To Your Health
July, 2010 (Vol. 04, Issue 07)
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Unlike fats and carbohydrates, protein is often touted as the healthiest of the macronutrients. It is true that protein, in addition to providing a source for energy production, is also required for the makeup of skeletal muscle and enzymes.

Consuming meals high in protein can support lean body mass as well as contribute to satiety and blood sugar control. Before you go loading up on protein shakes, however, it is important to remember that protein still provides calories and overconsumption can still lead to weight gain. Aim for daily protein consumption of around 0.8 -1 grams per kilogram (2.2 pounds) of body weight (that's about 80 grams of protein for a 175-pound individual). Food sources high in protein include meats and poultry, legumes, nuts, and quinoa.

The Micronutrients: Vitamins and Minerals

When it comes to energy production, vitamins and minerals serve as the co-factors for the enzymes involved in your metabolic processes. Most notably, the B vitamins are directly involved in supporting the metabolic pathways which create energy (ATP) from your food. There are currently eight molecules classified as B vitamins: thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid, pyridoxine, biotin, folate, and methylcobalamin. Each of these plays an intricate supporting role in metabolism, and deficiency in any B complex vitamin can result in severe impairments in energy production.

For the most part, the B vitamins are widely distributed in our food supply and thanks to FDA-mandated fortification of bleached flour, even processed foods can provide a substantial dose (look for enriched flour on your food labels). Recent research has suggested, however, that natural forms of B vitamins may be a better source. There have even been some studies that suggest high intake of synthetic B vitamins could potentially be harmful (most notably folic acid). Natural food sources of B vitamins include whole-grain breads, nuts, seeds, and legumes.

Another essential nutrient that is critical to energy production is magnesium. In addition to being an important component of the bone matrix, this mineral is a co-factor for over 300 enzyme complexes in the human body, including those involved in metabolism. Magnesium, coupled with calcium, is also essential for the contraction of skeletal and smooth muscle. It is estimated that nearly 70 percent of Americans consume inadequate levels of dietary magnesium. Deficiency of this mineral has been linked to low energy, osteoporosis, muscle pain, and fatigue.

Food sources of magnesium include green leafy vegetables, spices, and nuts. When using magnesium supplements, look for forms that are amino-acid chelates (magnesium glycinate/aspartate) or organic salts (magnesium citrate/malate) of the mineral. These forms are highly absorbable and bioavailable. Magnesium oxide and other inorganic salts should be avoided.  If bowel tolerance is a concern, aim for magnesium glycinate, which has been shown to better tolerated than magnesium citrate alone. (Talk to your doctor for more information.)

Calories and Meal Planning

food pyramid - Copyright – Stock Photo / Register Mark Other major diet mistakes which can contribute to low energy levels are skipping meals and consuming inadequate calories in efforts to maintain or lose weight. Remember: Your body needs calories to create energy! Aim to consume meals and snacks every two to four hours. You may even want to start packing healthy snacks to take with you whenever you go.

When selecting snacks, aim for foods that provide balanced levels of fats, carbohydrates, and protein such as whole-grain crackers and nut butters or carrots and hummus, which will help keep your energy levels steady. Low-calorie snacks high in simple carbohydrates should be avoided. While 100 calorie servings of baked chips or rice cakes may sound appealing, the energy they provide is usually short-lived.

So, the next time a long day at the office causes you to turn to your candy stash, stop and ask yourself if that really is the best selection. In fact, why not ask yourself that question before you stash any candy in the first place? Remember that the foods we often turn to first during times of low energy are generally not the ones that will provide us the with the best energy boost. While no one food choice is the best for supporting energy levels, a balanced combination of macronutrients which provide a high dose of micronutrients, including B vitamins and other supportive nutrients, will give your body the nourishment it needs. That's the science of sustained energy.

Clair Whiteman, BSc, received her degree in nutrition and dietetics from Bastyr University in Washington state. She is currently the on-staff nutritionist for BioGenesis Nutraceuticals, a professional-grade supplement line.