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Q: Can any foods, besides those with caffeine, truly boost energy?

A: Yes, there are foods that can give you some pep—and I’m not talking about a supersized, caffeine-loaded latte. Instead, choose these three surprising foods to naturally improve creativity, help you focus, and boost brain function. [Tweet this!]

1. Decaffeinated green tea: Besides caffeine and EGCG, a fat-burning antioxidant found in green tea, this brew contains another nutritional powerhouse: a unique amino acid called theanine. While amino acids are typically considered to be building blocks of muscle, theanine actually plays a role in optimizing the chemistry of your brain. It helps create a relaxed yet focused state of mind—arguably the best mental state for creativity and productivity—and you don’t need the caffeinated variety to achieve it.

2. Lean beef: An excellent form of heme-iron (a readily absorbed form of iron), lean beef can help correct an iron deficiency, which reduces cognitive function. In fact, 15 percent of American women between the ages of 20 and 49 suffer from iron deficiency, and even without anemia, this condition has been shown to impair mental function in women. A study published in Nutrients found that when female study participants ate a lunch containing 2 to 3.5mg of iron (about 3 ounces of beef) three times per week, their iron status improved, as did their mental prowess, leading to improvements in planning speed and attention.

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3. Dark chocolate: Your favorite sweet treat may also be able to boost your brain function. Chocolate contains several compounds, including the caffeine derivative theobromine and a class of antioxidants called flavanols, which work together to give you a jolt of energy. Theobromine works in a similar fashion to caffeine, with the added benefit of having less of a detrimental effect on your heart.

For a delicious way to enjoy the energy-enhancing benefits of dark chocolate, try this spin on the classic hot cocoa from Brooke Kalanick’s book Ultimate You: Fill a coffee mug halfway with hot water. Mix in 1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder, 1 teaspoon xylitol or truvia, and 1 dash cinnamon. Fill the rest of the mug with unsweetened vanilla almond milk, mix with a spoon, and enjoy a natural boost of energy. 

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