Energy: An Inside Look

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SwingsWe’re bombarded with advertisements for foods, beverages, and supplements to improve energy levels, increase focus and attention span, and get us through a mid-afternoon slump. Understanding the difference between the hype and the truth is key for optimum energy levels and good health.

How Do We Quantify Energy?

Calories are the way we quantify energy — both the energy that our body uses to live, grow, and exercise, as well as the energy that we consume from food.

Technically, one calorie is defined as the energy needed to raise the temperature of 1 gram of water 1 degree Celsius.

How Do We Get Energy?

Our body is designed to derive energy from three major nutrients, known as the macronutrients. They are:

  • Carbohydrate
  • Protein
  • Fat

Carbohydrates, proteins, and fats in foods are digested into their simplest units so that they can be absorbed into our body’s cells. Carbohydrates break down into sugars, proteins break down into amino acids, and fats break down into fatty acids and glycerol.

These small units are then broken down even further to produce the energy that is essential for every function within our body. Carbohydrate and fat are our bodies’ primary energy sources, with protein used more for keeping our bodies strong and structurally sound. Carbohydrate is our main source of quick energy, and fat is used as a source of stored energy so that our body continues to function even when we’re not eating.

Our energy levels remain high and our body and brain function at their best when we eat balanced meals and snacks at regular intervals throughout the day. These meals should include nutrient-dense, less-processed foods that contain the three macronutrients, plus vitamins, minerals, and fiber.

Choose fruit, vegetables, whole grains (brown rice, quinoa, whole wheat, whole oats), lean sources of protein (like skinless chicken and turkey, lower-fat beef and pork, eggs, beans, or tofu), and low-fat dairy products. Energy-dense foods, on the other hand are often highly processed, with sugar or added fat and sodium. These same products often lack meaningful vitamins and minerals. Examples include foods like cookies, chips, ice cream, candy, and crispy snacks. Eat these in moderation, focusing instead on healthful energy sources.

By Lynn Grieger, RDN, CDE, CPT, CWC

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