Foods That Give You Energy
How to Get More Energy From Food
This article is perfect for you if your goal is to eat better throughout the day without resorting to eating habits that can decrease your energy. It can be challenging to find the time to plan, organize and cook healthy, nutritious meals, but the payoffs are well worth the effort.
What this Nutrition Article Will Cover
This is designed for you -- the busy person who needs reasonable options for fitting a solid nutritional plan into your hectic life. If you find yourself getting caught up in the fast food habit, or resorting to frozen or packaged meals as your main staples of the day, you can learn to eat better by understanding the fundamentals of good nutrition and organizing around them. This information will give you a better understanding of:
- The benefits gained from regular protein intake and the maintenance of adequate levels throughout the day
- How essential it is to consistently eat balanced, nutritious meals for maintaining high energy
- The vital role that protein plays in generating healthy muscle and maintaining energy
- How fiber-rich foods contribute to your overall well-being as well as daily energy
- How you can meet the overall challenge of keeping your body well-fed for maximum energy
- How to develop a plan for fitting healthy, delicious food into your busy lifestyle
- How this Will Work
Before we start things off, let's take a quick look at how this will work. This article will reinforce the importance of frequent protein intake, getting enough fiber and planning ahead to make sure you achieve your nutritional goals.
- Eat foods high in protein.
- Eat foods high in fiber.
- Select foods to maximize your intake of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients.
- Avoid high sugar intake -- and emphasize foods like vegetables, fruits and whole grains and on-the-go nutrition snacks that have a low glycemic impact.
- Avoid trans fats -- also called hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated vegetable oils. Trans fats have been linked to heart disease and diabetes, as well as other illnesses.
Now -- on to the article
If you want to enjoy maximum energy throughout your day, getting enough protein is a key strategy. That's why protein is the main focus of the first lesson in this course.
Protein is essential to human life. The cells in our bodies depend on protein for growth, maintenance and repair. On the average, 50 percent of the dry weight of a human body is protein -- it's the most abundant nutrient in the body outside of water. Protein is present in our muscle, cartilage, ligaments, skin and hair. All enzymes are proteins, and enzymes control all of our body functions. The powers of protein are numerous, but mostly, protein gives us amino acids -- otherwise referred to as the building blocks of life.
Twenty different amino acids are used to synthesize proteins. Of that twenty, some cannot be manufactured by our bodies and therefore are considered to be essential amino acids. These must be supplied as a part of our diet. Non-essential amino acids are those which the body can make; therefore, it's not necessary to consume them -- in the form of food -- in order to sustain life.
Complete and Incomplete Proteins: What's the Difference?
Complete proteins contain all the essential amino acids required for growth. These proteins are derived from animal foods such as fish, chicken, turkey, beef, pork, eggs and dairy products. Incomplete proteins, on the other hand, come from plant sources, and are considered incomplete because they lack one or more of the essential amino acids.
You may have heard that soy is considered an excellent protein source. That's because the soybean contains all the essential amino acids, unlike other plants. The other plant sources must be consumed on a rotating basis in order to get the daily requirement of protein. This is why plant proteins are considered, overall, inferior to animal proteins.
Plant-based protein can come from nuts and seeds, tofu, whole grains, legumes, oats, chickpeas, barley, among other sources. But be careful as you choose your plant-based proteins -- you want to make sure they are as low-glycemic as possible to avoid the energy spikes and crashes that high-glycemic foods can cause.
On the whole, protein should be consumed from a variety of sources -- both animal and plant -- for completeness as well as variety.
Next Up ...
Starting your day the right way -- with a metabolism boost -- is the first key to success.
Mom always said that you needed a good breakfast to start your day, and it turns out that she was right. One of the most common mistakes that people make is skipping that first meal of the day -- either because they are flying out the door in a blur of activity, or because they believe that it will help them manage their weight (not true, as it turns out).
Here are some common reasons people have for skipping breakfast:
"I just don't have the time." "I'm just not hungry in the morning."
"I want to cut back on calorie intake."
None of these are valid reasons, or good for you. Getting a good breakfast is like filling your tank before a road trip. Without it, you'll be stranded. No meal plays a larger role in starting off your metabolism for the day than breakfast. Think of that first meal as setting the tone for your body's ability to turn calories into energy -- otherwise known as your metabolism.
