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Energy through diet

Gemma Hurditch from the College of Naturopathic Medicine gets your energy going

interfere with our ability to absorb nutrients from grains, nuts, legumes and seeds. Where possible soak nuts and sprout seeds.

We all have busy lives and, with the huge selection of foods available, it’s useful to know what to choose for abundant energy. Our diet, even a vegan one, can be ‘unhealthy’ if we choose foods too high in calories and too low in nutrients – chips and doughnuts… a vegan junk food diet. What foods should we favour for increased energy? What foods should we avoid?

Calories

One of the key issues with a vegan diet can be lack of calories. Our calories come from our macronutrients – fats, carbohydrates and proteins. At the most basic level, calories are what provides our body with the ability to make energy. It is not quite as simple as that, as all calories aren’t created equal, but at the end of the day if you’re living on fruit and vegetables and little else, it is quite possible you’re not getting enough calories to supply the energy your body needs to survive and thrive. Make sure nuts, seeds, avocados, olive oil and other plant fats and oils, legumes and whole grains make up a good portion of your meals. It could be worthwhile using an app to input a couple of ‘typical’ eating days to get an idea of the calories you’re consuming.

For most of us, 2,000-2,500kcal is about right – adjusted accordingly for your weight and fitness goals. Of course, if you’re overweight, opting for more vegetables, particularly non-starchy veg like spinach, broccoli, kale and courgette will help regulate your weight – assuming there are no underlying health issues. The closer we are to our optimum weight range, the more energy we have, as our body is in equilibrium.

Being underweight can be taxing, as we don’t have the energy reserves for prolonged physical activity and we’re more prone to micronutrient (vitamins and minerals) defi ciency if we’re not eating enough to provide these necessities.

Micronutrients

Vitamins and minerals, while not directly providing energy in the form of calories, do help in the production of energy and are vital in turning fats, proteins and carbohydrates into energy supplies. Key nutrients for energy production are B vitamins, biotin, vitamin C, magnesium, calcium, zinc, iron, chromium and copper. It’s important to focus on whole and unprocessed foods to get these nutrients. Processing is a huge problem as it reduces the nutrient content of most foodstuffs – with the exception of fortifi ed foods.

Fortifi cation is the introduction or replenishment of lost nutrients (albeit often with less bioavailable forms of the nutrients lost in the processing!). Nutrients we should consider in fortifi ed foods are calcium, vitamin D and vitamin B12. Check your dairy-free ‘milks’, cereals, juice and nutritional yeast products and boost your nutrients with fortifi ed varieties.

It’s also worth checking whether poor energy levels are due to iron defi ciency, low vitamin B12 or vitamin D levels. A yearly blood test through a GP helps keep an eye on these key factors that can be lacking in a vegan diet. Chat to your naturopathic nutritionist about your results.

Nuts and seeds are particularly good for boosting minerals such as zinc – try pumpkin seeds, sunfl ower seeds, almonds and walnuts. Calcium is found in sesame seeds, so get spreading tahini and houmous. Shiitake mushrooms are a good source of copper and boost the immune system too, which, if a little sub-par, can contribute to low energy.

2-3 shiitake mushrooms daily, cooked in a little olive oil, is a therapeutic dose. Minerals are often more bioavailable when prepared by fermenting, soaking and sprouting – these processes reduce the phytate content of foods; phytates may interfere with our ability to absorb nutrients from grains, nuts, legumes and seeds. Where possible soak nuts and sprout seeds.

Blood sugar balance

One of the biggest energy zappers is wild blood sugar fluctuation. This phenomenon is why we can pig out on vegan doughnuts, or eat a terrific pile of jam on white bread, and then, after post-gorge fatigue, feel hungry again even though we’ve recently had a lot of calories.

When we eat high GL (glycaemic load) foods, they are rapidly digested. High GL foods are mainly made up of simple sugars with little or no other mitigating nutrients like fibre or protein, which can slow glucose release. A quick release of a lot of sugar into the bloodstream signals the pancreas to make insulin to get glucose molecules into cells and out of the bloodstream.

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About Vegan Food & Living Magazine

Still wondering what to have for your Christmas dinner this year? Look no further as we have plenty of festive inspiration waiting for you. From delicious options for Christmas dinner to Boxing Day brunch ideas, make your own chocolate and beauty gifts, and an alternative gift guide that will help you give experiences rather than 'things', we've got it all. Also this issue, we show you how to whip up a feast using just five ingredients per course, get creative with vegan sushi and celebrate Hogmanay in style. Plus we have all your nutritional needs covered with advice on how to get your immune system winter ready, what to eat to boost your energy and how to keep your heart healthy. Plus this issue comes with an exclusive 2020 Make A Difference Calendar. Get all this and much more in the December issue of Vegan Food & Living.