24 ENERGY BOOSTING FOOD COMBOS THAT WORK AND WHY (PT. 2)
In continuation of the first part, the following article sheds light on optimizing energy levels and provides suggestions on how to pair foods for sustained energy throughout the day. Tips for enhancing digestion, sleep, and reducing the risk of developing insulin resistance are also discussed below.
Part 1 explores the basic principles governing energy metabolism and the connection between our diets and energy levels.
24 Food Combos for Better Overall Energy Levels
It is one thing to understand how our metabolism works, yet it is quite another thing to put it all together.
Below are 24 food combos and suggestions for optimizing your energy levels throughout the day and improving night-time sleep quality.
Substitute Processed Food with Whole (Real) Food
Before one even considers food combos for balancing energy levels, it should be understood that the best thing one can do from a dietary viewpoint is to substitute processed foods with whole foods. Unlike minimally processed foods such as whole-wheat bread and yogurt, highly processed foods contain unnatural quantities of sugars, salts, and additives, which promote erratic energy levels while lacking the nutrients required for the right balance.
Overcoming Processed Food Addiction. For very similar reasons, these foods are typically highly addictive. Their stimulating effects promote rapid fluctuations in cellular metabolism that lead to requiring more of them for less benefit.
1. Helpful suggestions for limiting dietary processed foods, and their negative health effects, include:
- Trade processed sweets for whole fruit
- Consume a balanced (whole food) meal before opting for a processed treat
- Swap a portion of processed grain (e.g., pasta, bread) for high-fiber veg
- Indulge in healthy fats when craving fatty foods (nuts, avocado, seeds)
- Try to make what you crave to eat at home with better, healthier ingredients
Fruit Combos for the Glucose-Wise
Higher whole fruit consumption in the context of a balanced diet is usually associated with disease prevention and overall improved vitality. Fruit is a main dietary source of fiber, vitamin C, minerals, antioxidants, and fructose.
Fructose Promotes Cellular Glucose Uptake. The fructose content of fruit has been a source of contention amongst health advocates, as pure fructose is known to be potentially more detrimental to health than other forms of sugar. This is partly due to the way in which fructose intensifies the effect of other highly glycemic foods by increasing glucose uptake by the cell and promoting insulin resistance in the liver. In light of this, fruit is best consumed in its whole, unprocessed form, and in moderation.
Fruits Associated with Diabetes Risk. In a large follow-up study of an Asian population, tropical and subtropical fruits have been associated with increasing the risk for diabetes. Fruits of this kind were implicated in increasing the risk in women, whereas those with a high glycemic index elevated the risk in men. These include mango, pineapple, dates, cantaloupe and any dried fruit in large quantities. Similar results have been seen across other studies with regard to tropical fruit, dried fruit, cantaloupe and cardiometabolic disease.
With the above in mind, useful fruit combos for better energy sustenance include:
2. Trade Dried Fruit and Fruit Juice for Fresh Fruit. Consuming sweetened fruit juices or large amounts of dried fruit is associated with hyperglycemia and an increased risk of diabetes and cardiometabolic diseases. When whole fresh fruits are consumed as snacks instead, they tend to reduce the risk of acquiring these health conditions as well as improve insulin sensitivity and glucose control. This is especially true of fruit with a low glycemic load. 100% freshly squeezed (unsweetened) fruit juice has consistently shown to have a neutral effect on blood glucose levels and, with added fiber, has been shown to reduce fasting and postprandial blood glucose levels. By comparison, the benefits of fresh fruit still far exceed that of 100% fruit juice with added fiber.
3. Pairing Temperate Fruit with Starch. In line with the above study, these fruits are likely to be more of a concern when paired with hyperglycemic foods (such as rice), despite containing many healthful nutrients that are potent regulators of blood glucose and cellular oxidation. Foods high in starch are known to spike blood glucose levels post-consumption, which may be increased in the presence of high fructose fruits. One study found that when rice is consumed with temperate fruits, the postprandial glycemic response is reduced.
4. Mixing Temperate and Tropical Fruits. As tropical fruit still contains vital nutrients such as vitamin C, it is important not to exclude them but to consume them in moderation. Pairing them with fruits associated with a reduced risk for diabetes can help. These include temperate fruits such as apples, pears, citrus (grapefruits), berries (blueberries, raspberries, grapes), avocados, and stone fruits (plums, peaches).
