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The question

I feel tired all the time despite getting seven to eight hours of sleep every night. How can I change my diet to give me more energy during the day?

The answer

To help you feel energized during the day, adopt smart eating habits to sidestep the following nine blunders that rob you of energy. If you still find yourself sluggish, despite eating right, consult your doctor. Ongoing fatigue may be the symptom of an underlying health problem.

You eat too many refined carbs.

Carbohydrate-rich foods are metabolized into blood glucose, the only form of energy the body can use immediately. But not all carbohydrates are created equal.

Highly processed, refined carbs (e.g., white bread and crackers, refined breakfast cereals, sweets and sugary drinks) rank high on the glycemic index.

That means they cause large spikes in blood glucose followed by sharp drops, which can bring on fatigue. Sugar also blocks the activity of orexin-producing cells, brain cells that stimulate wakefulness.

For a balanced release of energy choose low-glycemic carbohydrates such as 100-per-cent stone-ground bread, 100-per-cent bran cereals, steel-cut and large-flake oatmeal, milk, yogurt, soy beverages, apples, bananas, pears, oranges, dried apricots, berries, nuts, seeds and beans and lentils.

You skimp on protein.

Protein-rich meals help you feel more alert by counteracting drowsiness that can be brought on by consuming excessive sugar or carbohydrates.

Including protein at meals also helps regulate, or slow, the release of glucose into the bloodstream. So make sure to include a source of protein, such as fish, turkey, lean meat, eggs, yogurt, tofu, legumes or nuts, at all meals and snacks.

You skip breakfast.

Studies have found that adults and kids who skip the morning meal report lower energy, poorer moods and reduced memory.

Start the day with a breakfast that delivers protein and a low-glycemic carbohydrate. Good choices include bran cereal with milk, fruit and nuts; steel-cut oatmeal topped with 1/2 cup Greek yogurt; a smoothie made with milk (or soy milk), berries and ground flax; and 100-per-cent whole-grain toast with almond butter and fruit salad.

You don't snack.

It takes your body roughly two to three hours to break down carbohydrates in the food you eat and convert it to energy. To prevent your energy level from fading, include healthy snacks between meals.

Try fruit and nuts, Greek yogurt and berries, a bowl of lentil soup or whole-grain crackers (Wasa, Ryvita and Finn Crisp are low glycemic) and part-skim cheese.

You drink too little water.

Water in your bloodstream circulates oxygen and nutrients to your tissues and removes waste. Water is also an essential ingredient in the production of energy molecules.

Men require 12 cups (3 litres) of water each day; women need 9 cups (2.2 litres). All fluids – except alcoholic beverages – count toward your daily water requirements. That includes water, milk, unsweetened juices, tea and coffee.

You rely on caffeine to stay alert.

Cut yourself off caffeine by noon. One or two cups of coffee can boost mental alertness, but drinking more can overstimulate your central nervous system and cause insomnia. Caffeine blocks the action of adenosine, a brain chemical that causes drowsiness by slowing down nerve-cell activity. Women of child-bearing age should limit caffeine intake to 300 milligrams per day; other healthy adults should consume no more than 400 mg daily. (One 8-ounce cup of brewed coffee has 95 mg to 200 mg of caffeine, one cup of black tea has 14 mg to 70 mg and one cup of green tea has 25 mg to 45 mg.

You sip on wine after dinner.

A nightcap or two before bed may help you fall asleep, but it disrupts sleep by causing you to wake up in the second half of the night. Even imbibing during happy hour or at dinner, without further consumption before bedtime, can increase wakefulness during the night.

Consuming more than two drinks can also steal time spent in REM sleep, the stage important for memory and learning. Plus, alcohol dehydrates you, which can worsen fatigue the next day. So, limit your intake to one alcoholic drink per day.

You don't get enough iron.

An iron deficiency, even without anemia, can cause fatigue and lethargy.

Iron-rich foods include beef, turkey, chicken, pork loin, tuna, halibut, oysters, clams, ready-to-eat breakfast cereal, soybeans, lentils, baked beans, black beans, firm tofu, cooked spinach, raisins and prune juice.

Menstruating women should take a multivitamin and mineral supplement to help meet daily iron requirements (18 mg, or 32 mg for vegetarians).

You're running low on B12.

Too little B12 can also cause you to feel tired. The vitamin is used to make red blood cells, which carry oxygen through your body.

B12 is found in all animal foods (meat, poultry, fish, eggs, dairy), while many non-dairy beverages and soy products are fortified with the nutrient. You can also get B12 from a multivitamin or B-complex supplement.

Older adults, vegans, heavy drinkers and people on long-term acid-blocking medication are at risk of B12 deficiency. If you're concerned you might be low in B12 (or iron) speak to your doctor about getting tested.