Metabolism, Catabolism and Anabolism
Your metabolic rate refers to the time it takes your body to turn consumed calories into energy. As you sleep, your body metabolism reaches its lowest point. This is your body's time for resting, repairing and regenerating itself. Protein from your own tissues is broken down during sleep in order to supply energy for your body. This is called catabolism. Catabolism is the destructive side of metabolism, but it's a necessary part of the body's functioning in which molecules are broken down to gain their energy or to prepare them for disposal from the body.
Once you wake up, your goal is to start what is called anabolism -- the constructive side of metabolism. Anabolism is the molecule-building process that builds up body tissue, promoted by the influence of certain hormones. Anabolism occurs when you eat nutritionally sound foods throughout the day, and that starts with your morning meal.
As your metabolic rate goes up, your body becomes a more efficient, fat-burning machine that uses fat instead of storing it. As your metabolic rate goes down, your body holds onto the fat. When you don't eat, you turn down the thermostat that controls your metabolic rate. The result is a slower metabolism. Essentially, you have turned a potential Corvette into a sluggish station wagon that's not running on all its cylinders.
Note: Metabolic rate is affected by our age, the foods we eat and how much and how often we exercise. Metabolism slows down as we get older. The good news is that we can positively impact our metabolism through healthy lifestyle choices.
Control Your Metabolism--Don't Let It Control You
Numerous lifestyle factors can have a negative affect on your metabolism. Some of those are:
- Lack of sleep
- Lack of exercise
- Binging on alcoholic beverages
- Consuming foods high in sugar
- Consuming too few calories
Once you gain an understanding of the factors that have a negative effect on your metabolic rate, your next challenge is to control them.
Tips for fitting protein into your daily routine.
Now we come to the final step in meeting your protein needs. Let's look at solutions for getting protein into your system throughout your daily routine.
When Do I Start Taking in Protein?
As soon as you get up in the morning! Do whatever it takes to find some time each morning just for you. A smart strategy is to get a head start on your day by taking care of your nutritional needs first -- everything else follows from that. Your morning meal should include some low-glycemic carbohydrates and healthy fats, but protein should be the staple of your morning meal. We discussed the benefits of breakfast earlier. Now it's time to get it done.
For those mornings when a sit-down breakfast isn't possible, you can avoid skipping the most important meal of the day by keeping a nutrition bar or shake handy to help gear up your metabolism and get your protein fix. And you can count on Atkins products to have all the protein and nutrients you need to get off to a good start.
What Other Times Are Important for Your Protein Needs?
A good strategy for mapping out your protein needs is to note those times of day when you feel an energy slump -- these are your target times for protein consumption. These target times will vary from day to day and from person to person, depending on your schedule, your activity level and your choice of meals. However, here are some general solutions:
A few hours after breakfast, try to fit in a snack or small meal consisting of some form of protein, along with vegetables or some fruit if you like. An Atkins shake or nutrition bar will also keep your energy levels steady. Try spreading some peanut butter on celery; pack a handful of nuts; or enjoy a ham and cheese roll.
Before a Workout
Try to fit in a snack here. Get 15 grams of protein, if you can. Keep the meal light--just enough to fuel your muscles during your workout. Atkins shakes are easy to digest and won't make you feel too full.
After a Workout
Again, this is a great time for a protein intake. Get 15 grams of protein, if you can. If you can't immediately get to food or a meal is delayed for several hours, you can sip on a shake or throw an Atkins shake in the blender with some fresh or frozen fruit and some ice for thickening. Blend well and enjoy.
At Every Meal
Include wholesome proteins at each meal throughout the day. Have at least one high-protein item included in the meal plan. It doesn't have to be a "course" that's central to the meal -- it can be a side dish or appetizer that gets you where you need to be.
How Often Should You Eat Protein?
For maximum energy, you should plan to eat every four hours throughout the day, and each of these meals should include a good source of protein. Keeping food with you at all times will help you maintain your energy level so that you can handle anything that comes your way.
Here are some solutions for keeping protein with you at all times:
- Keep baggies of protein-rich foods around that don't spoil and are convenient to eat. Turkey rolls, tuna pouches, cheese cubes and nuts are all portable and easy to manage.
- Always keep water bottles handy for good hydration.
- Keep Atkins bars with you at all times -- in the car, at work, in your briefcase, book bag, or purse. They are individually wrapped to ensure freshness and you can eat them anywhere.