5. Adding Berries to High-Glycemic Snacks. Berries have been associated with inducing the lowest glycemic responses after consumption amongst all fruits, possibly due to containing higher levels of antioxidant polyphenols. It has more fiber and fewer carbohydrates compared to other fruits. In this respect, adding berries to highly glycemic foods can help to keep energy levels balanced.
6. Replacing Sweet with Tropical Fruits. As tropical and subtropical fruits tend to contain higher levels of sugar coupled with essential nutrients, they may make ideal replacements for sweet foods that would otherwise unbalance one’s metabolism. These can be safely paired alongside low glycemic fruits and vegetables, nuts, and protein sources (low in starch or other simple sugars).
Rounding Out Meals for Health
The best combination for any meal is variety and balance.
7. Think in Colors, Not Carbs. The more variety in main meals, the better for overall health and energy levels. Adding fats, fiber, or protein to other carbs typically reduces blood glucose levels and helps to boost overall energy. Furthermore, the micronutrients in foods, including the flavonoids that dictate flavor and color, slow down carbohydrate digestion, regulate mitochondrial and microbiome function, lessen blood sugar spikes and help to optimize metabolism. Before the turning of the 21st century, high-carb diets (low in calories) were pushed as being intrinsically healthy. Recent research indicates that diets higher in carbs tend to elevate blood glucose levels and perpetuate obesity more than diets that facilitate an optimal balance between macronutrients. According to studies, the amount of carbohydrates in the diet should be similar to the amount of fats and proteins for optimal metabolism.
8. Eat Soluble Fiber with Every Meal. Low fiber intake is closely associated with hyperglycemia, higher insulin levels, and increased risk for metabolic diseases. Studies show that including even a small amount of fiber with snacks or meals can lower postprandial blood glucose levels , whereas meals lacking vegetable fiber result in higher glucose and insulin levels. Fiber can serve to lower delayed hyperglycemia that often occurs when fats and proteins are consumed (especially together). When sources of fiber were compared, water-soluble fiber proved to be superior to insoluble fiber in this regard. Sources high in soluble fiber include fresh fruit, vegetables, sprouts, microgreens, and mucilaginous seeds after soaking. Soluble fiber often provides a substrate for gut bacteria as well, which serves to regulate nutrient absorption and strengthen the gut barrier.
9. Pairing Nuts and Seeds with Snacking Fruits. While fruit is indeed a healthy snack, it may not be the best for sustained energy over several hours. High glycemic fruit can cause a blood sugar spike, while low glycemic fruit generally does not increase blood glucose levels adequately. Irrespective of the magnitude, the glycemic response to fruit alone also tends to die down in the early postprandial phase, between 1-2 hours after consumption. Pairing fruits with a healthy form of fat is a great way to balance the initial increase in blood glucose levels while promoting longer energy sustenance, as fats are associated with peaks in blood glucose levels 3-5 hours after consumption. Nuts and seeds are a great choice as they contain many healthy fats, fat-soluble vitamins and trace minerals; all of which have been shown to regulate blood glucose levels, reduce cellular oxidative stress, and keep overall metabolism on track. 
10. Upping Resistant Starch for Slower Glucose Release. Meals high in starch are known to provoke hyperglycemia as starch contains large amounts of complex sugars that are rapidly digested in the long intestine. A subset of starch is resistant to digestion, known as resistant starch. Like fiber, resistant starch requires gut bacteria for its digestion and is associated with regulating blood glucose and energy levels by increasing the bacterial production of short-chain fatty acids and other nutrients in the colon. All starchy foods contain some degree of resistant starch, with green bananas, legumes and cold starchy foods offering some of the highest levels (5-15%) . Cooked high-starch foods, when cooled, can contain increased resistant starch content. A small amount of fat also gets paired in the process. Yet this increase is often very minimal (0.5-1%). One should still consume starchy foods in moderation for balanced glucose and energy metabolism.
