We've all been there. It's ten o'clock in the morning but feels like five in the afternoon. Your energy is sapped and you are literally dragging, yet for most moms, the busiest part of the day lies hours ahead with dinner to prepare, homework to oversee, after school activities to chauffeur. A candy bar or other vending machine treat would be easy and probably taste pretty good right now but stop! The food choices you make directly impact your energy level, mood and overall health. So stop the cycle now and thoughtfully choose what you put in your mouth. Making good food choices - like the "super" foods listed below - can improve your overall health and provide you with energy and stamina to get though your day - and night.
What makes super foods so super? They provide you with the necessary nutrients and other properties that directly support your health and wellness. Compared with less nutrient-dense foods - especially processed foods - super foods pack more for the punch; some have heart-health or cancer fighting antioxidants while others have "good" fats that can improve cholesterol levels. As far as boosting your energy level, many of these foods - like oatmeal - take longer for your body to digest, stabilizing blood sugar, keeping sugar crashes at bay and providing a steady energy level for longer amounts of time.
You can't lose as long as you remember not to exceed recommended portion sizes and keep in mind, all things in moderation. Just because these foods are good for you doesn't mean you should overdo it! Stick to eating whole foods in their purest form possible (think baked, steamed, broiled - or raw!) and you're on the right track to better health. The bottom line? These super foods are good for you and will help you feel better than the drive thru. Make these nutritional powerhouses regulars in your shopping cart and you will not only feel energized in the short term, but improve your overall health and wellness in the long term.
Our top super foods (in no particular order):
Chock full of 9 essential nutrients like calcium, protein and vitamins like D, B12 and A, milk is one of the original super foods. It's essential to good bone health - skip the soda and stick to low fat and non fat milk when it comes to choosing drinks for your family. Plus, new research shows that drinking chocolate milk after a workout can help aid recovery and replenish exhausted muscles.
No surprise here - spinach tastes healthy because it's a nutritional superstar - and you can eat a lot of it because it's low in calories. It has lutein (good for eye health), antioxidants, Vitamins B, C, and E, and iron. It also contains folate, which studies show can combat depression. Try including spinach in your pasta dishes (you can use a huge amount, it wilts down significantly) on pizzas, even in scrambled eggs. Not a spinach fan? Other dark green vegetables like chard and kale offer the same benefits.
Nicknamed "brain food," salmon is heavy in the infamous omega 3s which are critical to improving heart health (the American Heart Association recommends eating fatty fish like salmon twice per week). It also boasts a significant amount of protein as well as a low calorie count. Try salmon roasted in the oven and serve over lentils or grilled and topped with salsa. Canned salmon has the same benefits so you can try this for a change of pace - canned is especially good in a quick salmon cake mixed up with some onion, breadcrumbs, and some beaten egg quickly cooked in a frying pan or the oven.
Once outlawed on diets for its fat content, the avocado has made the list for its high levels of fiber, Vitamins C and B6, and folate. Avocados have "healthy" fats that lower LDL cholesterol levels ("bad" cholesterol) and raise HDL cholesterol levels ("good" cholesterol). One half of an avocado has 160 calories and the same amount of fiber as a piece of whole wheat toast. Try swapping out butter or mayo for creamy avocado on your next sandwich.
Tomatoes (especially cooked) have tons of antioxidants and lycopene. This is an easy super food to incorporate in your diet - who doesn't like spaghetti? One cup of spaghetti sauce has a full day's intake of lycopene; studies have shown that women with high amounts of lycopene in their diet have a 50% less chance of developing breast cancer. Pass the pasta!
Beans (dried and green) and lentils are extremely fibrous and energy stabilizers; they are digested slowly, providing a steady supply of energy. Beans also contain isoflavones which studies show can reduce cancer risks. Beans have as much cholesterol-lowering fiber as oats as well as Vitamin B and potassium. Inexpensive and easy to prepare, try throwing a can of drained beans in your favorite pasta dish, green salad, or soup.
Yogurt is rich in probiotics which are extremely beneficial to digestive health, as well as calcium, B12 (good for energy) and protein. Stick to plain (try 0% fat Greek yogurt - think thick, creamy, delicious. It tastes like it should be bad for you it's so good!) - stay away from sweetened or favored varieties. Add a drizzle of honey or some fresh fruit if you want to sweeten it on your own. Greek or plain yogurt is also a great stand-in for mayo or sour cream in your favorite dips or as a topper for baked potatoes or tacos - mixed with fresh herbs, you'll never go back!