- Keep Atkins shakes wherever you have access to a refrigerator, especially at work , where unexpected meal delays or long days are frequent occurrences.
- Keeping good foods at hand, and taking them with you at all times, puts you in charge of your nutritional destiny. By doing a little planning ahead of time you will keep energized all day, every day through the controlled intake of wholesome, beneficial foods.
Let's Keep Moving
In this first section you learned some important facts about protein and the various ways in which you can and should embrace it. Part 2 will take you onward to the next step in maximizing your nutritional intake -- that's where we will explore the benefits of fiber. You'll learn why you should eat more fiber, what are the best sources for it and why and how to plan for adding it to your daily food intake.
In section 1, you learned why and how frequent protein intake supports good health and maximum energy. You also got some tips for planning ahead and working protein into your daily routine.
In this next section , we'll talk about the forgotten hero in our daily diet: fiber. You will explore the importance of getting more fiber and discover its many benefits. Additionally, you'll learn about sources of fiber and get some quick and easy tips for getting the right kind of fiber in your diet.
What Is Fiber?
Simply put, dietary fiber is the indigestible parts of plant cells. Although it is a carbohydrate, fiber does not convert to glucose and thus does not raise your blood-sugar level the way carbohydrates typically do.
In fact, fiber actually slows the entry of glucose into the bloodstream. This, in turn, reduces the blood-sugar spikes that cause insulin production and encourage the body to produce and store body fat. And by slowing down food's transit time in the digestive tract, fiber helps you feel full longer, resulting in fewer food cravings.
The Two Types of Fiber
The two types of fiber are soluble and insoluble, and there are different benefits and functions of each.
Soluble fiber attracts water and slows down the digestive process. Therefore, nutrients are absorbed more slowly from the intestines and stomach. Sugar is released and absorbed more slowly because the stomach takes longer to empty. The benefits of soluble fiber include regulating blood sugar levels and lowering total cholesterol, thereby helping to control diabetes and reduce risk for heart disease.
Some foods falling into the soluble fiber category are:
Fruits, especially strawberries, apples and citrus
Oat bran, oatmeal and barley
Insoluble fiber works in the opposite way of soluble fiber. Its main job is to move bulk through the intestines, thus moving toxic waste through the body more quickly. It aids regularity because it speeds up the process of food passage through the intestines and stomach, promoting healthy bowel movements. Also, it controls and balances acidity in the intestines. In fact, insoluble fiber acts as a preventative against colon cancer because it optimizes pH (acidity) levels, helping to prevent microbes from producing cancer cells.
Here are some foods rich in insoluble fiber:
Vegetables, especially cabbage, beets, Brussels sprouts, turnips, cauliflower and carrots
Flax seed (an all-around good guy!)
Whole grain products
Learn more about the functional benefits of fiber.
Here are just a few benefits that fiber can bring your way:
- Fiber keeps your blood sugar levels even: As we discussed earlier in the lesson, fiber minimizes the impact of carbohydrates on your blood sugar and insulin levels.
- Fiber means lean muscle: When your body absorbs food more efficiently, thanks to fiber, you take on more lean muscle mass. Efficient absorption of nutrients generates a more anabolic environment in your body.
- Fiber helps you eat less: Fiber augments the release of a hormone – cholecystokinin -- that is produced in the small intestine. This hormone mobilizes a sensation of capacity in the brain, meaning that you feel full sooner.
- Fiber fights fat: Fiber assists in the processing of dietary fat. When you eat a meal with fiber, it binds to some of the dietary fat, which helps to extract it from your body.
- Fiber for Sustained Energy
- Since fiber slows the carbohydrate digestion process, fiber-rich foods help you get the most out of the foods you eat by slowing down the process of digesting carbohydrates. When you eat carbohydrates, you want to burn them slowly to sustain them in your bloodstream longer, thus helping to sustain your energy level .This conserves your fuel for longer periods.
How Much Fiber Is Enough?
The National Cancer Institute and the U.S. Department of Agriculture recommend persons consuming between 21 and 35 grams of dietary fiber per day. The Institute of Medicine guidelines suggest that women get 21 to 25 grams of fiber a day and men 30 to 38 grams a day. Research shows that men and women in this country between the ages of 19 to 50 typically consume only 12 to 17 grams of fiber daily -- an inadequate amount, especially for active people whose nutritional goals include steady, reliable energy levels throughout the day.
Now let's turn our attention to getting more fiber.
