When you become a new mom everything changes. Like, EVERYTHING. With your world turned so upside down it can be easy to put your own nutritional needs aside, but it’s a really, really important time to make sure that you’re getting the nutrients and the fuel that you need — especially if you’re breastfeeding and/or getting back into your workouts. To help with that, we’re sharing this guest post on nutrition for new moms from Kim Daly Farrell, a certified health coach, former magazine editor, fitness fanatic, and mom to Keane and Julia. Kim has worked for national media outlets,…
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What you eat right after a workout (and when you eat it) is crucial to recovery. Here’s how to maximize your results.
There’s an old fitness adage that says, “You don’t build your body in the gym. It’s what you do after training that causes physical improvement.” So even if you exercise religiously, you’re selling yourself short if you’re not following the correct steps the moment you leave the gym.
When you finish a tough workout, your body is starving for nutrition. Intense training breaks down muscle tissue (which catabolizes protein), depletes muscle glycogen (which is critical for energy) and reduces muscular ATP stores (the cellular fuel that drives muscular contractions). Your body requires the replenishment of glycogen first and foremost. This storage form of carbohydrate is found in muscles (about 400 grams) and the liver (about 100 grams) and is critical for brain function, as well as fueling physical activity. It’s also used during training to replenish ATP in the muscles.
In addition, in the absence of carbs, amino acids are stripped away from muscle to be reassembled as glycogen molecules — a catabolic process you want to avoid.
The Carb Connection
The great thing about postworkout feeding is that you can eat a lot of carbohydrates, even on a restricted-carb diet. This is because carbs are protein sparing, which means they’ll go to work immediately to replenish glycogen stores and prevent muscular breakdown. Even on a low-carb diet, you can consume up to a quarter of your total daily intake in your postworkout meal. So if you’re eating 160 grams of carbs a day, you should take in 40 to 50 immediately after training. (A good recommendation is .3 to .5 grams per pound of bodyweight.)
Power Up With Protein
Muscle tissue requires amino acids for growth to occur. Research shows a combination of fast-, medium- and slow-digesting proteins speeds this process and ensures recuperation. Complete proteins from food and/or supplements supply a range of essential aminos to promote muscle building. Aim for eating 20 to 40 grams of protein, depending on how it fits into your daily intake. (A good rule of thumb is consuming up to .25 grams per pound of bodyweight postworkout.)
The final piece of the puzzle is ATP regeneration. As long as you consume ample carbs after training, your body should be able to replace the missing phosphocreatine in ATP in muscle cells. In addition, creatine can be found in red meat and fish, as well as supplements.
Timing is everything for postworkout feeding. Be conscious of your refueling window: Simple carbs are essential within minutes after you finish your last set. Protein and creatine should be consumed within the next hour. You also can include a few grams of carbs and a creatine supplement, if desired, with the latter meal to enhance absorption.
What are some examples of what to eat? Replacing glycogen is easiest — any carb will do. Lower-glycemic carbs such as fruit or juices may not be as optimal as candy for speed of glycogen replenishment, but they’re healthier. High-glycemic carbs such as sweet potatoes, rice and white potatoes are great options. Honey is another good choice; research shows combining it with protein helps maintain optimal blood-sugar levels to enhance uptake. For protein, supplements are superior to whole food because of convenience, digestive speed and specific benefits. However, you can enhance amino-acid absorption by eating egg whites, Greek yogurt, low-fat cottage cheese and low-fat milk (regular or lactose-free) after training.
Certain protein-rich foods provide the double benefit as sources of creatine. However, because appetite is not always the best following a workout, you might want to try creatine supplements. To speed recovery and get the most out of your training, be conscious of the small window postworkout when you can refuel your body and start the recuperation process. Remember, it’s the 23 hours outside the gym when your body improves. Make the most of it.
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Preventing the common cold, increasing fat loss, improving mood — is there anything probiotics can’t do?
