Easy meal swaps that will drastically improve your energy

What are the best foods for consistent energy levels? What type of diet will support your energy levels and eliminate fatigue?

These are questions I get asked on a daily basis. And though the answer is pretty simple, the focus needs to be on removing the foods that zap out our energy!

And unfortunately, these are the ones we eat the most.

Through this article, I will share with you the best foods for good and consistent energy levels but more importantly how you can incorporate them into your daily diet by doing simple swaps.

Is this you?

It’s a new day, the sun isn’t up yet and you’re already rushing to get to work early, truly excited about the day ahead.

As you button up your coat you quickly chew on a slice of toast with butter and jam.  

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    Out of the house, you go but before you jump on the tube you have to stop at your local chain cafe to grab a latte.

    Got to work, you can finally crack on with your day. Fueled by the sugar and caffeine the first couple of hours are fairly productive and seem to fly by, until you hit a wall.

    Quickly you grab a second coffee and a “healthy” energy bar.

    It’s now time for a lunch break and you’re spoiled for choice. You opt for a salad and a little treat before quickly heading back to your desk.

    Mid-afternoon a second energy crash hits you. You go for a second coffee and the treat you bought earlier.

    This helps you go through the rest of the afternoon, but by the time you get home you are exhausted and opt for an easy and comforting meal. 

    The same cycle repeats itself the next day, and the day after. And you feel constantly tired.

    What I have just described is a common reality for SO MANY of us. And I sure have been there myself.

    The most important thing

    In order to understand what the best foods for energy levels are, we need to understand how our blood sugar level supports our energy levels.

    Your blood sugar level dictates your cravings and food choices but reversely it is impacted by your diet.

    Stable blood sugar is key for stable energy. It helps you increase your productivity and avoid those midday energy dips.

    It’s also essential in the prevention of health conditions such as cardiovascular disease, kidney disease, conditions associated with hormonal imbalances, insulin resistance, Type 2 diabetes and more.

    But how does it all work?

    Our body’s preferred source of energy is glucose.

    Most of the glucose comes from the foods we consume, mainly carbohydrates such as fruits, grains and starchy foods.

    Once in the blood, the hormone insulin is responsible for the uptake of glucose into the cell so that it can be used for energy production. 

    But when we consume too much sugar (refined carbohydrates, sweet snacks…) we get on the “blood sugar rollercoaster”. This rollercoaster is characterised by our blood sugar level rising up rapidly following a meal high in glucose and then coming down rapidly causing us “to crash”. 

    A rapid rise in blood sugars means a rise in insulin. 

    Over time this may result in insulin resistance, a state in which our cells lose the ability to respond to insulin. This increases the risk of developing pathologie like Type 2 diabetes, non-alcoholic fatty liver, cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s…

    What can you do?

    A simple yet great way to reduce the risk of getting on the sugar rollercoaster is adding fibre + a source of protein + a source of fat to all of your meals.

    A combination of these plus a good source of complex carbohydrates will keep your blood sugar from spiking and your energy levels consistent

    You can refer to this previous blog post if you’d like to learn more about how to compose a balanced meal and what are some of the best sources of each nutrient.

    And now let’s have a look at how you can upgrade your meals by incorporating some of the best foods to support energy

    Breakfasts

    The first meal of the day but too often overlooked. Many of us don’t have enough appetite and end up not eating enough. 

    There is also a belief grounded in decennies of habits that sweet breakfast is best. Obviously, this is not the case in all countries and cultures but in the West most of us have grown up thinking a breakfast had to be sweet.

    In reality any food could be eaten in the morning.

    What to avoid — sugary granola with flavoured yoghurts; white toast with butter and jam; croissants and other baked goods; cereals; fruits only; coffee only; skipping breakfast all together or having it some days and some days not.

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    Best food swaps for energy levels

    Sugary granola Homemade granola of oats, nuts, seeds, and dried fruits to be had with unsweetened plant milk or yoghurt. Tip: add a handful of hemp seeds for protein and fresh fruits for nutrients. Protein at breakfast is the secret to avoiding energy dips and cravings.