You've learned all about the basics of fiber, including its functions and benefits. You even found out that it's a great source of energy. Now it's time to turn to some studies on fiber to reinforce its advantages, and also, to look at the foods that we need to focus on to enrich our fiber intake.
A food can be labeled "high fiber" only if it contains 5g or more of fiber per serving.
Okay, so you're a believer in the benefits of fiber, but what are the best sources of it? You've already learned about the different types of fiber: soluble and insoluble. In this section you'll learn more about the foods that are richest in fiber and how to get enough of them. Remember, fiber-rich foods are mainly vegetables, fruits and whole-grain products. Let's take a look at recommended fiber foods by category.
Vegetables and legumes are a great choice for the health-conscious person who wants to eat low-glycemic, fiber-rich foods. Top choices are:
- Summer squash
- Dried beans and peas: chick peas, soybeans, lentil beans, lima beans, white or black beans, pinto beans and kidney beans
Get into the habit of leaving the skin on your fruits -- otherwise, you lose a lot of good fiber content. The seeds and pulp are the other sources of fiber in a fruit. Fruits also have no cholesterol and little to no fat and sodium. Also, juicing a fruit strips away many of the benefits from the skin of the fruit. Here are some fiber-rich fruits, with the low-glycemic choices listed first:
- Berries (blackberries, blueberries, strawberries and raspberries)
- Green apples
Popular studies show that red wine is linked to a lower incidence of cardiovascular disease and lower cholesterol. However, the health properties are likely not inherent in the alcohol, but rather, in the grape skin.
- Grain Products
- White breads and pastas are made from refined grains, and have had nearly all of the fiber and nutrients stripped away. On the other hand, whole-grain foods are made with the complete grain kernel, whether the grain remains intact, as with oatmeal, or is ground to make cereal, bread, or pasta.
If weight loss is part of your health and nutrition goals, you will want to control your consumption of carbohydrates, especially refined grain products. Active people who don't have weight-loss concerns can enjoy healthy, fiber-rich whole grains like the following:
- Whole-grain breads, bagels and muffins
- Bran cereal and whole wheat cereal
- Whole-grain pasta and brown rice
Let's take a look at some great ways to include fiber in your meal planning.
Now it's time to get organized. How are you going to reap some of the fiber benefits you've learned about? In this section, we're going to look at some tips for increasing your fiber, paying attention to fiber labeling and planning for a high-fiber kitchen.
Animal sources are not a source of fiber. Fiber is a part of plant foods because it is used by plants to build their cell walls.
Increase Fiber Slowly
If your current fiber intake isn't sufficient and you want to start increasing the amount in your diet, do it slowly. A gradual change is best for fiber intake; 2-4 grams per day is adequate. That's because a sudden increase may cause some unpleasant side effects such as bloating, cramping or gas. You'll need to make the changes in your diet happen slowly, over time. Be sure to drink plenty of water along with your fiber-rich foods to help you digest the fiber better.
What about fiber supplements? They are acceptable. Nothing replaces healthy, whole foods, however -- supplementation should be considered if you think you are not getting the right amount in the foods you eat.
Fiber and the Nutrition Facts Panel
On food labels, the Nutrition Facts Panel lists the number of grams of fiber per serving of food. It also lists the percent Daily Value one serving provides for fiber based on a 2,000 calorie reference diet. The Daily Value of fiber set by the FDA is 25 grams for a 2,000 calorie diet.
When you're looking at labels, a high source of fiber is one that contains 5 grams or more per serving, and a good source is one that contains between 2.5 and 4.9 grams of fiber per serving. Does that mean that anything less than that is not a worthwhile source of fiber? No -- it just takes a little more variety to get you where you need to be.
Fiber in Atkins Products
You'll find that Atkins products have been designed with your fiber needs in mind. Take a look at the nutritional facts panel on each product to determine how many grams are in each bar.
Now we've arrived at the fun part -- stocking the kitchen to accommodate daily needs for fiber.
It's best to stock up with the good foods that you want to incorporate into your lifestyle -- if they're in your kitchen, you'll eat them. If they're not, you may resort to fast food or give in to cravings.
As you cook, you can add fiber-rich foods to your regular creations or you can cook around your fiber needs. Keeping variety as the spice of life always keeps monotony in check. We'll break down the high-fiber kitchen by category.
Lots of veggies are needed here. We listed them in an earlier section. Remember to steam your veggies or eat them raw, to retain the nutrients. Also, leave the skins on.