Blueberries are a star on the super food list with tons of antioxidants, energy-boosting carbs, Vitamins C and E, folic acid, and fiber. Phew - these tiny gems pack quite a punch. At 83 calories per cup, they are low in calories too. If fresh are too expensive or out of season, frozen are just as good. Try them in smoothies, cereal, baked goods, thrown in a salad, or mixed with yogurt and topped with a sprinkling of nuts and low fat granola for a delish breakfast.
Turkey is readily available, high in protein, and low in fat and calories - as long as you stick to skinless white meat. Turkey also contains the amino acid tyrosine which boosts levels of brain chemicals like dopamine that help you to be alert and focus. Turkey is a staple on most people's diet already - isn't everyone's favorite sandwich one featuring turkey? Just remember to keep it on whole grain bread, piled high with veggies, and hold the mayo - stick with mustard or turkey's fellow super food - avocado.
Natural peanut butter
Another hard working member of the super food list, peanut butter can boost health as long as you stick to the natural variety which omits the high amounts of sugar that many processed types have. Also, it is calorie-dense, so stick to one or two tablespoons per serving. The good news? High in fiber, monounsaturated fats, polyunsaturated fats and protein, peanut butter is inexpensive, easy to eat and great for energy. A quick, healthy and satisfying breakfast of peanut butter on whole grain toast with an apple will keep you energized and filled up until lunch.
Most nuts are good for health - in moderation. We especially like almonds - most people know they provide protein but they are also high in magnesium which helps convert sugar into energy, heart-healthy fats, zinc and fiber. Keep on eye on portion control with these - stick to 20 per serving and raw almonds are best. Let's sneak walnuts in here too which make the list for their high levels of omega 3s (heart disease fighters - see salmon) and antioxidants.
Choose your favorite - green or black - and you'll get great benefits from both. Tea has antioxidants, caffeine and amino acids which many believe improve alertness and memory.
The old saying, "An apple a day, keeps the doctor away...." holds true. Packed with nutrients, antioxidants and fiber - apples leave you feeling fuller longer and truly satisfy paired with a small amount of cheese or peanut butter for a healthy snack. Skip the fruit bowl and store in the refrigerator for an extended shelf life.
Hooray for chocolate. Stick to dark chocolate - not milk or white - which has antioxidants that lower blood pressure and keep arteries from clogging. Keep portions small when it comes todark chocolate - no more than one ounce, but savor every bite - and yes, you can have it every day.
Small but potent, kiwis have loads of Vitamin C and as much potassium per ounce as bananas. Peel, slice and eat - seeds and all. Kiwis are a great snack on their own or added to a fruit salad or green salad. Kids love them too.
Oatmeal is another long-standing star of the super foods list with tons of fiber, as well as vitamins, protein, potassium, magnesium, and minerals. But wait, there's more to this humble breakfast - it lowers cholesterol, stabilizes blood sugar, it's inexpensive, satisfying. Need I say more? Don't you want a bowl right now? Throw a diced apple or some dried fruit in it for natural sweetness with some skim milk. Yum.
Other ways to boost your energy:
Eat breakfast! For energy, aim for a breakfast that has complex carbs with a bit of protein - think a whole grain english muffin with peanut butter, or whole grain cereal with skim milk, berries and nuts. If you prefer a savory breakfast, try a scrambled egg or egg white with some spinach or tomatoes on whole grain toast.
Eat smaller portions more frequently. Three squares no longer applies when it comes to meals. Eat a small meal (or snack) every three or four hours to keep your energy going. You'll stave off severe hunger and avoid vending machine temptation. Instead of grazing all day, mindlessly eating and racking up calories, commit to five mini-meals which include at least two snacks. Some good super food snacks include:
- 1 cup plain low-fat yogurt with a handful of nuts
- Peanut butter on whole grain crackers with an apple
- Handful of raisins with a piece of low fat string cheese
- 1/2 can plain tuna packed in water (drained) in 1/2 whole grain pita with tomato and lettuce
Water! A minimum of eight glasses each day will keep your metabolism moving - studies have shown that even mild dehydration can slow it - and sap energy.
Sleep. Remember - rest is essential to having the energy to get through your busy day. Shoot for eight hours and make sleep a priority.