Foods to Fight Fatigue (cont.)

Research shows breakfast improves alertness and concentration, helps shed pounds by preventing overeating during the day, and prevents obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.

To get these benefits and to prepare the body for the day, the American Dietetic Association recommends carbohydrates for energy and protein for endurance. Some quick options include:

  • Whole grain bagel with cheese
  • Cereal with fruit and yogurt
  • Whole-grain toast with peanut butter and fruit
  • Hard-boiled egg sliced into a whole-wheat pita
  • Scrambled eggs, toast, and fruit
  • Oatmeal with raisins

For the really busy bee, Camire says choices include breakfast bars, frozen omelets and breakfast sandwiches, oatmeal packets to go, and whole-grain cereals in prepackaged plastic bowls. Be mindful, though, of the sugar and fat content of your morning meal. A study in the November 2003 issue of Pediatrics found children who ate sugary breakfasts were hungrier and ate more at lunch.

Complex Carbohydrate Charge

Healthy eating doesn't stop in the morning. A well-balanced diet throughout the day is an essential source of sustained energy. The American Medical Association recommends that 50% to 60% of overall food intake come from carbohydrates, 30% from fat, and the rest from protein.

Although carbohydrates have gotten a bad reputation, the nutrient is still the body's preferred source of energy, says Dave Grotto, RD, director of nutrition at the Block Center for Integrative Cancer Care in Evanston, Ill. Low-carb diets, he says, initially boost energy, but deplete it in the long run.

The best way to maximize the body's potential for energy is to eat a combination of complex and simple carbohydrates. Complex carbohydrates, which are slow burning, should represent the bulk of the carbohydrates we eat, says Grotto. Foods such as whole grains and starchy vegetables such as potatoes, squash, pumpkin, and carrots fall into this category.

This does not mean ignoring simple carbohydrates with a slower burn, such as the sugar fructose, found in fruits, vegetables, and honey. They can provide an immediate source of energy.

Simple sugars found in candy bars, soft drinks, and cookies can also provide a quick boost, but then a big letdown afterward.

"You are going to get a rise in energy from the original hit of the sugar, but then, particularly for diabetics, sugar can drop below the baseline where it started," says John W. Finley, associate editor of the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry, a publication of the American Chemical Society. He says the peak effect of sugar normally lasts 30 minutes to an hour, depending on the dose. Anything beyond that is reportedly psychological.

Without the complex carbohydrates to sustain the blood sugars, the body loses steam. "A diet that is based in complex carbohydrates seems to have less of that peak and valley of blood sugar effect," says Grotto.