S u g a r h i t ( a n d m i s s )
By Bronwen Gora
Body and Soul Section, The Sunday Telegraph, February 17, 2002.
© Sunday Telegraph. Reproduced by Permission
That mid-afternoon coffee or chocolate bar sends you soaring out of your energy slump. Problem is, you always crash. Bronwen Gora tells how to stay aloft.
Drifting off to sleep is a luxurious feeling – but not at three in the afternoon. In some countries a siesta may be acceptable, but snooze your afternoon away here and you won’t keep your job for long.
If your energy levels go up and down like a yo-yo, the problem lies with what you’re eating, says natural living specialist Stephen Wayne-Smith.
“People are having problems with their sugar levels because they’re eating the wrong kinds of carbohydrates, eating too much bread instead of brown rice or root vegetables,” he says.
How much you’re exercising – or how little – also counts. The more you exercise, the more oxygen you have in your blood, keeping you lively and alert. No exercise, and the systems in your body become sluggish, leading to lethargy. “Your whole body is more productive if you have more oxygen in your system,” Wayne-Smith says.
look beyond the label
Eating low-fat products and health bars may sound like the solution. But labels can mislead. In many cases, “low fat” is code for high sugar and so-called health foods may contain a carbohydrate level required only by athletes or construction workers. “You have to eat for your lifestyle,” Wayne-Smith says.
The key to day-long brightness is foods that have a low glycemic index (GI, which measures carbohydrate content). Developed in 1981 by Jennie Brand-Miller of Sydney University, the GI has transformed our thinking about how food affects our bodies.
It’s now understood that eating fewer foods with a high GI and more of those with a low index is the key to weight loss. That’s because carbohydrates trigger the release of insulin in your system, which converts the carbs into sugar. The more carbs, the more sugar, the sharper the rise in your energy – and the faster the drop. When your energy levels slump, you’re more likely to eat to stay awake – and suddenly, you’re gaining weight.
That’s doesn’t mean carbohydrates are bad. We need them for energy. And cutting back on carbs can result in exactly the same symptoms as eating too many. The ideal balance, says Spa Chakra medical director and nutritionist, Jan Roberts, is for 40 per cent of your diet to be carbohydrates, 30 per cent protein and 30 per cent fat.
“Try to have a serve of protein [lean meat, cottage cheese, fish] the size and thickness of the palm of your hand at each meal,” Roberts says. “Then add carbs, one to two palms of low GI food and half a palmful of high GI. Add some healthy oil at each meal, like olive oil, nuts, seeds or avocado.”
GI aside, says nutritionist Cyndi O’Meara, another way to keep yourself awake in the afternoon is to ensure your diet is full of vitamins and minerals.
“If you’re eating, say, a refined breakfast cereal with regular milk, then mid-morning you have a cup of tea and a biscuit, and lunch is a cheese and tomato sandwich, that’s a surefire recipe for an afternoon energy slump,” says O’Meara. “Most of the refined foods we eat today don’t have enough vitamins and minerals to keep us going.”
Instead, choose natural foods. For breakfast, try eggs on rye or wholegrain toast and, for lunch and dinner, serve up vegetables, salads and proteins.
eat early, eat often
And don’t go for more than five hours without eating, says Roberts. Our metabolism is designed for constant grazing. Just make sure you’re snacking on the right things. A small handful of nuts, for example, will give you wake-up energy, protein plus the mono-unsaturated fat that helps you to stay slim. “People think nuts are bad for you because they’re high in fat, but they’re full of nutrients that help to assimilate fat in your body,” O’Meara says.
Other great energy foods are unrefined carbs such as root vegetables and grains, which give an even supply of energy throughout the day. Skip these, and you may feel tired, erratic and moody.
“They can also trigger cravings for sweet things such as ice cream and caramel slices. These supply a quick fix, but ultimately trigger the pancreas to release too much insulin, which in the end depletes the blood of more glucose than it started with. This results in sharp highs and lows of energy.”
Wayne-Smith says sweet potato, kumera, carrot and pumpkin are the four magic ingredients for keeping your glucose levels on the straight and narrow.
“Add them to your stir-fries,” Wayne-Smith suggests. “Eating sweet potato curbs the urge for sugar, sweets or bread.”
If you must feed a sweet craving, try a piece of fruit, honey or maple syrup. Unrefined sugars contain some nutrients – maple syrup, for example, is a rich source of potassium and calcium – but white sugar has zero nutritional value.
Drinking fresh juices will also help fix your sugar craving – try blends of carrot, apple, watermelon, pineapple, mint and strawberry. “Protein shakes are also good fillers that give you that extra boost when you work out,” Wayne Smith says.
Exercise will also keep you alert. If you can’t get to the gym at lunchtime, at least go for a walk, taking deep breaths to oxygenate your body.
get some lemon aid
Smell can also be a powerful stimulant. Melbourne-based aromatherapist Judith White says that smells can alter our emotional state within three seconds. The most stimulating scent of all is lemon.
“Lemon awakens the mind and is great for fighting lethargy,” White says. “Combined with peppermint oil, it’s cleansing and uplifting.”
Or try looking at something yellow. Colour therapists say that yellow is one of the most restorative colours on the spectrum, and can help with focus, concentration and creativity.
Herbal teas can help in a similar way. Peppermint tea is renowned as a wake-up brew, but almost any herbal tea will keep you refreshed longer than the caffeinated variety, as your alertness won’t slump when the caffeine wears off.
If all else fails, maybe you need exactly what you crave: sleep. Most adults need between six to eight hours sleep a night, so if you’re not making the quota, all you may need to end your afternoon slumps is a regular date with your doona.
* For more information on whether you’ve got the right idea about what to eat visit www.foodwatch.com.au
– high GI foods
>> (eat little of these) potatoes, bananas, raisins, parsnips, white rice, glucose, corn flakes, bran flakes, white and wholemeal bread, carrots, apricots, brown rice, potato, honey, kidney beans, wheat, sweet corn, chocolate biscuits.
– moderate GI foods
>> (okay but don’t eat heaps) grapes, white pasta, pumpernickel, All-Bran, oatmeal biscuits, apple sauce, potato chips, lactose (milk sugar), noodles, sweet potatoes, peas, yam, sucrose, grapes, oranges, orange juice.
– low GI foods
>> (good to keep in your daily diet)
apples, yoghurt, pears, tomato soup, ice cream, chickpeas, milk, plums, lentils, fructose, peaches, grapefruit, cherries, soybeans, peanuts, lentils.
EAT FOR ENERGY
> Grab & Go
Rice cakes 82
Rice Bubbles 80
Special K 54
> Sandwich choices
White bread 70
Burgen Soy-Linseed 19
Burgen Mixed Grain 34
Multi-Grain 9 Grain 43
Ploughmans Wholegrain 47
Continental Fruit loaf 47
> Filling not fattening
Baked potatoes 83
Thai noodles with vegetables 36
Red lentils (boiled) 26
Tomato soup 38
(GI levels taken from The G.I. Factor by Professor Jennie Brand-Miller, Kay Foster-Powell, Associate Professor Stephen Colagiuri and Anthony Leeds.)