Do you ever think about how your body processes your lunch into energy to move, think and keep you alive 24/7?
The breakdown of macronutrients, protein, carbohydrates and fats, go through many processes, before they are converted to amino acids, glucose and fatty acids that the body can use as fuel. To do this the body needs many ‘co-factors’ to break down and build back up so if we don’t have a balanced diet, or face prolonged periods of stress, our energy can suffer. Here are some of the key nutrients to keep us energised:
Iron Is one of the more well known minerals linked to energy, in part due to lethargy being a symptom of it’s deficiency state, anaemia. Iron is not only needed by enzymes to process energy, but is required for oxygen transport around the body in our blood. Whilst the body can store and use iron for times when we don't consume enough, ultimately a deficiency will reduce our capacity to exercise and our immune system. Menstruating women have greater needs for iron than men, particularly those with heavy periods. Vegetarian sources of iron (called non-heme) such as beans, spinach and lentils are more poorly absorbed than animal sources (heme), e.g. meat, fish, seafood, so vegetarians are likely to need more.
B vitamins One or more of the B vitamins are involved in every aspect of generating energy within cells, and deficiency in any one B vitamin will have negative consequences. The cellular engines called ‘mitochondria’ within our cells need B vitamins which we must obtain from our diet, such as cereals, meat, fish, dairy and vegetables, the exception being B12, which we have to acquire from animal products. Because B vitamins are water soluble, they are less likely to be stored in the body, therefore we need a more consistent approach to consumption.
Magnesium This mineral supports over 300 enzymatic reactions in the body including energy formation, generating the active form of Vitamin D, as well as the making of our DNA. Magnesium is also crucial for our bones, nerves, and handling of blood sugar, it can help maintain our sensitivity to insulin, which if lost can lead to Type 2 Diabetes. It has the nickname ‘nature’s tranquilizer’, and is a useful supplement in insomnia, anxiety as well as weight management. High magnesium foods include dark leafy greens, seeds, beans, fish, whole grains, nuts, and dark chocolate.
Another mineral for enzyme reactions in energy production, but is also known for its role in immune function and wound repair. The loss of taste as a COVID symptom is thought to be from rapid use of zinc stores, and the use of zinc in the early stages of the common cold may reduce the duration and severity of symptoms. Zinc citrate can support energy and immunity. Food sources include red meat, oysters and mussels and for vegetarians, beans, peas and fortified foods.
Is another co-factor in energy production, and an antioxidant protecting the energy pathways from free radicals that may disrupt the conversion process. As such, CoQ10 is essential for the health of virtually all human tissues and organs supporting the immune system, physical performance and protecting our DNA from damage. Food sources include oily fish (such as salmon and tuna), organ meats (such as liver), and whole grains.
So, the quality as well as quantity of our food has a big role to play in maintaining and improving our health. A rainbow of colourful fruits and vegetables with lean meat and fish is a great place to start.