Slice up fresh vegetables on your sandwiches. Tomatoes and cucumbers are great on top of anything.
Make bean salads using garbanzo, black, lima, pinto and lentil beans. You don't have to have a recipe that calls for them in order to use them. Just add them to standard recipes.
Keep an assortment of fresh fruits around at all times. Fresh fruit has more fiber than canned or frozen. Keep a bowl of it cut up in your refrigerator at all times. Remember to keep the skins on.
Stewed fruits can be added to your cereal or pancake mix. If you bake muffins and quick breads, add them to that too.
Add fresh or frozen to your Atkins protein shakes. Just toss it all into a blender.
Keep whole grain flour on hand for your baking needs. White flour has no nutritional value to you whatsoever.
The same goes for rice. Trade in the refined white rice in favor of brown rice.
Use high fiber whole-grain bread for sandwiches and toast. Also use high fiber whole-grain wraps for wrapping up lunch meats, veggies, peanut butter, or just about anything. These can make a quick meal -- one that you can take with you on the go.
For cereal, stick to whole-grain oats, millet, or rice cereals. Replace the sugar-laden cereals if that's what you've been eating.
Experiment with different foods such as barley, bulgur and couscous. You can add these to salads and casseroles -- or even soups -- in order to increase your fiber intake. Don't know how to cook with them? Search online for some fresh ideas.
Add oat bran to just about anything: casseroles, meat loaf, hamburgers, muffin mix, waffle mix and pancake batter.
What about the odds and ends? A top-notch food is flax seeds. They're a good fiber source, and can be added to almost anything you make: scrambled eggs, quiche, breads, muffins, or pancakes. They mix in well and don't disturb the consistency or texture of your food. Ground flax is another way of ingesting it. You can also use seeds -- such as sunflower and sesame -- in the same manner.
In this lesson, we've discussed a great addition to our daily diet -- foods that are rich in fiber. We explored the importance of more fiber in your diet, and you discovered its benefits as a source of long-term health. You learned the sources from which you can gain fiber. Then you discovered how easy it is to plan for more fiber with some quick and easy tips for getting the right kind of fiber in your diet.
In the next and last lesson, you'll see how to put it all together with daily planning to fit your nutrition needs into your busy schedule. Before moving on, be sure to complete the quiz and assignment for this lesson, then stop by the Message Board to share questions, answers, tips and concerns with your instructors and classmates.
A common-sense approach to nutrition involves actively seeking out the facts about healthy nutrition, then putting them to practice. Lessons 1 and 2 gave you an overview of why getting enough protein and fiber is necessary for optimal health and energy, and what foods will fulfill those fiber and protein needs. This lesson will wrap up by helping you to think through the planning and organization stages -- often the hardest part to tackle. You'll also learn some more food tips and facts to help you develop and maintain healthy habits.
What does it mean to eat right? We often hear the phrase, but it's the details that make it a reality! Eating right involves applying the principles of optimal nutrition to achieve long-term health and energy, lean body composition and abundant energy. If you're a physically active person - -a very important aspect of a healthy, energetic lifestyle -- you may have extra energy needs and concerns about athletic performance, as well.
The bottom line is that you are what you eat. If you eat too much sugar, too many unhealthy trans fats and too many empty carbohydrates and fail to get enough fiber, protein, nutrient-dense carbohydrates or vitamins and minerals in your diet, your health and energy levels will suffer. And it's not a matter of if, but a matter of when. To reverse the cycle, you need take control of your everyday health. This is where planning ahead and organizing come into play. Without them, you can't turn your health and nutrition goals into everyday reality.
The Atkins Advantage for Health and Energy
Before we get into the tips and strategies for planning your healthy fare, let's revisit the key points that make up the Atkins Approach. We listed them in Lesson 1, but they're worth repeating! The rest of the lesson will focus on putting these principles into action -- all day, every day.
- Eat foods high in protein. Protein boosts your metabolism and provides energy for your body to build and repair muscles, bones and other tissue.
- Maximize your intake of fiber and nutrient content and minimize the impact on your blood sugar level.
- Select foods to maximize your intake of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients.
- Minimize intake of sugars -- and emphasize foods like fruits, vegetables and whole grains and that have a low glycemic impact.
