Eating Out: Energize safely for holiday rush

Just when you’re supposed to be at your sparkling best the hectic holiday rush can run you ragged.

But, before you reach for a caffeine-charged energy drink to reboot your mood, take heed of warnings to consume these beverages responsibly. According to a federal government report, emergency room visits associated with energy drink use increased more than 10 times, from roughly 1,000 in 2005 to more than 13,000 in 2009.

Most of the adverse reactions -- such as insomnia, nervousness, nausea and rapid heartbeat -- afflicted those who downed between two and eight energy drinks. A few rare cases involved seizures, cardiac arrhythmias and cardiac arrest, particularly in people with underlying medical conditions.

Bottom line: Energy drinks can contain a lot of caffeine, and most do not list the caffeine content on the label. Unlike soft drinks, which the Food and Drug Administration limits to 71 milligrams of caffeine per 12-ounce serving, energy drinks are considered “dietary supplements” and face no such limits.

Depending on the brand, energy drinks contain about 10 milligrams of caffeine per ounce. A cup of strong coffee can contain about the same amount, but hot liquids are often consumed more slowly, not gulped back like a “shot” of tequila.

Energize your eating

While the risks of relying on energy drinks continue to be debated, here are a few suggestions for energizing your eating habits over the holidays:

Don't miss the morning -- Before you race off, reward yourself with breakfast to bank energy for the day. The best breakfasts contain a source of protein and whole grains. Take the time to sit down, relax and enjoy a bowl of yogurt with fruit, whole-grain cereal with fat-free milk, a scrambled egg or peanut butter on whole-wheat toast.

Prevent the crash -- Skipping meals is like forgetting to put gas in the car. Overfilling your tank isn't a good idea either. That's because big meals (remember Thanksgiving?) require the digestive tract to work overtime and sap the energy you need to stay on the move. Instead, eating small meals every three or four hours sustains energy throughout the day and helps prevent mood swings during the stressful holidays. If you're going to sample Christmas cookies or other seasonal sweets, enjoy them with a glass of fat-free milk. Protein in the milk helps keep blood sugar levels on an even keel and your energy level humming.

Feed your thirst -- Even mild dehydration can cause you to feel lethargic. It slows down your metabolism, too, and that's no good during the all-you-can-eat holiday food fest. Drink plenty of water or other unsweetened beverages throughout the day. Fresh produce counts toward fluid intake, too. A fresh orange for a simple snack hydrates and provides nutrients needed to help keep you healthy during cold and flu season.

Coffee or tea? A cup of coffee works in the short term to boost your energy and even improves mental focus needed for holiday shopping. But too much too late can disrupt sleep patterns, and there's no worse energy robber than tossing and turning all night. Caffeine content of coffee varies widely -- between 100 and 300 milligrams of caffeine per cup -- depending on coffee bean variety and strength of the brew. What about tea? Studies show that a cup of black tea, which contains caffeine and the amino acid L-theanine, can increase alertness while keeping you calm.

Chocolate break -- A bit of dark chocolate can boost midday energy levels, too. It contains caffeine and a stimulant called theobromine. Avoid eating chocolate, including hot chocolate, late at night.

Restless nightcaps -- Too many holiday toddies or toasts can prevent a deep sleep and disrupt sleep patterns, leading to fatigue the next day. The dehydration caused by a holiday hangover contributes to a next-day energy crisis, too. An electrolyte-balanced sports drink can help.

Keep moving -- Instead of a nap, a brisk 15- to 30-minute walk can help pep you up. Breathing in some fresh air with a little physical activity helps you feel more energetic. An exercise escape is a good tactic for stress relief while visiting the relatives, too.