From a young age, we are often taught to be wary of bugs as devious little things that bring harm and traumatic nightmares. But now science is increasingly showing that embracing certain critters is one of the best things we can do to build up a healthy body.
Inside each and every one of us a battle of the bugs is taking place at this very moment. “Our guts are populated by roughly 100 trillion microorganisms,” says Shekhar Challa, M.D., a board-certified gastroenterologist and author of Probiotics for Dummies. “About 90 trillion of those bacteria are considered beneficial to health, while the remaining 10 trillion are potentially harmful.” He goes on to explain that as long as we maintain the population of the good guys, which are commonly referred to as “probiotics,” they will keep the nefarious bacteria in check.
Probiotics including Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium have long been praised for their powers to improve digestive health, including reducing gastrointestinal complaints such as cramping and nausea in athletes, but now science is finding that the benefits of these good-for-you critters goes beyond the gut. For starters, a robust population of probiotics in your intestines is vital to maintaining a healthy immune system. Why? “Eighty to 90 percent of our immunity is controlled by the digestive system, so if you improve digestive health with probiotics, you will automatically improve your immune health,” Challa says. Case in point: A recent study published in Nutrition Journal discovered that higher intakes of these superbugs can reduce upper-respiratory-tract symptoms in athletes. “Periods of intense training may cause a fall in immunity, setting you up for viral and bacterial infection, but probiotics can help prevent a compromised immune system brought on by the stress of training,” Challa explains.
Challa believes that weight loss is likely the next frontier in probiotic research. This stems from preliminary data showing that obese individuals have a different profile of gut bacteria than lean individuals do. Though much more human research is needed, it’s plausible that populating the zoo in our guts with elevated numbers of certain strains of probiotics could help in the battle of the bulge. Scientists at the Washington School of Medicine in St. Louis found that when certain probiotics were consumed by volunteers, the organisms altered carbohydrate metabolism in their host, which may positively impact fat loss.
Research is piling up that probiotics also can help shave down cholesterol numbers, fend off yeast and bladder infections, reduce the risk of certain cancers, improve oral health and lessen symptoms associated with anxiety and depression, which suggests there is a gut-brain connection. Probiotics are also thought to improve overall nutrient absorption, which could help improve fitness gains.
In addition to being affected by intense training, the body’s population of helpful gut bugs can be compromised by life stress, periods of poor eating, age, digestive illnesses and antibiotic use, Challa says. The latter may include exposure to antibiotic residues used in industrial meat production. The good news is that what you place in your grocery cart can go a long way toward keeping your digestive tract saturated with probiotics.
Long before refrigerators became the norm, fermentation was used as a method of food preservation. “During fermentation, microorganisms produce preservative acids in foods like cabbage and milk, which greatly increases the items’ shelf life by creating an environment in which pathogens cannot grow,” Challa says. “In doing so, the fermented food plays host to an array of probiotics that can in turn benefit your gut flora once consumed.” Here are seven foods to help you micromanage your diet.
When milk is fermented by lactic-acid bacteria, the result is tangy yogurt, probably the most common fermented food in American households. A recent study published in the Journal of Functional Foods discovered that participants who ate yogurt laced with Lactobacillus probiotics daily for six weeks shed 3 to 4 percent more body fat than subjects who did not eat the yogurt. The positive shift in gut bacteria prompted by probiotics in yogurt may favor fat burning over fat storage. Look for brands of yogurt that contain the Live and Active Cultures label, a guarantee by the National Yogurt Association that the yogurt contains at least 100 million colony-forming units of beneficial bacteria per gram at the time of manufacture. This will help you avoid buying yogurt that has been heat-pasteurized, a process that kills the fauna. Made by straining away liquid, Greek yogurt is a great way to get your fill of bugs and a payload of muscle-building protein.
