While standing in the mid-afternoon I-need-a-java-jolt-or-I'm-going-to-collapse-from-fatigue line at the local coffeehouse, I started chatting with fellow customers as we waited for the barista to take our orders. Whether high-school students, young moms, middle-aged executives, seniors or millennials, we were all there — not for the love of coffee — but for the high-octane buzz to get us through the day.
Alas, collateral damage from these drinks includes the jitters, pounding migraines, insomnia, an unhealthy dose of sugar and fat, along with uric acid that tinkers with sensitive digestive systems — a high price to pay for a fleeting spurt of energy.
Better and healthier ways to boost energy levels without the shake, rattle and roll of caffeine include these food fuels:
Breakfast of champions: Hands down, this is the most important meal of the day for shifting the brain and brawn into high gear. Whole-wheat breads, muffins, and energy bars have been found to direct focus; old-fashioned oatmeal is a nutritional source of glucose to sustain both body and mind throughout the morning; organic yoghurt, berries, along with nuts and seeds, especially almonds, walnuts, pepitas, sunflower and flax seeds loaded with plant-based protein, fatty acids, iron, magnesium, zinc, and alpha-linolenic acid dial up mental and physical performance, and repair stressed cells.
Exhilarating eats: Lift your spirits and energy levels with endorphin foods that trigger the body to produce mood-elevating chemicals to make you happy and peppy. The mighty strawberry, an endorphin rock star comes in 600 varieties, both wild and cultivated, packed with Vitamins C, K and assorted energy-boosting B's, potassium, magnesium, blood sugar-regulating fiber, heart-healthy omega-3's, and a ton of antioxidants.
Crank up the heat with chilies or hot peppers brimming with capsaicin to hot-wire the brain to release energizing endorphins. Jalapeno nachos, anyone? While a steamy infusion of herbal tea like invigorating peppermint, rosehips, and hibiscus electrifies the soul without the jarring effects of caffeine. For an added oomph, add a fresh chunk of ginger root to your brew to improve circulation, and temper fatigue.
Going ape: The tropical banana is endowed with potassium, magnesium, and B-6's giving a quick energy boost, easing nerves, and reducing heart rate and blood pressure, while its high-soluble fiber regulates blood sugar levels to put the skids on lethargy. So whip up a banana nut smoothie (recipe below), bake a batch of banana bread, or slice straight-up in whole-grain cereal or oatmeal.
A grain of truth: The body burns simple carbs like straw in a fire — quick and dirty. Energy spikes then crashes, so give refined flours and pasty grains the shaft, swapping them for wholesome, hearty complex carbs, including brown rice, quinoa, whole-grain pastas, sweet potatoes and squashes for periods of sustained energy.
Pumping iron: Popeye acquired his hysterical strength and energy by loading up on spinach — a rich store of Vitamin B, folic acid, and iron, the latter an essential mineral to maintain optimum cellular functions, and ward off anemia and fatigue.
Brazilian kombshell: The acai berry is a purple powerhouse found to hike energy levels as well as metabolism thanks to its load of B vitamins, minerals, and fatty acids. While the frozen pulp is usually unsweetened, acai juices likely have added sugars. So read labels judiciously.
The B's knees: Incorporating assorted B Vitamins (B 6, B 12, riboflavin, niacin, biotin, folic and pantothenic acids) in the diet will provide a steady stream of energy and stamina. So get crackin' with eggs, choice fish and seafood, including salmon, trout, haddock, wild-caught shrimp, and Dungeness crab, greens of all manners like kale, asparagus and broccoli, along with legumes (chickpeas, lentils, black beans), citrus fruits, and avocados.
Lead a Horse to Water: The simplest way to ratchet up energy levels, mood, and focus is to stay well-hydrated with plenty of H2O — about eight glasses a day. For a more palatable swig add a splash of pomegranate juice, a squirt of lemon, or float some cucumber slices on top.
Or drink coconut water with its rich supply of potassium and other minerals to invigorate weary cells.
Jitter bug: Watch out for caffeine lurking in unsuspected places, including a jar of decaf coffee, non-cola sodas like root beer, energy drinks (be mindful of catch-phrases like invigorating and perky), ice creams, especially mocha flavors, and bittersweet chocolate. The higher the cocoa content, the higher the caffeine, so those sensitive to the stimulant should choose plant-based carob, reminiscent of chocolate's flavor and texture minus the caffeine.
Recipe: Banana Berry Nut Blast
• Ingredients: 1 cup non-dairy milk (almond, hazelnut, coconut); 2 tablespoons kefir yoghurt; 1 frozen banana; 1/2 cup frozen strawberries; 2 tablespoons nut or seed butter (almond, walnut, sunflower); 1 tablespoon orange blossom honey; 1/2 inch fresh grated ginger, or 1/4 teaspoon powdered ginger.
• Method: Add ingredients to blender. Process until smooth. Pour into Mason jar. Garnish with banana and strawberry slices.