- Avoid trans fats--also called hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated vegetable oils. Trans fats have been linked to heart disease, diabetes, as well as other illnesses. Trans fats are most likely to show up in products that have been deep fried, but they also appear in many packaged goods.
We'll give you some ideas that will make shopping easier.
Shopping smarter equals a healthier, more balanced life. Following these three guidelines will enhance your shopping experience overall:
- Get organized -- always! Post a list in the kitchen and add to it any time you or someone in your family notices that you are in need of an item. Having that list handy when you go shopping will save you time and frustration from racking your brain to remember what you need. You may even want to create a master list on your computer that you can revise and print out as needed. Also, a PDA is a great way to make sure you get all the items on your shopping list.
- Read the Nutrition Facts Label: Without exception, use nutrition facts labels as your guide to understanding what you've learned about protein, fiber, and low sugar intake. Always read before you buy. Knowledge is power when it comes to food shopping.
- Browse and experiment: When you have the time, browse the aisles of your grocery, specialty food, health food, or produce store. Keep abreast of new products, new alternatives, and formulate new ideas. Roaming aisles can sometimes be an inspiration for new recipes and for discovering foods you have never tried before.
Optimal Foods to Have on Hand
A good idea for gaining efficiency in the kitchen is to always have items in stock that you use often. Non-perishables are especially wise to stock. This saves you time from running out each time you decide to put together a meal. That can often be an impediment to meal planning and preparation, sometimes causing you to look for an unhealthy quick fix instead.
Meat and Fish
You should always keep meat, poultry and fish on hand, tightly wrapped in the freezer. Steaks, bison, chicken and turkey all keep well in the freezer for quick thawing and cooking. You can buy fish like tilapia, salmon, and orange roughy separately wrapped, so you can thaw and use one piece at a time with no fuss. Buy frozen shrimp and keep it frozen until you're ready to use it. You can thaw it in the microwave in less than five minutes. Lunch meats like turkey and ham are also convenient to have around because they involve no preparation.
Fruits and Veggies
As you consider your fiber needs, it's important to have the right produce around within easy reach. A good selection of vegetables is a great start for a fiber-rich kitchen. For veggies, consider the green variety like broccoli, green beans, lettuce, spinach, and cucumbers. Tomatoes are a good topper for most any casserole or stir fry. Keep around a selection of stir-fry vegetables, too, like celery, green pepper, onion, and mushrooms. Canned water chestnuts and bamboo shoots work well in a stir fry. For fruits, select fiber-rich, low-glycemic choices like berries, cherries, strawberries, green apples, grapefruits.
Eggs, milk, cheese, and yogurt are the staples. Hard cheeses -- shredded and in blocks -- are good to have on hand; cheese keeps a long time when it's not opened. Parmesan and feta cheese are handy to have around, too. If you drink soy milk instead of regular milk, look for brands with low sugar grams . A look at the Nutrition Facts panels reveals that many leading brands are high in sugar.
You'll always want to have healthy baking items at your disposal. Oat flour, whole grain flour, baking powder, baking soda, and an artificial sweetener like Splenda are a good start. Then add your oils: olive, peanut, vegetable, and canola. Have plenty of protein powder on hand, too. Vanilla protein powder is usually the best all-around choice that works for everything. Keep a supply of nuts and seeds handy consisting of sunflower seeds, almonds, cashews, pine nuts, and pecans.
Condiments, Sauces, and Toppings
These can vary, but some good basics are mustard, mayonnaise, salsa, lemon juice, lime juice, salad dressings, Italian dressing for marinating, balsamic and apple vinegars, barbecue sauce, ketchup, low-sodium soy sauce, and a healthy cooking spray (no trans fats).
Tuna is a fantastic protein source that can be mixed with anything for a great recipe. It's also easy to carry with you at all times in a pouch.
Meal planning and ideas for finding the time to fit good food into your busy day.
Meal planning is a task that's all too easy to postpone or avoid. Too often, the American "quick solution" is fast food or high-sugar packaged or frozen food. Frequently, this becomes a habit that turns into a rut, with less than optimal effects on overall health and energy levels. Planning and organizing your meals will save you time in the long run, so try to view it as a positive step, not a chore.
The most difficult part of meal planning, for some, is avoiding day-to-day meal drudgery and getting creative. Creativity is the key word -- if you get bored with your food, you might turn to an easier, less-than-healthy choice.
