Which foods boost energy?

Dr. Michael Roizen, MD
Internal Medicine
With the enormous variety of food available in this country, and the often contradictory information in the media about various diets, making food choices can be confusing and overwhelming. But when it comes to a RealAge (physiologic age), it's really quite simple. In fact, there are only fifteen food-related habits that we know affect your energy level and rate of aging:
  • Choose the appropriate total calories for your height and build.
  • ​Limit saturated and trans fats to less than 20 grams a day.
  • Make sure healthy fat makes up about 25 percent of your daily calories.
  • Get the right vitamins and avoid the wrong ones.
  • Get the right minerals and avoid the wrong ones.
  • Get the right micronutrients and avoid the wrong ones.
  • Eat four or five servings ("fistfuls") of fruit a day.
  • Eat four or five servings ("fistfuls") of vegetables a day.
  • Eat 25 grams of fiber a day.
  • Eat an ounce of nuts a day.
  • Eat ten tablespoons of spaghetti or tomato sauce a week.
  • Have one to two drinks of alcohol a day if you are not prone to alcohol or drug abuse.
  • Get 31 milligrams of flavonoids a day.
  • Avoid simple sugars.
  • Eat three portions of a variety of fish a week.
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The composition of our meals and snacks will improve our energy levels. Foods high in carbohydrates such as bread, cereals, crackers, pasta, rice, desserts and fruit are great for quick energy. However, they only last about 60-90 minutes and we have already metabolized them for energy.

To get more staying power to your meals and snacks make sure they include protein and fats. For example, if you eat a plate of pasta with marinara sauce, a bread stick and bowl of salad with fat free dressing for lunch that meal provides almost only carbohydrates to your body for energy. In about an hour and a half your blood sugar will be falling and you will be feeling a very low energy level. Put grilled chicken on that pasta and real Italian salad dressing on the greens and you will have provided the protein and fats necessary for that meal to energize you all afternoon.

A great definition of a snack is this: A snack is more than one food group. Therefore an apple is not a snack. Put some peanut butter and a yogurt with that apple and you have a well-balanced snack that will last you until suppertime.

Remember, overeating and becoming too full will zap your energy, no matter how well balanced you eat.
F. Michael Gloth, III
Geriatric Medicine
Carbohydrates are not the only food source our bodies use for energy. Other sources include fat, protein, and alcohol. A key to weight control is to understand that each of these food sources provides different amounts of energy when eaten in equivalent gram weights. For example, a gram of protein contains far less energy than a gram of fat.

A second important concept is that one source of food with the same number of calories as another doesn't necessarily provide the same amount of usable energy. For example, even though a gram of simple sugar and a gram of protein contain the same number of calories, protein requires more energy to be broken down into a useable energy form, making the actual number of useable calories from the protein less than the number of available calories from the same amount of simple sugar.

One gram of carbohydrate or protein contains 4 calories of energy; 1 gram of alcohol provides 7 calories; and 1 gram of fat provides 9 calories. You might assume that 10 ounces of simple sugar (simple carbohydrate) will give you the same amount of energy as 10 ounces of protein. This is not true. Ten ounces of sugar are far more likely to end up stored as fat, because the body burns more calories when digesting protein, compared to the calories needed to digest simple sugars. This principle is one of the keys to losing weight and avoiding an increase in fat accumulation in the body.
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Leafy greens are excellent foods to boost energy. Greens like spinach, kale, and collard greens all contain high levels of iron, which helps you sustain energy by delivering oxygen to your cells. To further the effects of these greens, add some vitamin C into the mix, which helps with the absorption of iron. Citrus fruits, berries, and peppers are all incredibly high in vitamin C and taste pretty great too! So throw together a nice spinach salad with some red bell peppers for a delicious, energy-boosting meal.

Legumes are another awesome energy-boosting food. High in magnesium, legumes help your body create energy and sustain that energy for longer periods of time. Foods such as beans, peanuts, and peas are excellent sources of magnesium. 

Yogi Cameron Alborzian
Alternative & Complementary Medicine

The simplest way to eat in order to have sustainable, higher energy levels is to eat natural foods in small quantities. This type of lifestyle gives the body foods that nourish it, and when we eat nourishing foods we need less of them to sustain our health. And when we eat less, the body has to invest less energy into digestion and can then sustain the other systems with greater efficiency. With greater efficiency comes higher energy.

In other words, if you were to take one potato and turn it into potato chips and leave another potato just as a potato, the amount of food you're starting with might be the same but the potato chips won't provide nearly as much nourishment as the regular potato. You will therefore have to eat two or three times as many potato chips to get the nourishment of one potato, and therefore your body is greatly taxed to process all of that extra food. And when the body is taxed, your energy levels plummet.

Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease)
If you need an instant source of energy, opt for natural sources of simple carbohydrates, such as fruits and honey. They can provide that initial energy boost, plus fruits are fiber and nutrient rich, which will keep you full longer. The fiber can also help the carbohydrates absorb more slowly, so you won’t get that crash after. For a long-term energy source, opt for complex carbohydrates, which are slow burning and give you a little bit of energy over time. Great complex carbs are whole grains and starchy vegetables such as sweet potatoes, squash, pumpkin, and carrots.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.