Kefir is made by fermenting milk with a symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast called “grains,” resulting in a dairy product with a notable tart flavor. Originally from Eastern Europe, kefir generally reigns supreme over yogurt when it comes to bacterial firepower, in that it harbors roughly three to four times as many probiotics (about 40 million critters per half cup). What’s more, because kefir’s live cultures break down a chunk of the lactose present in milk, some people with lactose intolerance can consume it without stomach woes. While kefir is sometimes sold in tubs with a consistency similar to yogurt, it is most often available in supermarkets as an effervescent beverage. Enjoy it by the glassful, pour it on your cereal, whisk into pancake batter in place of buttermilk or make it a powerful addition to postworkout protein shakes. Try using thicker yogurt-style kefir in dips and salad dressings. Ideally, opt for plain kefir (and yogurt!) to sidestep the avalanche of sugary calories added to flavored versions.
A staple in Japanese cuisine, this fermented paste is made by combining cooked soybeans with rice or barley, salt and koji (a starter enzyme that breaks down proteins). Traditionally, the mixture is then left to ferment for six months to three years. Miso comes in three varieties: white, yellow and red. White and yellow miso are milder in flavor, and just a touch can crank up the umami in salad dressings, mashed potatoes, brothy soups and dips. Red miso, which benefits from a longer fermentation process, has a more robust and saltier flavor, so try it in heartier dishes like stews or as a topping for roasted root vegetables. To keep the probiotics more active when making soups with miso, remove a small amount of the warm liquid and whisk the miso into it. You can then add the miso liquid back to the pan at the end of cooking. Also, be sure to purchase miso that is unpasteurized for the biggest bacterial bang for your buck.
From food trucks to restaurants owned by rock-star chefs, kimchee is everywhere these days. Borne from the need to preserve perishable foods to last through Korea’s harsh winter months, kimchee is made by fermenting vegetables (most often napa cabbage) with a fiery garlic-chili seasoning that ranges from mild to “have mercy.” A 2013 study in the journal Annals of Nutrition & Metabolism found that regularly noshing on kimchee can help trim the waistline and improve blood-sugar control. As a result of its burgeoning popularity, chefs and home cooks are now making kimchee with everything from Brussels sprouts to cucumbers to turnips. The salty, sweet, sour and spicy concoction is a powerful addition to tacos, scrambled eggs, burgers, braised greens, grilled cheese, pizza, stews, stir-fries, soups and rice dishes. Once only found in Korean markets, kimchee can now be purchased in many natural food stores and even in some larger supermarkets.
Think of it as a Western version of kimchee. Submerged in salty brine for several days, cabbage slowly ferments with the help of bacteria such as Lactobacillus into the crunchy, sour condiment we know as sauerkraut. Sauerkraut is often the first DIY fermentation project home fermenters undertake because it requires very little skill and equipment beyond a large jar, salt and a nice head of cabbage. Great as a stand-alone side dish, sauerkraut also can instantly jazz up sandwiches, mashed potatoes, coleslaw, tacos, enchiladas, scrambled eggs, grain salads, burgers and nearly anything made with pork. When purchasing sauerkraut from stores or farmer’s markets, be sure to select only brands that have not been pasteurized because the heat process used in some commercial brands (which makes it able to be sold without the need for refrigeration) will lay waste to the beneficial bacteria.
Whether you’re a vegetarian or not, it might be time to toss a package of meaty tempeh into your shopping cart. Unlike tofu, which is made from unfermented soymilk, tempeh is a patty originating from Indonesia that’s made from a base of fermented soybeans. Beyond its payload of probiotics, tempeh also has higher protein, vitamin B-12 and fiber levels than tofu. Its flavor can be described as smoky, nutty and earthy in a mushroom kind of way. Slabs of tempeh can be marinated and grilled like you would steak or chicken. Also, try crumbling it up and adding it to chili, stir-fries, tacos, soups, casseroles or pasta sauce. Unlike other fermented foods, tempeh should be cooked to rid it of undesirable microorganisms.
