Energy quiz - are you eating right?

Check-out this 10-point QUIZ created by motherInc. adviser and nutritionist, Catherine Saxelby. Assess your current food pattern and lifestyle - what applies to you?

1. Do you overdo alcohol?  Yes  or No

One glass may relax, but too many will fragment your sleep and deplete two energy-releasing B vitamins thiamin (vitamin B1) and folate.

2. Do you rely on a cup of coffee in the morning to 'get you going' (or to help you concentrate or stay awake during the day)?    Yes  or No

Overdoing caffeine can interfere with sleep, leave you feeling jittery or with headaches.

3. Do you grab a snack on the run or have no time to prepare meals?    Yes  or No

To keep the pace over the day you need a full complement of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Supplements can help but are not a substitute for healthy meals.

4. Are you always starting a new diet to lose weight or drop a dress size?     Yes  or No

Strict dieting with too few kilojoules can slow your metabolic rate and sap your energy. Yo-yo dieting (on and off diets) is worse for your health than being a little overweight in the first place.

5. Do you race out the door without breakfast?    Yes  or No

Without breaking the overnight fast ('break-fast'), blood sugars remain low which limits your ability to concentrate and perform complex mental tasks in the morning.

6. Do you find yourself hooked on chocolate or always looking for something sweet?    Yes  or No

Sweet treats may give you a quick lift but it doesn't last. Check out the tips to beat the afternoon slump.

7. Are you getting enough sleep or do you scrape by with the bare minimum?    Yes  or No

Don't burn the candle at both ends. Aim to sleep well to ensure you're at your peak the next day.

8. Do you suffer from depression?    Yes  or No

Depression can be the cause of disordered sleeping patterns which leave you feeling flat. It can also drain you of energy. See your doctor to discuss treatment options.

9. Do you feel chronically tired? And are you vegetarian OR consume only the odd meal with meat or chicken or fish?    Yes  or No

Your fatigue could be due to low iron stores and anaemia. Have your doctor do a blood test to rule out iron-deficiency anaemia.

10. Do you slot in some vigorous exercise every day or every other day?     Yes  or No

When you exercise, you feel good and life looks better - it's true!

How did you rate?

If you answered yes to five or more of these questions, you need to take a hard look at your daily diet and lifestyle.  Read on for easy ideas to eliminate those bad habits and re-energise your life.

No single food or nutrient can promise all day energy, but certain ones are critical to efficient brain function and energy production. Here they are.


DHA is one key omega-3 fatty acid, responsible for cell-to-cell communication in the brain. Aim for 3 fish meals a week, either fresh or canned, to boost your omega-3s, and look for the new omega-enriched spreads and breads.


Dehydration can quickly affect our brain's capacity and induce lethargy, so try to drink 8 glasses a day (some can be as juices, weak tea or vegetable soup).

The busy B vitamins

As a group, the B vitamins (thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, folate and pyridoxine) function to release energy in the body. Your body can't perform at peak without them. Too much alcohol and too much "refined" carbohydrates tend to drain the body's small supply of these which need to be topped up every day. You'll find them in wholemeal and grainy breads, bran cereals, wholegrain cereals, wheatgerm, yeast spreads, peas and lentils, vegetables, lean meat and fish.


With one in three women eating 70 per cent or less iron than recommended, low iron stores are an often-overlooked cause of being tired. Regular beef, lamb or veal can boost iron status but it will take around 6 weeks to notice a difference. If you're vegetarian, it's worth knowing that vitamin C works to 'enhance' iron uptake from grains and lentils. So make sure you include vitamin C rich vegetables such as tomato, broccoli and capsicum with your meals or a glass of orange or grapefruit juice.

Zinc for zest

Like iron, zinc helps brain function and learning. It's concentrated in meat, seafood (especially oysters) fish, whole grains milk and nuts.

Protein power

Lean meat, tofu, eggs, chicken, fish, milk and yoghurt are high in protein which has been associated with alertness, improved mood and memory. Protein also delays the drop in blood sugar after a meal, giving you 'staying power' and preventing hunger pangs for longer.


  1. At lunch, include a small serve of low fat protein (lean meat, fish, tuna, salmon, chicken, turkey or pork).
  2. Choose slow-digesting carbohydrate such as pasta, noodles, beans, lentils or grainy bread with your lunch. These are now called low GI foods or low Glycaemic Index foods.
  3. Avoid alcohol.
  4. Take a brisk walk-it gets the blood circulating in the brain.
  5. Keep your blood sugar levels up in the afternoon. Have a long-lasting energy snack between 3-4 pm. Good options are yoghurt, a grainy bread sandwich, oatmeal biscuits, oat bran muffin, slow-digested fruit like apples, pears, peaches or plums.

Energy drinks

Are they just caffeine or do they give you the spurt of energy claimed? Most energy drinks provide 50-80 mg of caffeine per can or bottle. This is about the same amount of caffeine in an average cup of instant coffee and about twice that in a cup of tea. Generally the caffeine comes from the addition of guarana extract, a South American vine naturally rich in caffeine although some drinks also have added caffeine.

Energy drinks are fortified with a number of B vitamins, herbs and taurine (a component of protein), all of which are claimed to 'give you energy', although most Australians are not deficient in these and the quantities present are so small as to have little measurable effect.

Most of the 'boost to energy' from these drinks can be traced back to their caffeine. There is no doubt that caffeine is an effective aid to both mental output and physical performance(which is why the International Olympic Committee has placed a limit on its use). Studies of caffeine show it can decrease the perception of fatigue and increase alertness and concentration.

So the question to ask is Do you need more caffeine in your system?

One or two energy drinks a day are unlikely to be harmful, just as coffee and tea in modest intakes is fine. But if your total intake is high, it can lead to other problems like insomnia, high blood pressure, anxiety, rapid heart rate and increased urine production (increasing the risk of dehydration).

Children, pregnant women and people with heart disease should take care and avoid too much caffeine.

Energy or vitality?

The term energy is not to be confused with 'vitality' and 'vigour', which are used in the popular press to mean 'feeling energetic'.

A food high in energy (a positive connotation) simply means it is high in kilojoules (a negative connotation) which is not desirable in our sedentary society.

A chocolate bar promoted as 'giving you energy' in reality means it is high in kilojoules - around 1090 kilojoules or 265 Calories from an average 60 gram bar. You'd have to jog for 0.7 hours (45 minutes) to burn off the energy from those 1090 kilojoules.

In its scientific meaning, energy refers to the fuel value of food, diets and activities. In other words, energy is supplied by food and energy is burned by our bodies in daily activities.

Kilojoules (abbreviated to kJ) and Calories (Cals) are the units used to measure energy.

Kilojoules are the metric units and have replaced the older units of Calories. So a bowl of cereal supplies 480 kilojoules or 117 Calories.

Catherine Saxelby is a nutritionist, Adviser to motherInc. and author of Nutrition for Life. Visit her website for more ideas on healthy eating.