5 Superfoods for Energy (Part II)
As many of my guests on Field Notes: An Exploration of Functional Medicine Podcast, have mentioned so many times, Superfoods are basically foods that are much richer in nutrients and/or antioxidants than other foods and nourish your body with less bulk and fewer calories. In other words, they have more nutritional punch per ounce and calorie than other foods and provide both immediate and long-term energy increases. In…
- Spinach and other green vegetables
- Chia seeds
We now continue with…
4. Beets and Beet Juice
Switching colors from green to purple, our next superfood is one of the richest dietary sources of antioxidants. One of the most nutritious of the root vegetables happens to be the most colorful – beets. Their antioxidant properties come from phytonutrients called betalains. They’re also an excellent source of folate, manganese, and vitamin C. And they have one of the highest naturally occurring levels of nitrates.
Nitrates are compounds which improve blood flow throughout the body – including the brain, heart, and muscles. They work by raising levels of a molecule in the blood vessels called nitric oxide, which opens up blood vessels to increase circulation. That has the added benefit of lowering blood pressure. A recent study evaluating the effect of this improved blood flow in athletes found those who drank beet juice before workouts had increased stamina by 15% during intense exercise.
While eating cooked beets certainly provides huge nutritional benefits, an easier way to add beets to our diet may be to juice them. Drinking raw juice avoids any breakdown of vitamins and antioxidants during cooking.
While flavorful on its own, thanks to naturally occurring sugars, beets can be easily combined with carrots, apples, ginger, or greens to create a delicious superfood juice.
And now we come to everyone’s favorite superfood…chocolate! Yes, it absolutely IS a superfood. The only caveat is that to get the health benefits of chocolate avoid the candy bar and super sweet milk chocolates in favor of dark chocolate. The darker the better, but start with at least 70% or more cacao, and unsweetened chocolate is best. What makes chocolate a superfood? There are actually numerous ways.
The antioxidants (polyphenols and flavonoids) in dark chocolate help neutralize free radicals in your body and also keep blood vessels healthy by producing nitric oxide (like beets) to relax arteries which improves blood flow and reduces blood pressure.
This can also lead to increased energy. These and other compounds in dark chocolate appear to reduce inflammation, lower bad cholesterol (LDL), and significantly reduce the risk of cardiovascular death.
At least two recent studies demonstrated eating a small amount of dark chocolate 2+ times a week lowered risk of cardiovascular disease by at least 50%. Chocolate has also been shown to lower cortisol, a stress hormone associated with increased appetite and weight gain, and may also help improve blood flow to the brain that boosts cognitive performance and elevates your mood.
Amazingly, chocolate has a decent amount of fiber, iron, magnesium, and other trace minerals that help increase energy and your overall health. So go ahead, eat more chocolate! As in all things, in moderation, of course. Your body and taste buds will thank you.
All the above superfoods will help you feel better, and more energized. At the same time, you’ll enjoy, like us at Seaworthy Functional Medicine, the added health benefits they provide with all their super nutrients. Packed with fiber, they’ll keep your blood sugar from spiking and help you avoid a dip in energy, which usually happens when your “energy” drink wears off.
Your overall alertness will improve, so you can stay focused, even if you’re working on a computer all day. Start fueling up with these and other superfoods to keep your energy up and stress level down. No doubt, these healthy and delicious foods will help you think more clearly and focus more on what’s important to you – your job, your family, and your life.
-Dr. Rob Downey
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Rob Downey, MD, IFMCP
Dr. Rob Downey is a family practice MD and IFM Certified Practitioner. He grew up in Montana and has practiced medicine in Montana and Alaska for twenty-plus years. He loves living in Alaska. He takes joy in family time, whole food, mindfulness, running, skiing, cycling, fishing, rafting, reading, poetry, road trips and listening to music (with an everlasting soft spot for loud alternative/rock-and-roll). He finds functional medicine endlessly fascinating for its ability to transform lives into radiant vitality. If you don’t find him at his clinic, or by a window at home, with a hot beverage and a book, you will find him out-of-doors.