Though it has been sipped in areas of China for more than 2,000 years, this tea-based fermented beverage has only recently become a trendy healing elixir among the Hollywood and yogi clans. Kombucha is made by combining tea with a mother starter and a bustling colony of bacteria and yeast. The tea is then left to do its fermentation thing for a week or more. The shorter the fermentation period, the sweeter the beverage will be. Longer fermentation periods result in a drink that is lip-puckeringly vinegary with a higher alcohol content. Some swear that drinking small amounts during the day can improve energy levels and digestion. Kombucha can make for an interesting marinade or brine for meats — or try it in salad dressings. When kombucha is bottled, it’s often heavily sweetened by manufacturers to make it more palatable, so compare brands and look for those with the least amount of added sweetener.
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Your heart and brain will go nuts for peanuts. Plus, they help lower your risk of weight gain.
Your heart and brain will go nuts for peanuts. Plus, they help lower your risk of weight gain. Here are five ways to enjoy them.
As a Spread
Stir a tablespoon of all-natural, unsalted peanut butter into your morning oats and get an extra 4 grams of quality protein as well as all-day satisfaction: A study from Purdue University showed that consuming peanuts for breakfast increased the hormone peptide YY, which promotes satiety and helps control appetite for up to 12 hours.
As a Flour
Swap peanut flour for traditional wheat flour to create a gluten-free, high-protein, high-fiber treat.
Dry-roasting peanuts means no added fat or sodium, and having a handful in the afternoon can combat the sleepies as well as that urge to hit the vending machine: Peanuts contain high levels of arginine, an amino acid that promotes production of nitric oxide, opening blood vessels and improving blood flow while also prompting the body to release insulin, helping stabilize blood sugar. Plus, peanut skins contain resveratrol, the same phytochemical found in red wine, which is associated with a reduced risk of heart disease and cancer, anti-aging and fat burning.
Throwing a tablespoon of powdered peanut butter — PB which has been pressed to remove the oils and stickiness — into your postworkout shake assimilates like a dream, delivering a big hit of glutamine to restore nitrogen balance and phosphorous to help synthesize protein, repair cells and tissues, and make ATP for energy.
As an Oil
Peanut oil contains the same healthy components as olive oil (monounsaturated fatty acids) as well as niacin, both of which help decrease LDL cholesterol and increase HDL cholesterol and combat heart disease. Peanut oil adds a sweet, nutty flavor to any dish and has a high smoke point (450 degrees), making it ideal for stir-fry dishes.
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Follow these three simple rules for eating fat to lose fat.
Confused by dietary fats? As an active woman, you need fats for three reasons: To function (they help your body absorb the essential vitamins A, D, E and K), to build muscle (fats aid testosterone production, a main trigger in muscle growth) and to stay slim (fats take longer to digest so you end up feeling full longer, warding off the urge to overeat).
If you don’t eat enough, “You’ll break down muscle for energy, essentially lowering your metabolism,” says Ohio-based sports nutritionist Dawn Weatherwax-Fall, RD, CSSD. The key is to eat mostly healthy fats. The problem: They’re not always clearly marked on food labels, and deciphering grams and percentages can be dizzying if math isn’t your forte. For a non-intimidating way to really “get” fat, follow this advice:
Eat More: Mono and Poly
Known collectively as “the healthy fats,” monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats help you in abundant, yet different, ways. Mono fats include olive oil, almonds, seeds, avocados and natural nut butters. Poly fats are made up of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids and are found in soybean and canola oils, walnuts, tuna, wild salmon and other cold-water fish. An easy way to differentiate between the two is to think of mono fats as the bad-cholesterol (LDL) and belly-fat reducers and poly fats as the inflammation fighters and brain boosters. Both types of fat also help keep you trim by stabilizing blood sugar and preventing cravings for carbohydrate-rich foods. The key to eating mono and poly fats is portion control.
Your Daily Fix: One to two teaspoons of oil (at least one from extra virgin olive oil), one-quarter of an avocado, one to two tablespoons of natural nut butter and a shot glass full of nuts. For fish, aim for at least 12 ounces per week.
