VitaJab

Wellness Centre

Optimising diet to deliver more stable energy levels throughout the day.

Energy

Miniseries: Stable energy through a low GL plant based diet (2 of 5)

Evaluating our dietary intake and the balance of macro-nutrients we ingest is the best place to start when trying to stabilise our energy levels. There are three macronutrients in our diets; fat, which has 9 calories per gram, and Carbohydrates and Proteins which both have 4 calories per gram. Adjusting the proportional intake of these 3 macronutrients can have an amazing impact on our bodies, both for good and bad depending on where this balance is struck… 

Fats and proteins have a low glycemic load (GL) and carbohydrates, depending on the type, have a higher GL. Glycaemic load is best explained as how quickly a food delivers its energy from a set portion after ingestion. Complex carbohydrates have a medium GL as they take longer to break down in the stomach than simple carbohydrates, such as sugars. Simple carbohydrates and sugars are absorbed more quickly into the blood stream, therefore they have a high GL. 

Depending on the caloric value and GL, different foods contain and deliver glucose, the prime and preferred energy source of our bodies, at different rates and in different quantities. Depending on the GL of a meal and the level of activity or exercise in the hours surrounding it, we can feel anywhere on the ‘energy’ spectrum from energised and awake to lethargic and docile. 

Raisins are a good example of a high GL food as the energy they contain is quickly and readily available upon eating a portion. If all of the energy contained within the portion is not utilised and burned within a short period of time the body will convert the excess calories and glucose into fat. A high intake of foods with a high GL predominantly results in excessive fat storage around the hips or ‘love handles’. This is associated with insulin resistance and the development of type II diabetes when consumption of high GL foods is regular and persistent. 

The body needs insulin to lower blood sugar levels and when large and/or regular amounts of high GL foods are consumed insulin is found in abundance in our blood stream. The problem with this, alongside the long-term risk of diabetes, is that insulin makes us feel ‘tired’. It also stimulates us to consume simple, sugary foods in response to its effects of lowering blood sugar; this is usually why we can fancy a snack before lunchtime after having toast, cereal or other medium to high GL meals for breakfast. The same can occur mid-afternoon too if lunch has been relatively high GL. As such so begins, or continues, the rollercoaster of peaks and troughs of blood sugar and insulin, and the associated feelings of ‘having energy’ and then being tired. 

A food with a lower GL delivers its energy over a longer period of time and in a more controlled manner. It is less likely to result in an increase in fat storage, obesity and type II diabetes. This is especially true for healthy fats and at this point we can dispel the myth that eating healthy fats causes us to become fat! It is, however, important to remember that 1g of fat contains 2.5 times more calories than 1g of carbohydrates and proteins. So, as long as we don’t consume a caloric excess through too much healthy fat we won’t produce fat and gain weight. 

Examples of low GL foods include vegetables, nuts, whole grains and high quality plant based proteins. Consumption of these foods does not result in a rollercoaster of blood sugar and insulin levels, as they don’t contain simple carbohydrates and sugars. We don’t, therefore, experience the dramatic range of un-necessarily high and then low energy levels. Providing our bodies receive enough calories through lower GL foods we will have:

-   enough energy to function well and consistently throughout our busy days

-   a more stable blood sugar

-   a higher sensitivity to the insulin we produce and hence a lower risk of diabetes

-   a more consistent and controlled feeling of ‘energy’ throughout each day

In summary, the best way to avoid feeling tired through the day and to have sufficient energy is to eat a balanced diet that contains a much higher proportion of low GL food sources compared to high GL. Avoid 'white carbs'; typically white rice, white bread, potatoes and pasta, all of which are relatively sparse in vitamins and nutrients too. Opt for smaller portions of wholegrain rice and pasta, or choose sweet potato; be aware however that some wholegrain breads are higher GL than white bread! Vegetables are the perfect source of lower GL carbohydrates; serve these with high quality plant based proteins and select a limited amount of healthy fat so as not to consume too many calories by accident in line with your daily calorie needs.