A nutritional therapist on how parents can get more energy from their diet
If a coffee and a croissant are your default antidote to the exhaustion induced by modern parenting, you may need to think again.
Our over-reliance on caffeine and sugar can quickly lead to a spiral of low energy and stress.
Certified Nutritional Therapist Catherine Kenneally shares her top tips for eating well for more energy.
“So many parents feel like they’re constantly chasing their tails” says Catherine. “Even just getting up and getting yourself ready and getting the kids to school creates stress hormones, so you can become low in things like B vitamins and magnesium. The body will use the vitamins and minerals to make the stress hormones. Over time, you’ll find you’re becoming more tired. Then you’ll often start craving sugar, caffeine or salt to increase energy artificially. This leads to more stress and more vitamin and mineral deficiency. But, there’s a lot that you can do in terms of diet to cope with stress and the stress reaction to a busy lifestyle and also to help bring the energy levels up.”
1. Curb cravings
Cravings are a typical side-effect of low energy, but, as Catherine explains, different cravings call for a different nutritional response.
“If someone comes into me and they’ve got a lot of sugar cravings, they need to make sure they’re eating breakfast and having protein with breakfast. Often when you make those changes, it helps to keep your blood sugars balanced, so you’re not getting as much of a sugar craving. So, it’s more about eliminating the cravings rather than locking away the sugar!
“Salt craving is also pretty common if you have a lot of ongoing stress. In that case, it’s about supporting the stress system with B vitamins and minerals like magnesium. Often people can’t remove the source of stress in their lives, so you need to support your body while you’re going through that stress.”
2. Eat regularly and often
When you’re rushing around, the temptation to skip meals, especially breakfast, is something to be avoided, Catherine advises.
“Eating regularly is really, really important. Initially, if you’re feeling quite tired, it’s good to aim to eat five times a day. So, that’s breakfast, lunch and dinner and two protein-rich snacks: one mid-morning and one mid-afternoon.”
3. Pack in protein
“It’s important to have some protein at each meal,” Catherine advises. “A good protein-based snack would be a handful of nuts and a piece of fruit. Try options like almonds, which have calcium or walnuts, which have Omega 3. A natural yogurt is a great snack or try hummus with raw carrot sticks. That’s great to support the liver and hormone balancing.”
4. Add a superfood
While some superfoods might seem faddy, Catherine believes that things like Chia seeds and goji berries are packed with nutrients and very easy to add to the diet.
“Chia seeds have a lot of Omega 3 and a lot of calcium. They blend really well into smoothies or into porridge. You can also put them into your baking or make Chia Pudding for breakfast. That’s where you soak the seeds overnight – in milk or almond milk – and then put some fruit in and blend it together.
“Goji berries are very high in antioxidants and can be added to cereals or smoothies.”
5. Supplements for extra support
While each individual is different, Catherine says there are some supplements that are worth considering if your life is low in energy and high in stress.
“Generally, something like a good multivitamin supplement with a high content of B vitamins is very good for energy. Magnesium is also very good, particularly if you’re feeling tired and also a little frazzled. If sleep is poor, magnesium can be really useful. Magnesium is known as ‘nature’s spark plug’ because it has the benefit of giving you a bit of energy, but it also relaxes the body as well. It’s quite common for people to be deficient in magnesium.”
6. Be a super sipper
According to Catherine, dehydration is a big factor in fatigue.
“People should aim to have a minimum of two litres of water a day. What I recommend is that it’s better to sip water throughout the day, rather than having a big glass with a meal. As you sip, you’ll actually absorb more water.
I would recommend limiting caffeine-containing drinks to two cups per day, maximum. When we’re suffering from stress or anxiety, it’s better to take caffeine out altogether, as it generates a stress reaction in the body.”
7. Get more greens… and reds, yellows…
Catherine recommends five portions of vegetables a day.
“It sounds like a lot,” she admits, “but isn’t that hard to get in. If you think of veg sticks and hummus for your snack, loading up a sandwich with different coloured veg like rocket, or spinach, grated carrot, chopped pepper, cucumber, tomato, sweet corn. Having a cup of homemade soup with your lunch is a very good way to up your vegetable intake too. At dinner time, your plate should contain 50% vegetables, a quarter protein and a quarter carbohydrate. Vegetables have so many benefits and are full of fibre as well as vitamins and minerals.”
8. Quiet time for body and mind
A non-nutritional tip that Catherine believes works wonders is to find a precious few minutes to bring some calm to the body and mind.
“For mums and dad, it’s really important to try to take ten minutes every day to get a bit of headspace. Life is so busy. Even if it’s just going out for ten-minute walk on your own, it means your nervous system can relax and switch off, and the body can repair itself. Alternatively, deep breathing in a quiet environment for five minutes is also very beneficial and helps the body to relax and repair.”
Catherine Kenneally has a B.Sc in microbiology from UCC and a Diploma in Nutritional Therapy. She is a member of Nutritional Therapists of Ireland (NTOI) and the British Association of Nutritional Therapists (BANT). She runs Nutritionworks in Waterford and Cork.