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The question

No matter how much sleep I get, I'm always tired mid-day. I'm a healthy young woman and I eat right most of the day. I want to avoid carbs, coffee and simple sugars as a mid-day snack, but is there anything else that can wake me up? I find myself wanting to close my eyes from about 2 p.m. onwards if I don't grab an unhealthy quick fix.

The answer

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I have a few suggestions for you to help increase your energy level during the day. First, make sure your breakfast and lunch include both a protein and carbohydrate. It's common for women to skimp on carbohydrate-rich foods like cereal, bread, rice and pasta in an effort to stay slim. But carbohydrates are metabolized into blood glucose, the only form of energy that the body can use immediately.

If you're not eating any carbohydrates at lunch, your blood sugar will be low early in the afternoon making you feel tired and, often, crave sweets. Eating protein at meals slows the rate of digestion and helps keep your blood sugar level stable longer.

To prevent your energy level from dropping too soon, go no longer than three hours without eating. That means you need to plan for snacks between meals. Snacks should boost your blood sugar and keep it relatively stable until meal time - they should include carbohydrate (low glycemic), protein and a little fat. Try fruit and almonds, a decaf latte (or yogurt) and a piece of fruit, whole grain crackers and part skim cheese, or an energy bar made from fruit and nuts.

Drinking enough water can also help you feel more energetic. Water in your bloodstream circulates oxygen and nutrients to your tissues. And water is an essential ingredient in the production of energy molecules. Women need 9 cups (2.2 litres) of water per day. With the exception of alcoholic beverages, all fluids counts towards meeting water requirements.

Another reason for low energy can be a lack of certain vitamins and minerals, especially iron for menstruating women. An iron deficiency, even without full blown anemia, can cause fatigue, lethargy and difficulty concentrating. You'll need a blood test to determine if you are iron deficient or anemic, both treated with iron supplements.

Iron rich foods include red meat, enriched breakfast cereals, dried fruit, kidney beans, cooked spinach and prune juice. I recommend that menstruating women take a daily multivitamin that supplies 10 to 18 milligrams of iron.

If you make these changes and your energy level is still low, check in with your doctor. Ongoing fatigue may be the symptom of an underlying health problem.

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Send dietitian Leslie Beck your questions at dietitian@globeandmail.com. She will answer select questions, which could appear in The Globe and Mail and/or on The Globe and Mail web site. Your name will not be published if your question is chosen.

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The content provided in The Globe and Mail's Ask a Health Expert centre is for information purposes only and is neither intended to be relied upon nor to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

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