Monday, June 20, 2011

Focus Foods

When you are in need of a quick energy boost, what do you reach for? Sugary treats, coffee or energy drinks? Do you love the initial burst you get, but regret the decision two hours later? Keep in mind that energy drinks, turbo-shakes and other foods that advertise high energy results are often misleading.

These foods quickly end in an inconvenient energy crash, and can lead to more serious effects on your body, such as insomnia, irritability, nervousness, headaches and even heart problems. High amounts of caffeine also help your body produce cortisol, a stress hormone that can increase hunger and cause unwanted weight gain. Here are some more natural foods that are sure to have a nutritious, energizing effect that both you and your body will enjoy.

Apples give you a quick boost of energy from fructose, a simple sugar found in fruits. The skin of the apple also contains fiber, which is a complex carbohydrate. Complex carbohydrates take longer to digest than other foods, so the energy they provide is released over time. This helps keep your blood sugar level and is a useful tool in avoiding that mid-afternoon crash. Apples also contain essential vitamins, minerals and enzymes that help your body use energy efficiently. The next time you feel like reaching for a cup of coffee, try eating an apple instead. If you don’t like apples, other fruits can have the same effect and be a nutritious alternative to processed and highly caffeinated energy drinks or coffee. Fruit juice can give you a quick boost of energy, but lacks fiber. Too much can just add calories and excess sugar to your day, so stick with eating whole fruits.

Dark chocolate contains antioxidants, which help your brain stay in peak condition by fighting free radicals and relieving oxidative stress. Oxidative stress is caused by free radicals, which can do damage to cells in the body. Free radicals are normal, but can be increased by habits such as smoking, eating junk food and drinking alcohol. Chocolate also contains a small amount of caffeine, which in moderation can improve focus and alertness. An ounce of dark chocolate a day is all that is needed to get these nutritional benefits. The higher the cocoa percentage in the chocolate, the stronger those benefits will be, so aim for seventy percent or higher. 

Salmon is high in omega-3 fatty acids, which are essential to brain development and performance. The myth that your brain cells do not regenerate or “grow back” is just not true. Your brain is constantly growing and developing, and giving it the nutrients it needs can help it do so properly. Including salmon in your diet at least twice per week can help improve your memory and concentration, keeping you focused throughout your day. Other fish such as albacore tuna, mackerel and herring also contain high amounts of omega-3’s, but salmon has significantly lower mercury levels. If you don’t like fish or have an allergy, try getting your healthy fats from sources like nuts, olive oil and avocados.

Blueberries have high levels of antioxidants, which can help protect your brain from oxidative stress. Blueberries also provide fructose and fiber, that quick and long lasting energy boost. A cup of blueberries a day can be added to cereals, shakes, oatmeal or just eaten the way they are.

Water is a highly underrated drink. Not only does dehydration make you fatigued, it also slows down other important processes in your body. Your brain is seventy percent water, so it makes sense that not having enough water throughout your day can have a negative effect on its function, including your ability to feel your best and be more efficient at your everyday tasks. Try to drink at least three liters of water throughout your day. Keep in mind that if you feel thirsty, you are already dehydrated. 

Eating these foods can help you feel healthier, more energetic and more focused throughout your day. Remember next time you are reaching for that mid-day sugar and caffeine filled energy drink or cup of coffee that there are better alternatives. Not only will these foods work, but they will work better and longer than expensive quick-fixes. Incorporate these foods into your daily routine and get ready to feel better than ever. 

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