11. Pairing Whole Grains with Fiber and Vinegar. Unprocessed grains still retain the husk, which increases the protein content, and contributes towards shielding the starch of the grain from breaking down in the upper portion of the digestive tract. However, the proteins in the husk are generally more resistant to digestive enzymes than other proteins. Digestibility of these proteins can be enhanced through prior soaking of the grain or spouting the grain, adding adequate amounts of vegetable fibers to the meal and using vinegar as a condiment. Soaking or sprouting the grain may decrease the protein content and increase the availability of sugars, some of which may be rapidly absorbed in the beginning of the meal. Vinegar can aid in slowing down this absorption by inhibiting salivary enzymes, while the protein content can stimulate insulin secretion in advance and prepare the metabolism for a rise in glucose. Pre-germinated grains and whole grain consumption have been associated with reduced postprandial glycemic responses and reduced diabetes risk .
12. Pair Healthier Fats with Carbs. Consuming a small amount of fat with a starchy meal or prior (with fiber) has been shown to slow digestion and reduce postprandial glycemia. Healthier cooking oils such as olive oil and dietary fats like omega-3s proved to be more effective in this regard than other fat types, possibly due to containing a higher level of antioxidant nutrients.   It is possible that fats associated with increased inflammation may contribute to delayed postprandial hyperglycemia. It should be remembered that fermentable fibers increase the production of essential short-chain fats and are required for balanced fat intake as well.
13. Adding Dried Fruit to Starch-Heavy Meals. Small amounts of dried fruit paired with starch-heavy foods like rice or bread proved to lower the post-meal glycemic response. The results were enhanced with the addition of almonds. Dried apples, cranberries, raisins, and other berries are among some of the best in this regard due to their antiglycemic properties.
14. Swapping Condiments for Probiotic Foods. Condiments can easily be traded for less refined probiotic foods that promote nutrient production and optimal absorption. Commercial ketchup, mayonnaise, and pickled vegetables often contain sweeteners and other additives that can interfere with optimal digestion, promote inflammation and lead to fluctuations in blood glucose and energy levels. These can be swapped for homemade tomato sauce, plain yogurt, healthy fats like olive oil, vinegar, and properly fermented vegetables.
15. Seafood, Dairy, or Nuts with Cruciferous Vegetables. Chronic high consumption of cruciferous vegetables has been known to decrease thyroid hormone output due to the presence of goitrogens. As thyroid hormone surges regulate whole body cellular metabolism by peaking energy production, high goitrogen intake can lower energy levels in the long run and increase the risk for thyroid disease. Pairing nutrients known to improve thyroid hormone production with cruciferous vegetables can help to promote stable thyroid function and balanced energy levels in the long term. These include iodine, selenium and zinc, which can be found in moderate quantities in oily fish, seaweed, nuts and dairy products (to a lesser extent). Even when paired in this way, cruciferous vegetables ought to be consumed in moderation to protect thyroid health. Despite this, they also offer a wealth of antioxidant nutrients that can help to regulate mitochondrial function.
Selective Food Sequencing
Concerning meal consumption, the order of the day is as important as the contents.
16. Fiber-Rich Starter Before Main Meal. Studies show that ingesting a fiber-rich starter can help prepare the metabolism for the main meal. The starter should be small as well as high in soluble vegetable and/or fruit fiber with moderate amounts of fat and/or protein (relative to the fiber content). This typically includes soups and salads. The fiber coats the gut, which can improve nutrient absorption, while the fat and protein serve to slow down digestion and stimulate the release of insulin prior to consuming a larger meal. A 2.5-year study observing diabetics revealed that consuming fruit and vegetables prior to high-starch foods such as rice improved postprandial blood glucose and insulin levels in both diabetics and those with normal glucose tolerance. In healthy people, this proved to prevent hyperglycemia and keep glucose levels within a healthy range. Similar results were seen in studies that tested main glycemic meals that included bread or potatoes.