Eat Less: Saturated Fats
Solid at room temperature, these fats raise LDL cholesterol and are believed to increase your risk of heart disease, but they’re also needed in small amounts for many critical functions (bone and hormone production, for example). “Limit saturated fats to no more than 10 percent of your total fat intake,” Weatherwax-Fall says. On a food label, look for one gram of saturated fat per 100 calories. For an average 2,000-calorie diet, that’s no more than 20 grams of saturated fat per day.
Your Daily Fix: 1.5 tablespoons of non-hydrogenated coconut oil, three ounces of cooked ground beef (95 percent lean) and one ounce low-fat colby or cheddar cheese.
Eat None: Trans Fats
Flying under the radar as “partially hydrogenated vegetable oil,” (check the ingredient list on prepackaged food labels for this sneaky alias), trans fats are a type of unsaturated fat that’s been chemically altered to prolong shelf life. Excessive consumption of trans fats (a hallmark of the Western diet) is known to cause chronic inflammation throughout the body, which can lead to heart disease, type 2 diabetes, cancer and stroke in older women, according to recent research.
Your Daily Fix: Avoid packaged foods and fried fare at all costs. Eat fresh, whole foods.
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Lean protein on your plate means more muscle on your body. Here’s why eggs are the perfect food. Plus, easy recipes to build muscle and burn fat.
In the fitness nutrition world, it’s rare to come across an inexpensive whole food like the egg, which does it all on the performance-boosting front: amps up energy levels? Check. Eggs are both nutrient-dense (lots of vitamins, protein and fats), and energy-dense at just about 70 calories each. Helps build muscle and burn fat? Double check. Eggs have over six grams of protein each and, best of all, they are a complete protein, containing all nine essential amino acids required for protein synthesis. Plus, protein revs up your fat-torching metabolism.
Despite years of research debunking the myth that dietary cholesterol raises cholesterol levels in the body, you might still worry over egg’s heart-wrecker reputation. But USDA scientists have “eggs-onerated” eggs from this rap by declaring that today’s eggs have 14 percent less cholesterol than previously reported.
Make this recipe: Simple Eggs and Salsa
More Sunshine Vitamin
Eggs now contain 64 percent more vitamin D. The latest RDA for vitamin D is 600 International Units (IU) for adults of all ages, and today’s eggs provide 41 IU per large egg. Higher vitamin D levels are a boon to your health and fitness. Higher vitamin D levels have been linked to higher testosterone levels and increased strength in older adults. Additionally, vitamin D deficiency in young, healthy women was recently linked to increased fat buildup in muscles, according to the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism.
Make this recipe: Clean Egg Muffins
Egg White Safety
Blame Rocky for the dangerous trend of eating raw egg whites while training hard. Salmonellosis is an infection caused by the bacteria Salmonella, which contaminates one out of every 30,000 eggs. Symptoms include diarrhea, fever and abdominal cramps, and can lead to severe illness and even death in some cases. To ensure egg safety, follow these solutions:
- Refrigerate eggs as soon as possible and use within three to four weeks.
- Cook eggs to 160 F – that means hard-boiled or over-hard. Flip eggs and cook until the yolk hardens.
- Refrigerate all foods prepared with eggs.
- Do not use raw eggs in recipes that will not be cooked to the appropriate temperature.
Make this recipe: Veggie Quiche
Fat Loss Booster
In a new study, individuals who ate two eggs for breakfast over an eight-week-period lost an average of six pounds – almost twice as much weight as those who ate a bagel. The egg-eaters also reduced their waist circumference by 83 percent, improved their energy and did not have significantly higher cholesterol levels.
Make this recipe: Mushroom and Potato Frittata
Keep The Yolk
Active and healthy women should be eating one whole egg per day, yolk and all. It can help build muscle, ease sore muscles and boost brain power!
Plus, most of the egg’s protein is in the yolk – 44% of the total protein in an egg comes the yolk. So when you discard the yolk, you’re wasting nearly half the protein.
