Good nutrition fuels healthy energy as you grow older

FOR THE BELLINGHAM HERALDMay 20, 2013 

While some people say energy is wasted on the young, Demetree Robinson says a healthy diet can ensure people don't lose energy as they grow older.

A Lynden-based certified holistic health coach, Robinson says diet can keep people feeling revitalized during the day and can help them lose weight, which also adds pep to their step.

The owner of NuHealth Holistic Wellness in Lynden, Robinson started herself down that road several years ago, along with vigorous regular exercise, including walking three miles at least five times a week. She says she still fights high blood pressure, but has been able to lower her medication dosage. She also lost more than 60 pounds just before her 70th birthday.

"It's just like putting the right fuel in a car," says Robinson, now 74. "You're not going to have the energy you need if you don't put the right fuel in."

EAT DARK GREENS

Robinson says dark greens - such as kale, collard and dandelion greens - are vitamin and mineral superstars that nourish the body. They're also one of the biggest gaps in the American diet.

In addition to vitamins, such greens are high in fiber, which helps to lower cholesterol and keeps eaters satisfied because they are so filling.

While the darkest greens are among the most nutritionally rich, spinach, broccoli and cabbage aren't far behind, she says. So if the darkest greens are too bitter, eat lighter greens or cruciferous vegetables, such as cauliflower or bok choy.

Despite their bitterness, Robinson says people shouldn't give up on a dark green such as kale after just one try. "Try it at least three times to see if your body adjusts to the new taste," she says.

Robinson says the easiest way to cook greens while keeping them nutritionally sound is to lightly stir fry them with a little garlic and olive oil. They can be cooked for five to seven minutes, which reduce bitterness. But cooking them much longer can reduce their vitamin and mineral content.

EAT PROTEIN IN THE MORNING

A combination of carbohydrates and protein can provide energy and keep you full throughout the day, Robinson says, as long as you eat complex carbohydrates from whole grains.

A good start at breakfast is warm porridge made with quinoa, an ancient grain with a perfect combination of protein and carbohydrates and a range of healthy amino acids. Robinson adds berries and nuts, and cow or nut milk is a good topper, too. The porridge can be eaten hot or cold.

For a quick breakfast, she suggests making a large batch of quinoa ahead of time, freezing it in single servings, and then defrosting some in the microwave in the morning.

Quinoa is a great blank slate - just add vegetables, a light dressing and nuts or seeds for an energizing lunch.

SNACK, BUT SNACK RIGHT

Robinson says healthy snacks include a little protein to keep you full, so you won't reach for seconds. She suggests two tablespoons of hummus with vegetables, dates stuffed with peanut butter, an apple with string cheese, or nuts or rice cakes and olives.

Make sure you drink water with your snack, she says, and consider adding lemon or cucumber to your water for calorie-free flavor.

Also, avoid sugary sodas, because they can spike your blood sugar, offering a temporary energy boost followed by an energy slump and a craving for another sugary drink.

BRAKE YOUR COFFEE BREAK

Caffeine isn't worth its short-lived energy burst, Robinson says. While some people say they need a boost of coffee or caffeinated soda in the morning, but Robinson says that's just a bandage on your daily nutritional deficit. Go without it, she advises, and don't use it as an afternoon pick-me-up, either.

"You'll be able to assess your own natural energy," Robinson says. "You can't do that if you're putting unnatural stimulants into your body."

Robinson says before you reach for a morning or afternoon caffeinated beverage, drink a glass of water instead to ward off dehydration, which can cause tiredness. Aim for at least eight glasses of water a day, to ensure your body has the fluids it needs to run smoothly.

If you're still tired, you likely need to focus on better nutrition, Robinson says.

Also, coffee can reduce the body's ability to absorb nutrients, such as calcium and magnesium.

BEWARE ENERGY DRINKS

The federal Food and Drug Administration has published several public warnings the past three years about additives to energy drinks. Often marketed to teens, energy drinks contain high amounts of caffeine and sometimes other stimulants, such as guarana, which can produce side effects such as nervousness and anxiety.

People with undiagnosed heart defects or heart disease are at risk for potential heart attacks from high amounts of caffeine, according to the FDA. Because energy drinks are considered "nutritional supplements," they can exceed the amount of caffeine allowed by the federal government in a 12-ounce soda. People who use energy drinks don't always realize how much caffeine they're taking in, which, can-for-can, can be double or triple the amount of a regular soda.

Robinson says that, years ago, her heart would race when she drank a nutritional diet supplement. She later learned from her doctor that an herbal supplement was the cause.

"I read things so much more carefully now," she says. "It's much better to juice a meal or have a homemade smoothie, so you know what you're getting in your drink."

DON'T EAT CLOSE TO BEDTIME

Robinson says people should eat dinner at least three to four hours before bedtime. She recommends a light dessert of fruit or yogurt right after dinner to stop any sugar cravings later in the evening. She typically has an apple after dinner as a treat.

Robinson says that approach helps the body to relax and get ready for a sound sleep, essential to waking up refreshed the next morning.

"Certain foods give you too much energy at night," she says. "You should be eating for energy during the day, but not at night. You want to slow down before you go to bed."


RECIPE: BREAKFAST COOKIES

Ingredients

For a morning pick-me-up, holistic health coach Demetree Robinson suggests these breakfast cookies, filled with protein-rich quinoa and walnuts and healthy grains.

11/2 cups rolled oats

1/2 cup coconut flakes

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 cup of quinoa flakes

1/2 cup walnuts, chopped

3/4 cup raisins or other dried fruit

*optional (1/4 cup of hemp seeds, you could add sunflower seeds or chia seeds)

3 ripe bananas, mashed

1/4 cup melted coconut oil

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, combine oats, quinoa flakes, nuts, coconut flakes and seeds. Stir in cinnamon. Add dried fruit and stir until well mixed. Make sure the dried fruit doesn't stick together in batches.

In another bowl, combine coconut oil, mashed banana and vanilla extract.

Pour wet ingredients over dry ingredients and stir well.

Using your hands, form into cookies. Batch makes 12 to 15 cookies, depending on size. Bake for about 20 minutes, or until edges are golden brown.

Ericka Pizzillo Cohen is an Ohio-based freelance writer and former reporter for The Bellingham Herald.

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