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Originally published December 9, 2012 at 5:10 AM | Page modified December 11, 2012 at 11:21 AM

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Seven ways to eat for energy

Columnist Carrie Dennett provides tips for eating for pleasure, plus to boost your energy.

Special to The Seattle Times

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On Nutrition

We eat for many reasons, but when you get down to the bare essentials, food is fuel for our bodies. That means that what we eat plays a vital role in how energetic we feel throughout the day.

When you eat for both pleasure and health, you feel good while you enjoy each meal — and feel energized for hours afterward.

Who couldn’t use a little more energy, especially during these dark days of fall and winter?

Here’s how to start.

Pack in the nutrients. Vitamins and minerals don’t give us energy, per se, but they do help our bodies run optimally and make the most of food energy. Being well-nourished also helps you avoid health problems that can make you feel rundown. Try to eat at least two servings of fruits or veggies with each meal, and at least one per snack.

Mix up your meals. An energy-optimal meal or snack includes high-quality carbohydrates for energy with some lean protein and healthy fat for staying power and satiety. Pick slow-digesting carbohydrates (“slow carbs”) like whole grains, whole fruits, vegetables or beans.

Space it out. Eating several small meals a day, or three slightly smaller meals plus two snacks, can help keep you fueled with a steady supply of energy. In other words, you have a series of gentle rises in blood sugar (the body’s energy source) instead of a few large spikes.

Don’t get too hungry. Running on fumes can make you feel lackluster, and trying to satisfy a raging hunger with a large meal can leave you lethargic as your body works overtime to digest it.

Listen to your body. Some people feel better when they eat more healthy carbohydrates and less protein, while others feel better with more protein and fewer carbs. If you find your energy flagging shortly after a meal, look at your eating patterns (this is where a short-term food journal can help) and try experimenting with a different meal mix. If you are a “three squares a day” person and you feel fantastic, don’t fret that you don’t snack. If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it.

Stay hydrated. Recent research studies involving healthy young women and men found that mild dehydration increases feelings of fatigue, makes it harder to concentrate and diminishes mood. If you find yourself feeling tired and headachy for no reason, try drinking a cup or two of water.

Beware sugar highs. “Fast carbs” like a candy bar or pastry will perk you up, sure, but the energy you get from a shot of sugar or refined flour is fleeting — and ends with a crash.

Fueling your body with a variety of nutritious, delicious foods is a great step toward feeling your energetic best each day, but don’t forget about sleep and physical activity. Exercise is a natural energy booster and we need adequate quality sleep to recharge our batteries each day.

Lack of sleep can cause us to reach for sugary, refined “fast carbs,” making us ultimately feel more tired — and possibly leading to weight gain.

Next time: Making realistic resolutions.

Carrie Dennett: nutritionbycarrie@gmail.com.

Dennett is a graduate student in the nutritional-sciences program at the UW; her blog is nutritionbycarrie.com.

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