It’s no coincidence that resolutions are made after the holiday season. It’s the time of year when regular schedules and plans go out the window as we all try to fit in as much family, fun and festivities as we can. It’s not always easy sustaining our energy levels with all that’s going on and many of us turn to that tin of shortbread to gather enough wherewithal to make it to the next event or meeting. After all, we still have to eat, right?
Brooke Bulloch, dietitian, Food to Fit in Saskatoon, has a few suggestions for maintaining our energy over the holidays.
> Have a plan
Waiting until you’re hungry is a mistake. That’s because you’re far more likely to reach for high-fat, sugary treats when your brain is starving for glucose, Bulloch says. Coming up with a daily plan that works around your schedule – and that has you eating something every four hours or so to avoid the hunger crash that leads to bad choices – is the best way to fuel your brain and body, she says.
> Get enough sleep
Plenty of studies have been done on what sleep deprivation does to our food choices, says Bulloch. When we’re tired, we tend to choose foods that are higher in salt, sugar and fat, creating a vicious circle of sugar highs and crashes, leading to more bad choices. Just knowing this can help on the occasional day when you haven’t had enough sleep.
> Pack healthy snacks
The ideal snack combines protein and complex carbohydrates (whole grains, whole fruits and legumes) so things to reach for might be: a whole wheat bagel with hummus, edamame and red pepper strips or yogurt with berries (Greek yogurt has almost twice the protein as regular yogurt), Bulloch says. Making sure these healthy snacks are available will make you less likely to reach for extra treats when the baking tray gets passed around the office.
> Cut the sugar
With its promise of an energy hit, sugar is often the go-to snack for lethargy, but Bullock says its effects are short-term and the subsequent crash – sugar is digested very quickly, providing no lasting energy to the brain – makes it a bad choice. Bulloch doesn’t suggest we choose the holidays for an extreme change to our diet but recommends we make it a policy to avoid sugary drinks. Cutting out soda, juice or those fancy flavoured lattes is a reasonable way to offset the fact that you will be consuming more sugar in general during the season.
> Aim for iron
Iron carries oxygen through the body, which gives us energy. So one of the best ways to boost our energy is by making sure that we’re getting enough iron, she says. While red meat, poultry and fish have iron, there are options for those who do not eat meat. This is where tofu, nuts and seeds, cooked spinach or kale and edamame beans can come in. Eating these alternatives with a source of vitamin C (citrus fruit, red peppers, strawberries) will make for higher iron absorption, resulting in improved energy, she adds.