7 Diet Changes That Can Boost Your Energy Naturally

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Americans often vow to adopt better eating habits. But despite making a sincere effort, most of them fall short of their goal. Because? It’s often because they think eating healthier means checking everything.

The truth is, even small tweaks to your meals can have a significant impact on your energy, mood, and overall well-being. Small, manageable changes are sustainable and give you a sense of accomplishment that keeps you motivated, says Dolores Woods, a registered dietitian at the UTHealth Houston School of Public Health.

The rewards can be huge. A study published in 2021 in the journal Nature Food found that swapping just 10 percent of your daily calories from beef and processed meats for more nutritious foods like fruits, vegetables, beans and fish can boost your healthy life. Therefore, you may not only live longer, but also extend the amount of time you live free of serious illness. For someone who eats 2,000 calories, that means changing just 200 calories from about one snack or side dish a day. Want to try this and other ideas recommended by experts? Here’s how to make some small changes every day.

Add protein to your breakfast

We tend to lose muscle and strength as we age, but getting enough protein can help protect against that, says Woods. Also, protein takes longer to break down than carbohydrates, which delays the release of sugar into the blood. According to a 2017 study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, people who ate a high-protein breakfast (30 percent of calories from protein) experienced better insulin response and glucose levels in blood after four hours compared to those that had mostly carbohydrates.

However, nearly half of older adults don’t get the recommended amount of protein per day (54 grams for a 150-pound person, which you can get by eating, say, 3 ounces of chicken breast, half a cup of Greek fat low). yogurt or half a cup of white beans). For starters, add some protein to your morning meal. Top toast with cottage cheese or an egg, stir nut butter into oatmeal, or combine cereal with Greek yogurt and chia seeds. Bonus: You’ll feel fuller and have a steady supply of energy throughout the morning.

It’s no secret that whole grains are healthier, with more fiber and B vitamins, than refined grains. This extra nutrition is especially important for older adults. A study published in 2021 in the Journal of Nutrition found that people 55 and older who ate at least three servings of whole grains a day had better markers of heart health, smaller increases in waist size, blood pressure and blood sugar compared to those who had the least. more than half a serving. Bored of brown rice and oatmeal? Try amaranth, buckwheat, farro or quinoa.

Add another fruit or vegetable to your plate

Although experts recommend five or more servings of produce a day, even smaller amounts boost heart health. A 2014 study in the BMJ found that each additional daily serving of up to five reduces the risk of dying from heart disease by 4 percent. Each fruit and vegetable contains its own combination of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that fight inflammation, says Judy Simon, a registered dietitian at the University of Washington.

For maximum benefit, choose an assortment of colorful fruits and vegetables. According to 2023 research in the Journal of Nutrition, people over 50 who consumed the greatest variety of produce were 21 percent less likely to die from heart disease over a 15-year period compared to those who had the least . Simon suggests adding extra vegetables to the main dish. You can also add greens to soups and sandwiches, broccoli or cauliflower to stir-fries, and mushrooms, peppers or zucchini to pasta dishes.

Leafy greens have been shown to help protect brain health, broccoli and Brussels sprouts are potential cancer preventatives, and peas can improve digestive health. So when you sit down to a meal, start with your greens to make sure you get them in your diet, says Woods. What’s more, eating vegetables before the rest of your meal can reduce your blood sugar response afterward, according to Cornell University scientists. This can help people with prediabetes and diabetes—nearly half of Americans—control their conditions.

Made with whole grains and multigrain products are often made with mostly refined white flour. Look for the words 100% whole grains, says Vijaya Surampudi, associate professor of medicine at UCLA’s Center for Human Nutrition. Or check that a whole grain is listed as the first ingredient.

Many staple foods, such as pretzels, cereal bars, and cookies, are highly processed. A diet high in these packaged foods has been linked to type 2 diabetes, heart disease, obesity and dementia. But a research review published in the journal Antioxidants suggests that a diet high in nuts may protect against conditions like these. They’re rich in healthy fats, fiber, vitamins and minerals, says Simon, a dietitian at the University of Washington. Aim for about an ounce a handful of nuts a day.

Combine treats with healthy foods

You don’t have to give up ice cream and chips, says Simon. Serve yourself a small portion with foods rich in fiber or protein. Top the ice cream with fresh fruit, dip the chips in hummus and mix the chocolate with the nuts. These additions slow the release of sugar into the bloodstream, he says, which can prevent a blood sugar spike and the energy crash that follows.

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