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The Ten Best High Energy Foods
Many people skip breakfast believing it’s a good way to lose weight. Then by mid-morning they start to feel haggard and are ready to drop. They run for a quick dose of energy: a candy bar, a soda, or worse yet, one of the new energy drinks filled with caffeine and sugar. And indeed, it gives them a jolt, but it’s relatively short-lived. By lunchtime they are exhausted and hungry again. No one wants a morning roller coaster like this, and besides, it’s a surefire way to overeat and gain weight. But it can be avoided by eating the right foods. These foods give you a steady stream of energy that will keep you feeling good throughout the day.
The energy you need to get through the day comes from the conversion of the food you eat into glucose and the absorption of this glucose by your body’s cells. Food comes in three forms: carbohydrates, fats and proteins. For the most part, our energy comes from carbohydrates (or at least it should). Unfortunately, carbs have gotten a bad rap lately and people have been told to avoid them as much as possible. The problem is that it only applies to one type of carbohydrate, and carbohydrates come in two varieties: complex and simple. Complex carbohydrates are made up of long molecular chains that slowly release their energy to your body. Simple carbohydrates, on the other hand, are made up of short molecules that release their energy quickly. Simple carbohydrates require little breakdown and their energy goes almost directly to the bloodstream, so they act quickly. Consequently they should be avoided as much as possible.
If your body is low on energy from carbohydrates, it actually turns into fat and protein. Both can be broken down into glucose, but the process is more complicated (compared to carbohydrates) and produces several unwanted byproducts. Protein doesn’t “burn clean” like carbohydrates are; they produce ammonia and urea as by-products. The breakdown of fat into glucose is also very complicated. Also, some types of fat are unhealthy. However, both proteins and fats are important in our body.
We will mainly focus on the breakdown of carbohydrates into glucose. And we’ll start with the rate at which it’s turned into glucose and gets into the bloodstream. How it’s sustained in the bloodstream and how well it’s absorbed into cells and converted into energy is also important, but we’ll leave that for later. A measure of how long it takes after we eat a certain food for its glucose to reach our bloodstream has been around for several years; it’s called the glycemic index (GI). The higher this number, the faster glucose is activated. The scale is set up with glucose itself having a GI of 100; on this scale, GIs above 70 are high and below 55 are low. This is helpful because we don’t want to eat foods that are converted into glucose very quickly and consumed quickly.
But there’s a problem. The GI only takes into account the carbohydrates in a food, and most foods contain other things like fiber, water, fat, and so on. As a result, carrots (with only 7 percent carbohydrates) have a relatively high glycemic index of 47, and watermelon (which is mostly water) has a glycemic index of 72.
To overcome this, another measure is now being used: it’s called the glycemic load (GL). It is obtained from GI using the formula: GL = GI/100 × carbohydrate content of food (minus fiber). The guidelines for this scale are: GLs below 10 are low and desirable; GLs over 20 are high.
The best high energy foods
What we want are foods with a large amount of energy, with their energy slowly distributed to the blood over a long period of time, and we would like the GL to be less than 10. Also, fiber slows the burn rate, so we too they want foods with considerable fiber in them.
Below is a list of the best high energy foods based on the above. They are in approximate order of effectiveness.
1. Oats. This is one of the best for energy. It will keep you going all morning if you eat it for breakfast. The two main types are oatmeal and oat bran. The GL for oatmeal is 13; the GL for oat bran is 3. They have plenty of fiber (particularly oat bran) to slow down your burn rate, and you don’t have to worry about excess calories making you fat.
2. Whole grains. Whole grains of any kind are made up of three parts: the endosperm (starchy part), the bran, and the germ. When refined, the bran and germ are discarded, but these two parts contain 87% of the polyphenols and most of the overall nutrient. So it’s best to eat whole grains. They are high energy and full of nutrients and fiber.
3. Yogurt. Low-fat yogurt has a GL of 10 and is highly nutritious. It contains several B vitamins, calcium, magnesium and potassium and is a good source of protein. But of particular importance, it contains live cultures which are crucial for a healthy colon.
4. Nuts. Nuts like almonds, walnuts, and cashews are great because they can be eaten as a snack when you feel hungry. Have them candy bars, chips, soda, or energy drinks instead. They have a low GL; cashews, for example, have GL 3.
5. Seeds. Another great energy food that can be eaten as a snack. The best are sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds and flax seeds (which should be ground).
6. Fruits. Fruit is an excellent energy food. Some of the best are oranges, grapefruit, apples and bananas. They are both high in energy and fiber and have a low glycemic index. An orange has a GL of 5, an apple of 6, and a grapefruit of 3. Apples are especially good when you start to get drowsy while driving.
7. Blueberries. Most berries are good, but blueberries are especially good because they’re the best-known source of antioxidants. They are also high in fiber, magnesium and vitamin K.
8. Broccoli (spinach). These two are the most nutritionally rich vegetables known and have a GL of only 1. They are also effective against cancer.
9. Beans (all kinds). Beans are especially helpful in keeping your blood sugar from rising too quickly. They are also very high in fiber and have relatively low GL. The GL of baked beans is 6.
10. Eggs. It may not sound like eggs are a high-energy food, but they are. Plus, they’re an excellent source of vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients.
Many other foods like fish, chicken, and avocados are also good energy foods, but the list above should give you a good idea of what to eat when your energy is low. Finally, it is important to remember water. About 2/3 of your body is made up of water and it’s crucial to how you feel.
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