With our busy schedules and fast-paced lifestyles, it’s no wonder that wanting to have more energy is a big priority for many people. When considering what factors impact our energy levels, certainly adequate sleep is important, but what about the food we eat? Can what’s on our plates have a role in how we feel?
A lack of energy, otherwise known as fatigue, can be caused by numerous factors, including lack of sleep, stress, certain medications, excess weight or other health conditions, and a poor diet. The food we eat is made up of varying amounts of macronutrients (fats, protein and carbohydrates) and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals)—and getting an adequate amount of each of these nutrients is vital to energized living, as well as to optimum health.
When certain nutrients are deficient in one’s diet, fatigue can result. These nutrients include:
• Essential fatty acids (particularly omega-3s)
• Vitamin D
• B vitamins
To ensure that you’re getting enough of these nutrients, plan your meals to contain a wide variety of vegetables; whole grains; fish; nuts and seeds; fruit; dairy; and other lean sources of protein, such as eggs, chicken and turkey.
A Closer Look at Fatigue-Combatting Nutrients
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
The Adequate Intake (AI) of omega-3 fatty acids for adults is 1600 milligrams (mg) daily for men and 1100 mg daily for women. You can find more than 500 mg in a can of tuna or a few ounces of salmon, and some fortified foods offer 100 mg or more. Other excellent sources of omega-3s include:
• Fortified soy milk or orange juice
• Pumpkin seeds
Dietary iron comes in two main forms: heme and non-heme. Plants and iron-fortified foods contain non-heme iron only, whereas meat, seafood and poultry contain both heme and non-heme iron. Because the non-heme variety from plants and fortified foods is less readily used by our bodies, it’s important for vegetarians, vegans and those who do not often eat meat, seafood or poultry to pay close attention to the amount of iron in their diet—and to take an iron supplement if their blood work indicates an iron deficiency.
The AI of iron for adult females is 18 mg daily up to age 50, then 8 mg daily thereafter. For adult males, the AI is 8 mg daily. Fortified breakfast cereals can be a wonderful source of iron, as they typically contain 18 mg of iron per serving. Other good sources of iron include:
• White beans
• Dark chocolate (45-69 percent cacao)
• Beef liver
To increase the bioavailability of non-heme iron from plants, consuming them along with ascorbic acid (vitamin C), meat, poultry or seafood can enhance non-heme iron absorption. This is yet another reason why eating balanced meals containing a variety of colors and food groups is a recommended practice for boosting energy and overall health.
Vitamins D and B
Deficiencies of vitamin D and the B vitamins are often associated with symptoms of fatigue.
Vitamin D can be produced by the body when sunlight contacts our skin, and also can be ingested from dietary sources. The average adult needs about 600 international units (IUs) of vitamin D daily, but those recommendations increase to 800 IUs daily after age 70. Good dietary sources of vitamin D include:
• Fortified milk
• Fortified cereal
• Fortified bread
The B vitamins act as catalysts in the body to convert the food we eat (primarily carbohydrates) into energy for our cells. In this way, B vitamins play an important role in providing us with energy. However, supplementation of B vitamins is only indicated when a true deficiency occurs. Such deficiencies can occur in people with cancer, intestinal disease, alcohol abuse, eating disorders or malnutrition.
Older adults are at higher risk for vitamin B12 deficiency due to the often decreased levels of gastric acids they produce, which negatively impacts the amount of vitamin B12 that can be absorbed from dietary sources. Good dietary sources of B vitamins—particularly B12—include:
• Dairy products
• Some fortified cereals and nutritional yeast
Balance is Key
When considering how to eat for enhanced energy, ensuring that you have a well-balanced diet is key to providing yourself with enough of these essential nutrients for optimum health. If, however, you suspect a deficiency in one or more of these nutrients due to an extremely restricted diet—as, for example, with cancer, gastrointestinal disorders or certain other health conditions—you should speak with your doctor and a registered dietitian about your concerns. These health professionals can help identify any deficiencies or other possible causes for your lack of energy and can help recommend an individualized treatment plan based on current nutrition research.
Salmon Crisp Salad
(high in omega-3s and iron)
9 ounces new potatoes
8 cherry tomatoes, halved
3 ounces mixed salad leaves
2 pieces skinless salmon fillet (3.5 ounces each)
1 tablespoon coarse-ground black pepper
Grated rind and juice of 1 orange
1 tablespoon whole-grain mustard
1. Boil the potatoes for 10-15 minutes until tender, then refresh in cold water, cool a little and slice.
2. Toss together the potato slices and tomatoes, and divide between two serving dishes. Pile the salad leaves on top and set aside.
3. Coat one side of each salmon fillet with pepper.
4. Heat a nonstick frying pan or a griddle until hot. Place the salmon, pepper-side down, and cook for 3-4 minutes, then turn and cook an additional 3-4 minutes until just cooked.
5. Lay the salmon on top of the salad leaves, mix together the orange rind and juice with the mustard, drizzle over the salad, and serve.
• This salad also works well with other fish, such as mackerel fillets or fresh tuna, or with king prawns. You can also use thinly sliced chicken breast.
• For a vegan alternative, try strips of tofu instead of salmon. Simply fry in a nonstick pan until crisp, then toss with a little sesame oil, soy sauce and Chinese five spice.
(high in iron and fortified with B vitamins)
1 package extra-firm tofu, pressed and cubed (press by taking tofu out of packaging, wrapping in paper towels, and laying on a plate with a heavy object on top)
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
1/2 teaspoon salt
Few cracks of black pepper
Additional 1-2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
Pinch of salt
1. After 2 hours in the fridge, the tofu will be pressed thoroughly. Cut tofu into long match sticks then into small cubes. The tofu is now ready for the marinade.
2. Add 3 tablespoons balsamic, 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning and 1/2 teaspoon salt to a bowl with a cover.
3. Add tofu cubes. Cover and shake. Marinade 30 minutes-2 hours.
4. Several minutes before you are ready to cook, preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Take tofu out of refrigerator to come to room temperature, then shake container again.
5. Once oven is preheated, place parchment paper on a baking sheet. Spray with nonstick spray.
6. Add tofu to the parchment paper. Bake 30-35 minutes.
7. Once crispy, take out of oven and add an additional 1-2 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar and a pinch of salt. Stir.
8. Allow to cool at least 5 minutes before eating. Use as an addition to any Italian-themed dish or add to a Caprese salad for a filling entree!