As we approach the last few months of 2015, many of you will be feeling the pressures, and subsequent fatigue, of another busy year.
You might even find yourselves suck in a mid-year, energy slump that you simply can’t climb out of. Symptoms tend to build up, slowly worsening until you feel like a hamster stuck on an exercise wheel.
If that sounds like how you feel, then you need to take a few important steps to get your groove back.
Remember, “It is not surprising that if you fundamentally change what you put into your body, you will fundamentally change how you look, think and feel.” – Patrick Holford
Turning food into energy
What you experience as energy is the end result of a series of chemical reactions that take place in every cell of your body.
The process that turns food into energy is called catabolism.
In a careful controlled sequence of chemical reactions, food is broken down into its component parts and combusted with oxygen to make a unit of cellular energy called ATP, which in turn, makes muscles work, nerve signals fire and brain cells function.
Before any of this can happen, however, the fuel (food) needs to be refined.
Although it is physically possible to make energy from protein and fat, carbohydrate rich foods are the best kind of fuel for our bodies, and always have been.
This is because, when fat and protein are used to make energy (like some diets prescribe), there is a build-up of toxic substances in the body – something they fail to mention.
Carbohydrates are the only “smokeless” fuel. Our cells need the simplest unit of carbohydrate – glucose – as fuel.
The first job of the body is therefore, to turn all forms of carbohydrate into glucose.
In the early days of nutritional science it was thought that sugar would be the best energy food. However, we now know that a high-sugar diet lacks the micronutrients needed to turn it efficiently into energy, as well as disrupting blood sugar levels.
We also know that by eating foods with a low GL score, i.e. complex carbohydrates instead of simple, high-sugar carbohydrates, and by eating regularly throughout the day, you are giving your cells an even supply of energy-giving glucose.
The Energy Nutrients
Eating complex carbohydrates is only half the story.
All these chemical reactions are carefully controlled by enzymes, which themselves are dependent on vitamins and minerals.
If there is any shortage of these critical nutrients, the result is insufficient energy production, loss of stamina and highs and lows – no matter how much complex carbohydrate you take in.
The important vitamins are the B complex vitamins – absolutely essential for making energy.
It was previously thought that as long as you ate a reasonable diet, you’d get enough B vitamins. However, studies have shown that many people’s diets fall short of supplying optimum amounts and because of their water-solubility,
B vitamins are also easily lost when foods are boiled in water.
The best natural sources are therefore fresh fruit, raw vegetables and wheat-germ. Seeds, nuts and wholegrains contain reasonable amounts, as do meat, fish, eggs and dairy produce – as long as they are not heated.
The minerals iron, calcium, magnesium, chromium and zinc are also vital for making energy. Calcium and magnesium are perhaps the most important because all muscle cells need an adequate supply of these to be able to contract and relax.
A shortage of magnesium (very common in people who don’t eat much fruit or vegetables) often results in cramps, as muscles are unable to relax.
Magnesium is needed for 75% of the enzymes in your body – and it is vital for carbohydrate metabolism.
It is also essential for nerve cells to send their messages.
We need zinc, together with vitamin B6, to make the enzymes that digest food. They are also essential in the production of the hormone insulin, which helps to control blood sugar levels.
The older you are, the less likely you are to be taking in enough chromium – an essential mineral that helps stabilise blood sugar levels.
Chromium is found in wholefoods and is therefore higher in whole-wheat flour, bread and pasta than in refined products. It is also present in beans, nuts, seeds. Asparagus and mushrooms are especially rich in chromium.
Whether or not you can achieve an optimal intake of these nutrients from diet alone is debatable. It is therefore wise to take supplements as well as eating wholefoods as much as possible.