Until recently, I would wake up, set my Mr. Coffee, get ready for work, and pour my coffee into my to-go Thermos. I then proceeded to sip lukewarm dark roast for the rest of the day—literally. To say I was addicted is an understatement. But who wants to be a slave to a bean that taints water a sludgy brown color? Not me. That’s why I set out to uncover foods that could give me a steady stream of energy I needed to get me through busy days without stressing my system.
“At a certain point, excess caffeine intake can be a stressor to the body, causing an increase in hormones such as cortisol,” explains Erin Palinski-Wade, RD, CDE, author of Belly Fat Diet For Dummies. “These hormones can trigger fatigue instead of boosting energy. On top of that, many coffee drinks are packed full of added sugars, which cause blood sugar to spike and crash, draining energy.” Yikes!
Each of the foods on this list either naturally has caffeine or is high in energizing nutrients like fiber and B12. Although there’s no way we can really measure if they’re “better” than coffee, they certainly help to keep me energized now that I’m java-free. Read on to find out what they are so you, too, can overcome your coffee addiction. Or, at the very least, be less dependent on the stuff. And for more healthy eating tips, be sure to check out What Happens to Your Body When You Drink a Smoothie Every Day.
Their low glycemic index (the measurement of how quickly your body absorbs carbs and turns them into energy) makes a bowl of oats a good choice in lieu of that morning cup of joe. The complex carbohydrates in oatmeal will give you slow-burning fuel to keep you energized well into the late morning. Bonus: Oats boost the production of serotonin to help combat stress and enhance learning and memory function, making them a perfect option before that morning meeting or exam. Just be sure to stay away from flavored instant packets that are full of added sugar, and try one of our recipes in our list of 50 Healthy Overnight Oats Recipes for Weight Loss.
We’re not encouraging a morning mojito (though it’s surely 5 p.m. somewhere), but waking up to a cup of peppermint tea (try Choice Organic Peppermint tea, $3.69 at Vitacost.com) or chewing a stick of peppermint gum could be a good idea—especially if you need an energy boost. Researchers say the scent of peppermint increases alertness and decreases fatigue. Sniffing mint also aids weight loss! One study published in the Journal of Neurological and Orthopaedic Medicine found that people who sniffed peppermint every two hours lost an average of 5 pounds a month. That’s just one of the many reasons we named the brew one of our best teas for weight loss.
“Sesame seeds are rich in magnesium, a nutrient which helps convert sugar into energy,” Palinski-Wade tells us. “The fiber and healthy fat content help to stabilize blood sugar levels for sustained energy throughout the day. Try sprinkling them on a lunchtime salad or into a stir-fry for a boost of flavor and crunch.”
RELATED: No-sugar-added recipes you’ll actually look forward to eating.
Looking for a morning boost? Inhale the scent of cinnamon. The smell of this pantry staple has been shown to reduce fatigue. Sprinkle some into your morning oats for some extra morning oomph or breathe it in by adding a dash to a cup of hot tea.
Sometimes it’s best to get back to basics. When you’re feeling weary, check your water intake. Dehydration is one of the leading causes of lackluster energy. When your body doesn’t have enough water to carry out normal, everyday functions, it becomes difficult to maintain homeostasis—which leads to the all-too-common brain fog. Sip H2O or stir up fruity detox water for some added pep in your step.
“Dark chocolate is rich in theobromine, a natural stimulant similar to caffeine. Dark chocolate can also stimulate serotonin production, helping to elevate mood, which can provide an added energy lift, ” Palinski-Wade explains. “Enjoy one ounce as a snack along with a piece of fruit or mix a tablespoon of dark chocolate chips in with a bowl of air-popped popcorn for a sweet, energy-boosting treat.” We like Alter Eco Deep Dark Blackout, which is packed with antioxidants and low in sugar.
