Optimal Energy


Optimal Energy

Written by Delaney Puhek

IMG_5538Sugar, whether we stir it into our morning brew, or mix it into dough for a late-night dessert, it’s a tough substance to avoid in anyone’s diet. I recently took the plunge to cut sugar from my diet. Now, as a nutritionist, you might think this was already the case. However, sugar is sneaky, and, no, I don’t avoid it altogether. I have the occasional slice of dark chocolate, stir honey in my tea, or have a glass of red wine, and who am I to turn down a freshly baked chocolate chip cookie?! Sugar is one of those ingredients many of us in Santa Cruz try to avoid, like soy, gluten, corn or MSG – things we can easily find in many of our grocery staples. But have you ever really thought about how MUCH sugar is going into your body on a daily basis? And what detrimental roles does sugar play in the body, and what can I eat instead to beat sugar cravings and achieve optimal energy?



Delaney Puhek

So what does sugar actually do in our bodies? Sugar is burned as fuel for energy. Simple right? Well not so much, when our cells need energy, our pancreas secretes a hormone called insulin to let the glucose (broken down carbohydrate molecule) into the cell to be used as energy. When we don’t need energy, sugar is stored as triglycerides (fat) in the adipose tissue (abdomen). When we have too much sugar, or small amounts of sugar all day long, our insulin production is constant. Insulin in excess can lead to high blood sugar, high blood pressure, fatigue, metabolic imbalance, and weight gain, loss of appetite, irregular menses, inflammation and type 2 diabetes.


Often as a yoga teacher and nutritionist I come across the question of what to eat for optimal energy. What can sustain me for this surf session or this heated vinyasa flow? Well our bodies need complex carbohydrates to burn for fuel, but choosing the right form of carbohydrate (non-processed and in its whole-form) in combination with protein and fiber we can keep our energy for longer periods.

Burning the sugar found in a chocolate bar is just like paper in a fire, very fast and aggressive, which spikes our blood sugar and insulin production; not good. To have fiber along with the sugar, like eating an apple for example, would be equivalent to burning a log instead, long, slow and steady. Protein also plays a huge role in balancing blood sugar and increasing our metabolic health, so feel free to slap some almond butter on that apple!


Here are a few ways to avoid added sugar in your everyday intake:

  • Check your labels for names such as syrup, cane juice, dextrose, fructose, glucose, lactose, maltose, sorbitol, maltodextrin, malt, etc.
  • Clear your pantry and fridge of processed goods that contain sugar with no dietary fiber (out of sight, out of mind)
  • Remember, sugar isn’t just in soft drinks and Girl Scout cookies. Some sneaky sugar products include peanut butter, tomato sauce, orange juice, jelly & jam, nut milks, instant oatmeal, yogurts and much more.

Here are a few of my favorite un-processed sugar options for that sweet tooth, remember to have your fiber and protein along with!

  • Local Honey
  • Molasses
  • Soaked organic date juice
  • Organic Fruit

And of course, a sugar-free “sweet treat” for optimal energy…

Golden chia overnight pudding



  • 2 tbs Chia seeds
  • 1 tsp. turmeric
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1 cup coconut milk
  • Strawberries (optional)


  • Mix all ingredients together and place in refrigerator in a closed container


Nutritional highlights

  • Chia seeds (like flax seeds) are also high in omega 3 fatty acids as well as soluble and insoluble fiber.
  • Turmeric is one of the most noteworthy herbs, due to its anti-inflammatory compounds. Turmeric has been shown to reduce blood pressure and decrease oxidative stress tremendously.
  • Cinnamon includes compounds that balance blood sugar, which reduces insulin secretion, preventing against diabetes. Cinnamon also has a sweet-like but sugar-free taste to it, which can substitute for sugar in any desert much like this one!
  • Strawberries provide anti-oxidants, fiber and many other nutritious vitamins and minerals, they aid in digestion and are a natural sweetener.