We all know from experience that optimal energy is the vital juice that helps us feel supercharged to perform our best during athletic adventure, and even just to take on our day. In the business world a sense of abundant, high quality energy can actually be a competitive advantage, as so many of us struggle with feeling flat, foggy and fatigued. (3pm slump, anyone?) Yet while many people commonly confuse "stimulation" (think caffeine or energy drinks) with energy, they could not be more different.
I just got back from the Registered Dietitian Retreat in Napa, where I was honored to host a forum about "How to Eat for Optimal Energy" with my partners at CLIF Bar. We explored 3 essential ideas that help create optimal energy. (With full disclosure, CLIF Bar is a client of mine). The event was hosted for some of the country's top dietitians. And, the setting? The incredibly gorgeous CLIF Family Organic Farm at CLIFs Regis.
I would love to share with you what we explored.
3 Secrets for Optimal Energy
1. Carbohydrates as Energy: Glycemic Index vs. Sweetness. In the world of sports nutrition - carbohydrates are the master molecules that power our body's energy. We discovered the wide diversity of people's taste perceptions around several high carbohydrate, whole foods that are part of CLIF's ingredient line (see the photo above). We all took a simple genetic test to see who was a "super taster" genetically, and who was not. When asked to arrange the tastes in an order that made sense to them, some nutrition experts thought about sweetness. Others about color. Others tackled texture. And, so on.
Top Takeaways: What's sweet to you isn't sweet to me. Glycemic Index and sweetness aren't linear together, and our genes (specifically the TAS2R) drive our own unique experience of taste.
2. The Microbiome as a Mediator of our Energy. What we eat is not necessarily what our bodies assimilate. Our microbes act as a mediator of our food experience - influencing how much energy we actually extract from our food. For example, obese and lean individuals have been shown in numerous studies to have different gut flora. Our microbes produce metabolites (such as short chain fatty acids), and a fast-growing body of science is illuminating just how these compounds impact our own genetic expression, regulate our hunger hormones, our ability to store body fat, and even more.
Top Takeaways: How does this reshape our thinking of a "calorie"? The Nutrition Facts Panel is not enough. We must "seed" and "feed" our gut for optimal energy that supports a diverse, thriving microbiome and helps to regulate our best metabolism. A diet filled with an abundance of whole, minimally processed plant foods helps a rainforest of diversity, whereas the typical American diet can lead to something more like an algae bloom. Both are high energy systems but with very different results.
3. The Mitochondria as the Master of our Energy. Our mitochondria are the master energy producers in our cells. They are little factories where the raw energy input of food is transformed into life sustaining energy (in fat form of ATP) that powers us. To have optimal energy requires strong, healthy mitochondrial membranes (where energy exchange takes place), raw materials for the cofactors and enzymes that make energy production possible (i.e. alpha lipoid acid and CoQ10), and plenty of antioxidants to squelch free radicals. Fatigue is one of the telltale signs of damage to our mitochondria. And, it's a key contributor to illness such as CFS or fibromyalgia.
Top Takeaways: With the pop culture interest in "cleanses" and "detoxes" - which foods really support mitochondrial health? How can we maximize our mitochondria and therefore our energy? Plenty of omega-3 fats, lots of deeply colored fruits and vegetables, whole soy and sesame seeds were a few of the ingredients we played with in delicious, easy to make salads.
My colleague Amanda Archibald and I co-created this unique concept of Edible Experiences to help people think deeply, powerfully, and FRESHLY about the most pressing challenges at the leading edge of nutrition and health science. (Check out Amanda's game changing thought leadership.) The goal is to step away from powerpoint presentations and handouts, and let the food be the teacher. They're a powerful format to distill and simplify complex ideas, and to have the conversations we want to have. Having shared our work with the largest HMO in South Africa, Kaiser Permanente, YPO and other pioneers, we were proud to add Clif Bar to our list!
Curious to learn more about our Edible Experiences? Contact me and I would love to share more.
My California Food Envy
As for me, I'm still recovering from the intense case of California Food Envy I seem to get every time I visit that supremely delicious and abundant corner of the food universe. In fact, I'm going to hit the farmers market this afternoon!