The World of Food: Energy Foods

By Julia Maish |

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Over Labor Day weekend, we celebrate National Trail Mix Day, shining a spotlight on that healthy and portable snack beloved of hikers, mountain climbers, cyclists, and others in need of its quick boost of energy. Variations of it have been around for thousands of years – there is some evidence that Native Americans, for instance, enjoyed a version that included dried buffalo meat. We know that its current composition – nuts, raisins, or other dried fruits; granola or rolled oats; and sometimes a bit of chocolate – was recommended back in the 1910s by the prolific author and naturalist Horace Sowers Kephart, a noted camping, hunting, and travel expert who was prominent enough to be featured in Ken Burns’s The National Parks: America’s Best Idea.

Trail mix has some interesting alternate names: the not-very-appetizing gorp, which was once a verb that meant “to eat greedily,” according to the Oxford English Dictionary (as in, “Wow! I sure gorped that down in a hurry!”). The term gorp was reportedly coined as shorthand for a mixture of “good old raisins and peanuts” or “granola, oats, raisins, and peanuts.”

In some parts of the world, though, especially Australia and New Zealand, this snack is sometimes called schmogle or scroggin – an acronym (if you believe its devotees) for either “sultanas, chocolate, raisins and other goody-goodies including nuts” or “sultanas, carob, raisins, orange peel, grains, glucose, imagination, and nuts.” (Let’s hear it for the energy-producing qualities of imagination!)

And just to complicate matters, in several European countries, trail mix is known as “student mix” or “student fodder” – which no doubt refers to its most likely consumers, although its energy-boosting qualities might be applied differently (to those all-nighters cramming for the big exam, or students rushing between classes).

Is trail mix/gorp/schmogle/scroggin good for you? It probably goes without saying that if you are engaged in extended aerobic activity on a regular basis, you can probably put away fistfuls of it without a problem. Will it actually improve your health? Well, it’s balanced, and depending on what’s included, it’s a good source of protein, iron, vitamins, minerals, and healthy fats, so it certainly can’t hurt. But if you don’t want to go the trail mix route, what are some other foods that are sure to boost your energy level? Some might surprise you…

Eggs are a great source of protein and B vitamins, and they also contain an amino acid called leucine, which encourages our cells to pull in more blood sugar and also to break down fats faster. (Contrary to popular belief, eggs alone are not responsible for higher cholesterol levels.) Other ways to get a quick hit of protein: edamame, lentils, and fatty fish such as tuna or salmon.

What else? Fiber-rich foods such as oatmeal, brown rice, hummus, beans, sweet potatoes, and quinoa will give you sustained energy – as will fruits such as apples (not just fiber, but also natural sugars and antioxidants), oranges (vitamin C), bananas (potassium, vitamin B6, and good carbohydrates), and various kinds of berries (perfect as an additive in shakes and smoothies, but just fine eaten as is); caffeinated beverages like coffee, green tea, and the South American plant-based yerba maté, (as a bonus,  consuming this last one doesn’t seem to adversely affect your heart rate or blood pressure in the same way as coffee and tea do, for those who are sensitive).

Leafy green vegetables such as kale and spinach, while being packed with nutrients, are notable sources of iron, and their vitamin C content can help that iron be absorbed more efficiently. Needless to say, incorporating them into your diet has numerous health benefits, of which increased energy is just one.

And good news – a little dark chocolate can help to stimulate blood flow (which in turn can lift your spirits), and its caffeine serves as a natural stimulant.

All of these, eaten in moderation and balanced with plenty of water, will help you hike that trail, climb that mountain, or just walk around the block. And that, as Martha Stewart likes to say, is a good thing.