When you shop, don't be afraid to experiment with new food items, especially vegetables that you are not familiar with. If you see some healthy items that interest you, buy them, then search online for a recipe that uses them.
Also, take some time before you shop to peruse your cookbook collection as well as the Recipes section. You'll find a wide selection of healthy fare, from appetizers to desserts.
Once you've done some planning and filled your kitchen and pantry, it's time to do some cooking. If you're like most people, your busy life may not leave you tons of time to put into cooking, so you need to use your kitchen time wisely.
Pick out one or two times during the week that you can set aside for cooking. Try a weekend slot and maybe a weekday night, as well. Cooking up items ahead of time and putting them into storage containers for later consumption keeps you well-stocked with healthy, ready-to-eat food; also, it means you don't have to fire up the stove every day, cook, and clean up. That can be a real deterrent to eating right.
When you set aside cooking time, cook up a couple of different meats, some whole grains and beans, and a few servings of vegetables. Boil a dozen eggs to eat on their own, make devilled eggs, or chop and add to other recipes. Liquid egg whites can be cooked ahead of time, and along with pre-cooked ham slices or turkey sausages, can provide a super-quick breakfast in the morning. Liquid egg whites are also great to throw into a fry pan with meats and veggies -- then mix it up like a mash omelet. Top that off with diced Roma tomatoes and flax seeds. In addition, cook up some frozen veggie burgers and sauté some shrimp. Either of these can be delightful to combine with nearly anything else. Make a stir fry in a wok, or in a deep fry pan if you don't have a wok -- these are great as meals to take to work.
For extra protein, you can add cooked egg whites to almost anything. They make great additions to a stir fry or a roll-up sandwich. Try pan-cooking them with cooking spray, and dip them in hummus or a peanut butter-soy sauce combination.
Food Storage Tips
The next step is to put all your prepared foods into plastic storage containers and/or baggies. Combine the various foods so that you obtain a good balance between protein, fiber and low sugar. Make sure you have enough meals for the next two or three days, depending on when you think you can get to cooking again.
You can leave these containers in the fridge to combine into meals later, or take them to work so you always have a constant supply of hearty items at your disposal. Try and forget those old rules about foods that are "breakfast foods" or "dinner" foods" -- there's no reason why you can't enjoy an omelet for dinner or a stir-fry for breakfast.
Don't Leave Home Without Food
The habit of waiting hours and hours to eat is not a good one. The rule still applies that you need to eat many small meals throughout the day. Try to get at least four meals daily: five or six mini meals if you are able. Basically, you need to graze -- enjoy smaller, more frequent bites instead of filling up on three large meals. Do your best to forget that there's a "breakfast," "lunch," or "dinner." Many small meals means that you eat less each time, keep hunger pangs at bay, maintain steady blood sugar levels, and best of all -- enjoy sustained energy throughout your day.
Use containers and zip bags to carry food with you at all times. Don't get stuck hungry without food, or you may find yourself eating anything that's available to banish the grumbling in your stomach. Keep a small cooler in your car, as well as a stash of high-energy snacks. An Atkins shake or two in the cooler is a good idea. Women can carry small food items in their purse: nuts, tuna pouches, and nutrition bars work well. Of course, Atkins nutrition bars make perfect, portable meals on the go. And always, plan ahead so you have water wherever you are. Keep two bottles of water in your car at all times.
If you work out in the gym, or elsewhere, keep food handy for immediate consumption upon finishing your workout. A post-workout body needs to be fed, and high-protein items are the best choice.
As you transition into eating smaller meals more often, and choosing high-protein, fiber-rich food that optimize your energy levels, don't expect overnight results. Give yourself three to four weeks to adjust to your new eating timetable and you will feel the difference. Daily sluggishness and sleepiness due to insulin spikes and overeating will disappear and you' won't believe how much better you feel -- all day, every day.
Goodbye and Good Health
You've reached the end of this nutrition article. We hope that you enjoyed this learning experience and have gained some valuable knowledge. By now, you should have a good overview of the many energy-boosting benefits of adequate protein and a fiber-rich diet. Hopefully, you've become a more aware shopper and meal planner along the way, better equipped to adjust your eating patterns to your busy schedule. Setting up your lifestyle to meet your health and nutrition needs is not necessarily trouble-free, and it takes some time to transition into healthy habits -- but the results are well worth it! We hope this course motivated you to take a look at your current patterns and make some positive changes in how you shop for, plan, cook and enjoy your meals.