In light of the stress caused by the pandemic, most of us can agree that we frequently feel uninspired, low on energy, and sometimes experience brain fog. Keeping energy levels high depends on the quality of food you're eating. Whole, plant-based foods are converted to long-lasting energy that you can burn all day long, whereas simple carbs are quickly burned and may cause you to crash early on in the day. According to Harvard Health, the best kind of food for energy is "a balanced diet that includes a variety of unrefined carbohydrates, proteins, and fats, with an emphasis on vegetables, whole grains, and healthy oils."

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Whether you want to get your morning off to a positive healthy start or you need a mid-afternoon pick-me-up, these seven healthy foods will boost your energy and have you dancing through the day in no time.

1. Beets

It seems appropriate to have beets as the first item on this energizing list. Officially known as beetroots, these popular dark reddish-purple root vegetables are enjoyed worldwide. There are numerous health benefits to eating beets and they are a great way to keep your energy up. In fact, many athletes eat beets specifically because of their energy-boosting abilities. Nitrates occur naturally in beets, which in turn can help improve the productivity of your body’s energy-producing cells called mitochondria. Beets are also packed with essential vitamins and minerals such as folate, magnesium, potassium, iron, fiber, and vitamin C while being low in calories.

This root veggie can be boiled, roasted, slow-cooked, pickled, or even eaten raw sliced thinly, or peeled with a peeler in twirly strips as a salad topper. Add roasted or cooked beets to tacos, over grains, as a side to rice noodles, or even whip them up in a smoothie.

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2. Oatmeal

This versatile whole grain breaks down to become energy that is slowly absorbed by your body throughout the day. Oatmeal and oats differ slightly and there are several different kinds. After the oats have been processed, the bran and germ remain intact and their high fiber content can help improve digestion. There are regular oats known as ‘old-fashioned’ oats or rolled oats, quick oats, instant oats, and steel-cut oats; it all goes back to how they are sliced in different ways after being steamed and flattened. Oats are a healthy complex carbohydrate, a good source of vitamins and minerals, contain protein, and help keep you full for longer. Many athletes are fans of oats and have been known to eat them before sports as they are slower to digest and will supply energy evenly.

Overnight oats are a popular breakfast in our home and there are numerous delicious recipes to choose from such as this one.

3. Lentils

Lentils are a staple in our home. These edible seeds from the legumes family are sometimes categorized by color. I prefer the organic orange lentils, often called red lentils (they look orange to me!). The most common lentils are brown lentils and other varieties are green, yellow, Puy, and tiny black ones called Beluga. Lentils are packed with protein (over 25 percent!) and perfect for vegans or vegetarians if you are looking to replace meat in your meals. Due to lentils fiber, complex carbohydrates, and source of iron that sends oxygen throughout your body, they are important for energy levels as well as metabolism. Their high fiber content slows down the process of turning carbs into glucose in the blood and helps prevent blood sugar spikes that leave you feeling tired. Lentils are also low in fat and calories making this energy-boosting food a nutritional powerhouse.

We eat red lentils plain they are so good! No need to soak them first, just rinse them off and boil them in water for about five minutes. (One cup of dry lentils to about 3 cups of water). Once cooked, I sprinkle with pink Himalayan salt. Want something more creative? Lentils are great in casseroles, stews, or Indian Dahl.

4. Bananas

Okay, come on, who doesn’t love bananas? But did you know this popular fruit also gives you loads of energy? Bananas can help improve energy levels because they are an excellent source of complex carbs and contain a good amount of fiber. They also contain potassium and vitamin B6, which can help improve energy. In addition to this, bananas contain amino acids and minerals to give you a boost. They are also a good natural source of sugar and are the perfect food to eat before a workout, hike, bike ride, or walk. Bananas may also help you feel more full so go on and make it a double banana day – have one first thing in the morning and later on as an afternoon snack.

Of course, you can just peel and eat, or click here for a Peanut Butter Banana smoothie recipe or here for an easy oatmeal vegan banana bread recipe.

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5. Nuts & Seeds

You likely already know that nuts and seeds are a good source of protein but they are also packed with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, healthy fats, and fibers. The nutrients in seeds are similar to those of nuts and eating a handful of them together not only tastes great but make a powerful snack. These small but mighty foods are convenient and can increase energy levels while providing a good amount of carbs for a sustained boost throughout the day. There are endless varieties to choose from such as walnuts, cashews, peanuts, almonds, pine nuts, pumpkin seeds, and sunflower seeds.

Eat ‘em plain out of the bag! Other options include sprinkling on top of a salad, baking them into healthy muffins or bread, on top of coconut yogurt, or in a power bar.

6. Sweet Potatoes

Our bodies digest sweet potatoes slowly because they are a complex carb packed with fiber, so once you eat them you will have a steady supply of energy moving forward. Having sweet potatoes for lunch could boost your energy all the way until dinner. This delicious and colorful root veggie contains antioxidants and is packed with fiber, minerals, and vitamins such as vitamin A, B, C, D. Sweet potatoes also have zinc, iron, and calcium and are good for your immune system while promoting gut health.

Some popular ways to eat sweet potatoes are mashed, baked whole in the oven, cut into wedges and baked, fried in an air fryer, or thinly sliced once cooked on toast with avocado. Sweet potatoes are also delicious in wraps and salads.

7. Dark Leafy Green Veggies

Leafy greens such as spinach or kale will promote energy for several reasons. First off they are high in iron, loaded with antioxidants, fiber, and folic acid. Secondly, they contain vitamins A, C, E, and K. Vitamin C helps your body absorb the iron making it a total win for green leafy vegetables. Other dark green leafy veggies to try are Swiss chard, collard greens, and mustard greens – all of which are also a rich source of chlorophyll and low in calories.

While a big hearty salad is an obvious choice, you can also whip up a kale smoothie with at least one cup of healthy greens. Click here for one of our favorites.

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