You might have noticed dates swapped out for sweeteners in some health-food recipes. There’s a reason they make a great replacement. The fruit has a naturally high sugar content—4.5 grams per one Medjool date. Because it’s natural and accompanied by fiber, you won’t feel a sudden spike or subsequent crash in glucose levels. Combine two of the tastiest foods that give you energy and spread some natural nut butter on one or two dates for a filling afternoon snack. Or try our Date Squares recipe!
“Beans are rich in complex carbohydrates, fiber, and protein, which promotes a slow, steady rise and fall in blood glucose levels, helping to stabilize energy levels,” Palinski-Wade explains. “In addition, the B-vitamin and iron content can provide an added energy boost. Enjoy a three-bean salad as an easy energy-boosting meal or roasted chickpeas as a snack.” We like The Good Bean Chickpea Snacks.
Sure, this sweet summer fruit is primarily water, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t double as one of our best foods that give you energy. Believe it or not, watermelon can actually help you stay wide-eyed and bushy-tailed. With 6 percent of your daily value of B6 per wedge and minerals like magnesium and potassium, it has naturally energy-boosting properties.
If you’re looking for a steady flow of energy throughout the day, adding some chia seeds to your smoothie could help. The ratio of protein, fat, and fiber makes it the perfect combination for stable energy release. A study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning found that eating chia seeds enhanced exercise performance for 90-minute workouts in a similar way that Gatorade does—but without the added sugar. Cha-ching! Consider sprinkling some chia seeds in your yogurt or making overnight chia pudding.
There’s a reason your mom told you to eat your broccoli. In addition to vitamin C and antioxidants, broccoli contains chromium, a mineral that helps regulate blood sugar. To ensure the florets remain up to par with the rest of our foods that give you energy, steam your greens instead of roasting it as scorching the veggie can deplete it of its energy-boosting benefits.
Who doesn’t love a perfectly ripe avocado? Whether you’re spreading it on toast or adding it to your breakfast omelet, it’s delicious. Even better news: It’s a major energy booster. Avocados are a source of healthy monounsaturated fats that the body can use for energy, and vitamin B, which naturally increases energy levels.
“Sardines are one of the richest sources of vitamin B12, a nutrient essential for helping to convert food into energy,” Palinski-Wade says. “In addition, the protein content can help stabilize blood sugar levels while the omega-3 fatty acids may help to reduce fatigue-inducing inflammation. Try enjoying these over a salad or eating alone as a snack.”
‘Kraut is far more than a hot-dog topping. The fermented cabbage product contains probiotics that help with gut health and improved digestion. And the right balance of gut flora can help combat low energy and sleep issues.
If you’re looking to boost your energy, add some spice to your life. Cardamom—which is found in curries and is the main flavor in chai tea—increases circulation and improves energy.
RELATED: The science-backed way to curb your sweet tooth in 14 days.
For a good afternoon refresher, consider including shrimp in your midday meal. Not only are shrimp low in calories (considering you don’t go fried), they also contain 21 percent of the day’s energy-boosting B12 in each 3-ounce serving.
For a steady source of morning energy, whip up a scramble—or go over-easy or sunny side up. No matter how you prepare them, eggs will provide you with sustained energy. In addition to being rich in protein—serving up about 7 grams a pop—eggs are rich in B vitamins including B1, B2, B6, and B12, which are essential for energy production.
The high vitamin B content in asparagus supports healthy energy levels by turning carbs into glucose. The low glycemic index of asparagus also means that its energy release is gradual and long-lasting—making these spears one of the best foods for energy to get you get through the day.
Along with almonds and hazelnuts, cashews are high in magnesium. Magnesium works to convert sugar to energy via glycolysis while protein helps keep you full. The copper content is also essential for energy production.
Protein might not be an immediate source of energy, but it does stave off hunger while blunting blood sugar spikes after a meal. Although not the best choice for instant energy, protein from lean meats or fish can act as a slower, longer-lasting energy source.
Cook more fish with our list of 61+ Best Healthy Fish Recipes for Weight Loss.