17. Breaking Main Meals Down into Smaller Courses. Evidence suggests that breaking down a main meal into smaller portions and using meal courses to layer one’s nutrient intake improves digestion, helps to guide the metabolism, and lowers the risk for hyperglycemia. It has been proposed that a nutrient sequence for optimal blood glucose levels could look something like this:
- 1st Course (Prebiotics): Fiber-rich foods high in water first, including vegetables, soups, seed sprouts, and ferments
- 2nd Course (Proteins): Dairy, fish, egg, meat products, or soy (tofu, tempeh) with vegetables
- 3rd Course (Starches): Whole sprouted and cooked legumes, grains, and/or starchy vegetables
18. Coupling Protein with Fiber at Breakfast. What we consume and when has an additive impact on our metabolic responses towards subsequent meals as well as on overall metabolism throughout the day. Our first meal of the day breaks the fasting our bodies undergo during sleep (breakfast). After breakfast, the liver stores less ingested glucose by comparison to the second meal of the day, resulting in a greater glycemic response to carbs consumed during the first meal of the day. Higher protein and fiber intake during the first meal of the day has been shown to lessen postprandial glycemic responses evoked from the second meal as well. In this respect, the first meal of the day could contain a healthy balance of fiber and digestible proteins, such as those contained within low glycemic whole grains, nuts, seeds, and fruits. Yogurt or fruits high in digestive enzymes can help to facilitate optimal absorption and contribute towards stabilizing blood glucose levels until the following meal.
19. Eating the Main Meal in Daylight Hours. Studies have consistently shown that eating the main meal earlier in the day lessens the peak glycemic response by comparison to having it at dinner time. Splitting dinner into smaller meals spread over the course of the evening also proved to lower the glycemic response , as opposed to consuming the bulk of one’s nutrients in one go. By consuming less during the evening, one helps to better prepare the metabolism for switching into the fasting state. It also lessens the impact of late postprandial blood glucose spikes that otherwise can keep one awake right when one wants to fall asleep (3-5 hours after eating).
20. Drink Water 30 mins Before or After Meals. Drinking water with food appears to increase the glycemic response to food, resulting in higher blood glucose levels after the meal.  Drinking water 30 mins before a balanced meal has been shown to help lower postprandial hyperglycemia and improve symptoms in diabetic patients. This may not apply to meals very high in starch, as drinking water 30 mins or less before consuming rice is often used as a reference for a heightened glycemic response in studies.
21. Drinking Herbal Tea, Lemon, or Vinegar Water Before Meals. Ingestion of either lemon or vinegar water before a meal has been shown to reduce postprandial glycemic responses.   This is attributed to their ability to inhibit salivary enzymes, delay carbohydrate digestion, promote healthy microbial activity and lower inflammation. Herbal teas and spices rich in polyphenols pose very similar digestive effects as well as antioxidant effects. These include green tea, hibiscus, chamomile, and cinnamon water. These are best to consume 30 mins prior to starchy meals.
22. Wait for Food to Cool. Aside from increasing the level of resistant starch in food after cooking a meal, food at the ideal temperature supports overall digestion. Ingesting a cool starter can be an ideal way to wait for the main meal to reach an ideal temperature.
23. Eat Slowly and Do not Stress. When eating, it is best to take your time and go about it in a relaxed manner. This facilitates optimal digestion and encourages more stable energy levels after the meal. Eating too quickly makes meal times more stressful and has been associated with an increase in postprandial glycemia. Excess stress promotes liver glucose production and has the potential to increase both fasting and postprandial blood glucose levels. These factors can promote the release of liver glucose even during a meal, where food-derived glucose ought to inhibit liver glucose production. Moreover, chronic stress interferes with digestion and is associated with reduced nutrient absorption and microbial diversity in the gut. Hence, long-term stress can exacerbate hyperglycemia and serve to unbalance the metabolism.
24. Going for a Walk after a Meal has been shown to reduce the rise in post-meal blood glucose in a small study. Those that consumed foods or beverages lower in carbohydrates exhibited the best blood glucose levels 2 hours after eating and going for a brisk 30 min walk.
Our state of health is affected by both what we eat and how we eat. Bodily energy metabolism is a tightly regulated process that is affected by the nutrient composition of the diet, the timing of meals, the health of the gut, sleep quality, physical activity, and the stress levels of the individual. The balance and timing of macronutrients, as well as the proportion of micronutrients, affects the pace and efficiency at which energy is produced and used. Food combinations can help improve our energy levels by streamlining this process. Cultivating an optimal daily energy balance offers accumulative benefits that reduce the risk of acquiring metabolic diseases, improve the quality of sleep, and may also promote longevity.
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