Elizabeth Ward, MS, RD
The days are shorter and there's a chill in the air. Healthy eating supports energy and immunity so that you can stay focused and energized all winter long.
A pint of premium chocolate ice cream, a bag of fatty chips, or a couple of cocktails may be your go-to foods when grumpiness and fatigue strike, but they are just temporary pick-me-up tactics.
You need an everyday eating strategy to keep your emotions and energy on a more even keel, especially now. Here's what to include, and why.
Inadequate fluid intake can cloud your thinking and tire you out. Sip nine to 11 cups of fluid and make about half of that fluid plain water, the type your body prefers. Regular and decaffeinated coffee and tea, milk, and juice provide water and count toward you daily fluid quota. However, avoid perking yourself up with caffeine, because you may need more and more to get the same effect. At holiday parties, start the night with a non-alcoholic, calorie-free beverage to limit alcohol intake.
Focus on folate.
Studies suggest that getting enough of the B-vitamin folate may be necessary for a brighter outlook on life. Folate is the form of the vitamin found in foods such as asparagus, broccoli, and spinach. Fortified grains and dietary supplements supply folic acid, the synthetic form of the vitamin that the body uses more efficiently.
Put protein on your plate.
Protein supplies the body with the raw materials it needs to make neurotransmitters (brain chemicals) that foster proper brain function. High-protein foods supply several important nutrients for your brain and your energy level. For example, eggs contain choline, which may help with memory (Source). Meat is also a source of choline as well as iron. Low iron intake may lead to iron-deficiency anemia, which limits the transport of oxygen to your brain and body, causing fatigue. Include protein, also found in low-fat dairy, seafood, poultry, tofu, and legumes, at every meal and snack.
Fish for your brain.
Seafood is swimming in omega-3 fats to support brain cell health. Seafood is also rich in iodine to help regulate energy levels. The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends eating at least two fish meals weekly. Snack on cooked shrimp at holiday parties, add tuna or canned salmon to salads, and consider fish instead of meat as the main dish at seasonal gatherings.
Go Whole Grain.
Low blood glucose levels may be mistaken for anxiety, shakiness, and depression. Whole grains are rich in complex carbohydrates, which the body digests more slowly than refined grains or sugar, making for steadier energy levels for your brain and body. Whole grains are particularly helpful to have at breakfast because you've gone so long without eating.