    OR

    Oats porridge, millet porridge, quinoa porridge…change it up every now and then for gut diversity. Throw in some chia and flax seeds to boost fibre and omega 3s. Add almond butter and hemp seeds for protein. Fresh fruits and honey to sweeten.

    White toast with butter – Seeded sourdough toast with scrambled eggs or tofu with rocket and sauerkraut OR smashed avocado topped with kimchi

    White toast with jam  Seeded wholemeal toast with almond butter, banana slices, and cinnamon

    Skipping breakfast or not consistent – Having a little something, even if it’s just a handful of nuts and berries can help you avoid sugar crushes and hunger waves mid-morning

    Lunches 

    A quick lunch on the go is an easy and affordable option but it’s often a missed opportunity to feed ourselves good nutrients. At this time of the day your digestive fire is high and if you’ve been working hard all morning you will definitely need more than a simple sandwich or a plain salad.

    What to avoid – white bread sandwich, plain salad, or slice of pizza from the cafeteria; supermarket meal deals with crisps and sugary drinks; greasy food truck lunches hard to digest.

    Best food swaps for energy levels

    White/malted bread sandwich with greasy stuffing – Made-ahead wholegrain wraps with crunchy veggies batons and shredded turkey breast or tempeh. If you’re after the moist effect of mayonnaise mash some avocado or spread some super-easy-to-make chickpea hummus

    Plain leaves and cucumber salad Bring your own quinoa nourish bowl in a lunch box. Make it colourful including a mix of cooked and raw veggies, some salmon or boiled eggs, fresh herbs, and a tahini dressing for some healthy fat.

    Watery tomato soup – Nothing against the tomato soup or any other veggie-based soup but when blended they lack fibre and often there’s little to no protein. Use this as a base and add to it some pre-cooked quinoa, some green peas, and edamame and sprinkle it with a mix of seeds, such as pumpkin and sunflower seeds. I always like to have a side of green veggies with it too.

    And if you didn’t get time to make you own lunch, opt for poke bowls, soups, grain bowls. 

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    Snacks 

    Contrary to what some may say, you really don’t need more than three meals a day to keep your energy stable. Leaving a 3/4 hour window in between meals is actually a good practice to optimise the digestive enzyme secretion and to activate the Migrating Motor Complex (MMC), the ‘housekeeping’ mechanism that cleans our gut when fasting. 

    Sometimes we might be doing all the good things but still, 3pm comes and we just need to have a bite of something to push us through.

     

    What to avoid – chocolate bars; granola bars; sugary energy drinks; crisps, biscuits; sweets and candies

     Best food swaps for energy levels

    Energy drinks – Try a matcha drink to boost your energy mid-afternoon. The combination of caffeine and l-theanine in matcha makes it the perfect pick-me-up without the jitters. If you’re not a fan of matcha you can opt for a hot cacao drink, with raw cacao (rich in taste and polyphenols), nut milk, and a little honey.

    Crisps – Avoid the classic potato crisps, they usually contain sunflower or rapeseed oil (which can be inflammatory) and are very salty. Swap for roasted spiced  chickpeas or green peas, which you can even make at home

    Chocolate and nut bars – Try a trail mix with good quality dark (>70%) chocolate, almonds, and some fresh/dried blueberries. You will never look back!

    Dinners 

    Dinners I find are the perfect opportunity to cook a fresh and delicious meal. 

    What to avoid – takeaways; frozen supermarket pizza; frozen meals; ready to eat meals

    Best food swaps for energy levels

    Ready to eat pasta dish – Opt for a legume (peas, red lentils) pasta as a protein-rich alternative and get inventive with the pasta sauce; a slow-cooked tomato sauce or a basil pesto which is much quicker to make. To this add some roasted or steamed veggies and you have a complete meal.

    Supermarket-bought soups  – They often contain lots of vegetable oils, cream and additives which realistically do not belong in a soup. Making a soup or a stew is by no means quick, but once you get into the habit of making your own meals you can also save time learning how to meal prep ahead for the next day or the upcoming week.

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    These food swaps are really easy but so powerful, they have drastically improved the health of so many of my clients. It is incredible what a little change can make 🙂

    If you’re looking for balanced meal ideas download this meal plan.

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