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Arthritis Today

Eat Right for Energy

When you’re fighting chronic pain, depression and too little sleep, you need easy ways to boost your energy. Start with how – and what – you’re eating.

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There are many reasons your energy may flag throughout the day: medication side effects, pain that wears you out, depression, poor sleep from the night before and even inactivity. But you may be surprised to learn that some of your eating habits can sap your energy, too. Get on the right track with these smart eating tips for an energy boost.

Don't go hungry. The body needs energy to expend energy. That's why when you skip meals, or wait too long to eat, you can feel unfocused or lethargic.

"When you skip, you're simply not fueling your body enough," says Lona Sandon, assistant professor of clinical nutrition at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas. Plus, she adds, “when you're hungry, you get irritated and that can exacerbate fatigue."

Eat breakfast. People who eat breakfast tend to eat healthier. In one large study published in 2008 in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers found that breakfast eaters tend to eat healthier meals and fewer calories over the course of a day. Women in the study who ate breakfast weighed less.

Pass on the sweet stuff. Sugary cereals, sweet pastries and high-calorie coffees will give you a quick jolt of energy, but at a cost. The sugar burns off quickly, leaving you lethargic, says Thomas Namey, MD, a rheumatologist and professor of medicine at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville.

"Simple carbohydrates can cause a tremendous up-shoot in serum insulin," Dr. Namey says. "The rapidly falling blood sugar contributes to a down swoop energy and burn out."

Fill up on fiber. Several studies shows its many benefits, potentially helping people live longer and with less inflammation. But eating fiber-rich foods, such as fruits and veggies and whole grains, plays a role in energy, too. Fiber helps the body slow the absorption of sugar, which will smooth out energy highs and lows, Dr. Namey says.

Pump iron. Iron helps your body build healthy red blood cells, which carry oxygen to the organs and muscles. When the brain, for example, isn't getting enough oxygen, you may not feel sharp and you may feel fatigued. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), can cause low iron, as can having rheumatoid arthritis (RA). So get plenty of lean-protein, such as meat, poultry and fish, which are the best sources of iron.

Ask your doctor about vitamin B. You may benefit from a B vitamin supplement, as many seniors and people with RA are deficient in certain forms of this vitamin. B vitamins help the body convert carbohydrates into fuel, which is why being low in one or more may cause you to feel drained.

Drink plenty of water. "When you're even just a little bit dehydrated, your body isn't functioning properly," Sandon says. "You can feel fatigued." How much water should you get? That depends on you. Water needs vary considerably from person to person and most research suggests you use thirst as a sign you need to drink. But try to drink water to rehydrate. Avoid sugary drinks like sodas, Sandon says, as well as energy drinks, which may be high in sugar and caffeine.

Choose wisely at bedtime. Make sure the food you're eating isn't causing you to get less sleep. Spicy foods or high-fat foods, as well as orange juice and carbonated beverages can cause indigestion and heartburn. Avoid evening treats like chocolate that contain caffeine. And drinking alcohol may make you fall asleep faster, but alcohol can disrupt sleep, too.

Even perfect eating habits won't solve all your energy problems, Dr. Namey says. But adopting better practices may help you feel better and put some pep back in your step.

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