Make this recipe: Poached Eggs Florentine
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Keep your digestive system health and happy with these 12 gut-healing foods.
Promoting healthy gut microbiota—the bacteria that live in the intestine—can help prevent metabolic syndrome—a combination of risk factors that increases a person’s risk for heart disease, diabetes and stroke—suggests new research published in the journal Gastroenterology. This isn’t the only finding that has found our intestines are the center of health. Another study suggests that a healthy gut may determine whether or not we struggle with extra pounds.
And so the question is: how can we help our gut cultivate the good bacteria that promotes health rather than the bad bacteria that can aid disease to flourish? Read on for 12 foods that will help your gut get grooving with good bugs.
These flower-like thistle vegetables found in your produce department contain indigestible nutrients—aka prebiotics—that help feed the bacteria in your belly so they can grow. Take advantage of these benefits with this Artichoke Puree recipe.
Just like the artichoke, asparagus has prebiotic properties. Luckily, it’s easy to eat: toss with a little olive oil and either grill it or roast it in a 400-degree oven for 15 minutes.
This staple of smoothies and post-workout meals can help get your gut’s bacteria in a healthy state, thanks to its prebiotic properties. Just take care to not eat too many, since too much potassium in the body can cause heart issues. Next time you’re looking for a post-workout smoothie, try this Pina Colada Smoothie.
Rabbits aren’t the only creatures that should nibble these brilliant colorful veggie sticks. Carrots contain a compound called arabiogalactans. Never heard of them? Well, they are a type of good bacteria that your intestines thrive on, according to a paper published in Alternative Medicine Review. Just another natural fibrous prebiotic that makes our list.
This flavor enhancer favored by Italians has already got a pretty stellar immune-busting reputation and now, add bacteria builder to its health cred. Garlic may help battle off bad bacteria while allow the good to proliferate, according to research published in an issue of Phytomedicine.
Have you tried this sweet root vegetable yet? If not, here’s a reason to seek it out: it is rich in inulin. Inulin is a type of fibrous prebiotic that is known to help encourage the production of healthy bacteria in your gut. The easiest way to eat it is to peel, cut and eat, but this Citrus-Ginger Salad recipe will showcase this root’s diversity.
Kefir and Yogurt
Fermented dairy products, such as yogurt and kefir, contain oligosaccharides, which are a type of carbohydrate that feeds beneficial bacteria. But how do oligosaccharides feed your gut bacteria? Our belly bugs help ferment theses carbs and produce short-chain fatty acids, lactate and gas.
Probiotics bifidobacteria and lactobacilli —both that tend to be in kefir and yogurt—thrive on oligosaccharides. People who eat kefir and yogurt have been found to see a growth of these beneficial bacteria occur. By the way, non-dairy options of these foods may have the same effect.
This ancient nourishing tonic has been said to strengthen immune systems for centuries, though the scientific community isn’t sold on this idea yet. But some see this fizzy fermented tea has a great substitute for soda and a lot better for you too. Considered a raw food, it coats your intestines in good bacteria. Bonus benefit: the fermentation process creates B vitamins that are known to improve energy levels.
Here is something you probably didn’t know: Manganese produces digestive enzymes and vitamin A in the body. By consuming foods high in manganese, such as leeks, you are helping your body create an environment that can keep your intestine walls healthy, which is important because these walls are the gatekeepers to the rest of your body—blood, immune system, etc. We wouldn’t want anything sinister slipping through. Add leeks to your menu with this recipe for Seared Pork Chops with Apples and Leeks.
Miso and Tempeh
Consider these fermented protein sources made of soy, wheat or barley healthy belly’s friends. Why? They contain isoflavones (think vitamins) and its own beneficial bacteria, which can make its home in your gut. Another benefit: Isoflavones have been found to halt the production of cancer cells and possibly fat cells.
