10 ways to recharge your plate

04 January 2024

Food is fuel. The things we consume provide us with the energy to enjoy the activities we love, care for our families, concentrate during long meetings, keep warm in winter, and even keep our hearts beating.

But it's so much more than just fuel. Our daily nutritional choices can also influence our moods, our energy levels, our focus, and our sleep patterns.

A pick-me-up coffee, a beer after work, even your choice of breakfast can kick start a cycle of cravings, slump periods, headaches, and irritability that zaps your energy and can eventually spiral into illness and poor mental health.

So, let's take a closer look at what's on your plate and whether it's giving you the energy you need.

Know your numbers

Energy in food is measured in kilocalories (kcal) or kilo Joules (kJ). One kilocalorie (kcal) is 1,000 calories and one kilojoule (kJ) is 1,000 joules.1

Where does energy come from?

Our energy comes from the carbohydrates (complex starch and simple sugars), fats, proteins, and alcohol we consume. The amount of energy we need depends on factors such as age, gender, and how active we are.

Signs your diet may not be providing the energy you need include:

  • Difficulty waking up in the mornings
  • Problems concentrating at certain times of the day
  • Feeling too tired to exercise
  • Energy slumps between meals
  • Wishing you could have an afternoon nap
  • Cravings for sugar or snacks
  • Feeling drained and lacking stamina
  • Headaches, irritability, feeling low
  • Reduced motivation

Healthy lifestyle changes and food choices could alleviate some of these symptoms within just a few days. However, if they persist, it's worth making an appointment to see your GP - just in case.

Did you know?

Alcohol is the second most dense form of energy source, providing 7kcal per gram2, yet is linked to numerous health problems including cancer.

Good food vs bad food

If you reach for coffee, cake, sweets, chocolate, or alcohol as a quick fix to boost mood and energy during the day, your body will burn through these calories very quickly, sending your blood sugar soaring and your energy freewheeling.

But very soon after, your blood sugar will drop dramatically. You'll feel even more tired, irritable, and lacking in focus. Then the cycle starts again as you guiltily tuck into another biscuit.

This is because simple sugars and carbohydrates contain what's called a high glycaemic index (GI).

To feel energised for longer, you should therefore charge your plate with these foods instead:

  • Lean protein: Quinoa, eggs, chicken, fish, tofu, turkey, and beef.
  • Low GI carbohydrates: Oats, wholegrain carbohydrates, lentils, sweet potato, quinoa, and bulgar wheat.
  • Protection foods: Colourful vegetables and fruits, healthy fats from nuts, avocado, olive oil, and seeds.

Fact or fiction? All high GI foods are unhealthy.

Fiction! Fresh watermelon has a high GI whilst chocolate cake has a low GI.3

Keen to recharge your plate?

1. Drink more water!

With all the caffeine, alcohol, and sugary drinks people consume, dehydration is commonplace. Replacing these drinks with water will rehydrate your body, brain, and organs and is a quick fix to help you stay focused and energised. Find water boring? Squeeze in some citrus or infuse with mint, cucumber, or ginger.

2. Eat little and often

In an ideal world, your energy levels should not fluctuate excessively during the day. If you are eating large platefuls and second helpings at lunch or in the evenings, try changing your habits to maintain consistent energy levels: four lighter meals mean fewer slumps.

3. Cut caffeine - slowly

Caffeine has addictive properties and cutting it out quickly can cause headaches4. Instead, cut down slowly, replacing coffee with tea or herbal drinks.

4. Save carbs for active times

Complex carbohydrates are useful when your body needs fuel to be physically active, for example when you're doing sport, housework, or gardening. Limit or cut down carbs unless you need the fuel for exercise and replace them with other vegetables, healthy fats, or proteins.

5. All white? Not alright!

Choose high-fibre brown and wholegrain bread, pasta, and rice over the white alternatives and swap sugary granola for porridge with cinnamon or apple puree.

6. Switch your spuds

While leaving the peel on your potatoes helps retain nutrients and fibre, an even better option is to swap them for sweet potatoes, which count as one of your five a day and contain huge amounts of vitamin A and complex carbs.

7. Swap bad fats for good fats

Most people's diet should include some fat for a healthy heart5 6. Opt for plant oils (olive, groundnut, sunflower) where possible and try exchanging butter and cheese for peanut butter or avocados.

8. Get colourful

Aim for 30 portions7 of fruit and veg over seven days in a range of colours. Leafy greens for magnesium and iron, butternut squash for beta-carotene, blackberries for antioxidants. Colour is key when it comes to nutrients.

9. Exchange fatty meat for oily fish

While undoubtedly tasty, the fats naturally found in pork, beef and lamb are less healthy than those in mackerel, tuna, and salmon, which contain magical omega 3 fatty acids that have been shown to decrease inflammation and fatigue.

10. Choose "super" foods

Some foods contain so much energy, they should always make up part of your diet. Lentils, for example, are full of protein, fibre, and iron and are complex carbohydrates that will raise and more importantly - maintain - your energy for longer. Bananas also contain complex carbohydrates, potassium, and vitamin B6, which help energy production.

Did you know?

Under EU law the term 'Superfoods' cannot be used in marketing food or drink8