a bar has dates, raisins, honey, agave syrup or sugar in their top three ingredients, they are best avoided. Instead, opt for bars that are more nut-based or even better have a handful of raw nuts and a piece of fresh fruit instead.
6. Curb those cravings – cinnamon can help to stabilise our blood sugar levels, and by doing this, reduce cravings. This wonderful spice can be sprinkled onto porridge, yoghurt, fresh fruit, and also as a spice in many savoury dishes (it’s delicious in a chilli!). A particularly good bedtime treat is this hot chocolate recipe: in a saucepan heat gently 1 cup milk (or a non-dairy alternative), 1 heaped teaspoon 100% cocoa powder, and ½ teaspoon cinnamon.
*Naomi Mead is currently a trained Nutritional Therapist and accredited at the renowned Institute of Optimum Nutrition. Naomi is a regular contributor to Nutrition Expert, and is passionate about the role of nutrition in health as well as about the therapeutic power of good food. Picture credit www.freedigitalphotos.net and Suat Eman.