Rabbits must know a good thing when they taste one, because like carrots, radishes contain arabiogalactans—the fibrous prebiotic that allows good bacteria to flourish. For your next taco night, consider making these fish tacos to give your intestines their own type of tasty meal.
Sauerkraut and Kimchi
Both are fermented cabbage, but kimchi is spicy. Both can deliver a serious prebiotic pop but only if you avoid the canned varieties which may kill the healthy bacteria in the canning process.
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Fear weight gain when the weather turns cold? Fear no longer. This time of year actually offers foods both low in calories and high in nutritional value.
But you can satisfy your body’s need for warmth and bulk without expanding your waistline. After all, fall is harvest time and vegetables abound. Naturally low in calories, the season’s produce is known for their filling quality and healthfulness.
“Fall vegetables are often considered hearty because they’re densely packed with nutrients,” says Stephanie Gailing, MS, nutrition education consultant in Seattle, WA. For instance, one cup of cooked Swiss chard contains almost 390 percent of the daily value of vitamin K, while one cup of kale provides 240 percent of the daily value for vitamin A.
For a winter treat, whip up a scrumptious soup. Not only will it take the chill out of your bones, it can also help ward off winter weight gain. “Soups made with lots of vegetables are high in dietary fiber, which will fill you up while keeping calories to a minimum,” says Melanie Polk, RD, director of nutrition for the American Institute for Cancer Research.
How to Cook Perfect Veggies
Overcooking not only leaves vegetables mushy and unappealing to the palate, it can also suck out some of their nutrients. To cook vegetables to perfection, follow Stephanie Gailing’s, MS, simple tips.
- Decrease the water. If your veggies are drowning in water when they’re cooking, they’ll turn out soggy and will lose some of their nutrients. Only use an inch or less of water. And because the water contains nutrients that have seeped out from the veggies, save it for use in soups. Better still, don’t cook them in water at all. Steaming will allow the vegetables to retain all of their nutritional value.
- Minimize cooking time to keep veggies tender but crisp. If a recipe calls for 10 to 15 minutes, set your timer for 10 minutes and check the veggies.
- Do a color check. As a vegetable cooks, its color will intensify. Swiss chard, for instance, turns a brighter green. That color change signals that it’s ready. If the color loses its vibrancy and looks dull, this indicates the veggie is overcooked.
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Go beyond the basic hues in your produce picks. The more colorful your fruits and veggies are, the better.
Eating colorful fruits and vegetables is good for you, but do you know why? Not only is each color the result of a different set of pigment-inducing compounds found in a particular food — for example, beta-carotene makes carrots look orange — but those same compounds are often responsible for some of your food’s most important health benefits.
In the case of foods from the blue/purple/dark red family, the common element is a series of compounds known as anthocyanins. And while you may not have an easy time pronouncing them, there are lots of good reasons for a fit-minded female to load up on foods rich in this powerful family of nutrients at the next trip to the grocery store.
What is an Anthocyanin?
They are part of a family of active compounds in food known as flavonoids. While blueberries are probably the most well-known anthocyanin-rich food, there are plenty of other sources too, ranging from red raspberries to purple eggplants. Depending on the pH level of the food, anthocyanins can range from red in acidic foods to purple with a neutral pH, and blue in basic foods. In general, any fruit, vegetable or legume (think beans) that have a deep red, purple or blue hue will contain some amount of anthocyanins, though some foods naturally contain more than others.
So how, exactly then do anthocyanins work the body? Researchers aren’t exactly sure yet. Some studies have even shown that very little is absorbed by the bloodstream, causing some to speculate that it is more than just the anthocyanins doing the work in our bodies. With that, there are also enough studies showing their potential health and fitness benefits, so it’s worth a closer look at these intensely colored foods.
Anthocyanin-rich foods seem to be natural inflammation fighters, and that can be important for keeping numerous workout-sapping conditions, ranging from achy joints to asthma, under control. In a study published in the Journal of Nutrition, men who ate one purple potato per day over six weeks had reduced levels of whole-body inflammation and less DNA damage than men given an equal portion of white potatoes.
Could anthocyanins actually help keep you lean? Studies have suggested that blueberry anthocyanins, in particular, may be able to help prevent the accumulation of body fat. One study published in the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry discovered that mice placed on a high-fat diet gained no more body fat than mice on a low-fat diet, as long as they were given either blueberry juice or purified blueberry anthocyanins.
While cardiovascular disease might not be at the forefront of your mind, know this: a healthy heart helps to transport oxygen to working muscles, and anthocyanins may help keep the heart and circulatory system in top condition by relaxing blood vessels by triggering the release of the compound nitric oxide.
Bonus: Studies suggest that anthocyanin-rich blueberries protect the brain from aging, keeping you fit and sharp as time ticks by.
Fends Off Aging & Cancer
Anthocyanins are also natural antioxidants, which means they protect our cells from oxidative damage from the likes of ultraviolet light, pollution or the natural aging process. Anthocyanins may also prevent the growth of cancerous cell lines in the body: in one study, published in the Journal of Medicinal Food, an extract of anthocyanin-rich Concord grapes helped prevent cancerous damage to breast tissue.
Any plant-based food that is blue, purple or deep red will likely contain some amount of anthocyanins. Here are some of our favorites:
Bitter they may be, but cranberries seem to be particularly beneficial for preventing unwanted bacteria from sticking to the cells of the urinary tract, keeping infections away. Watch out for sweetened cranberry cocktails, however — you’re better off to use a splash of the real stuff in sparkling water for an alcohol-free cocktail with dinner.
Like cranberries, tart cherries have a bit of zing, but it’s a taste you can get used to, especially when you see that this juice not only seems to reduce oxidative stress, a process that contributes to aging, but research suggests that it also reduces some symptoms of exercise-induced muscle damage after even the toughest workouts.
They’re chock-full of antioxidants, with very few calories, and science also suggests that cabbage family foods are particularly powerful breast cancer fighters.
Try: Sautéed shredded red cabbage with a chopped apple as a bold side-dish to your favorite protein source.
If you’re ready for a break from blueberries, blackberries are a great option. Nutritional winners for their anthocyanin content, blackberries are also low in calories (62 per cup) and high in fiber (eight grams per cup). Keep fresh or frozen blackberries on hand for a boost to yogurt, oatmeal, shakes and even cottage cheese.
Red Kidney Beans
Yes, anthocyanins are found in more foods than just berries. Red kidney beans are a must for leaning out as they’re packed with protein, filling fiber and disease-fighting antioxidants — a rare combination found in few other foods.
Try: Toss them into a chili, or mash them up with some cumin and garlic for a quick veggie dip.
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Curb your hunger, improve your blood sugar levels and lose weight with a 13,000-year-old fat-loss superfood.
With cultivation in roughly 130 centuries and the fourth most commonly grown cereal grain today, barley is achieving the status of true superfood, all-too often a rank accorded to over-marketed, over-hyped, understudied foods fighting for supermarket shelf space.
What It Does
Based on research at Sweden’s Lund University, whole-grain barley reduces appetite and, within three days of daily ingestion, improves blood sugar levels and insulin sensitivity. As a result, not only can this ancient food help you lose weight by minimizing your between-meals snacking or the amount of food you eat at subsequent meals, but this metabolism booster also lowers the risk of cardiovascular disease and Type 2 diabetes. If you ask us, that’s a win-win-win situation — a nutritional hat trick — in any book.
In a nutshell, this study had participants eat one slice of barley bread (85 grams of barley kernels per slice) for each of three meals for three days. Then, 11 to 14 hours after the final meal, participants were measured for markers of blood sugar levels, insulin levels, insulin sensitivity and appetite, as well as a hormone that shows levels of inflammation. As it turned out, the barley, thanks to its unique mixture of dietary fibers, had increased gut hormones that regulate metabolism and appetite positively in a relatively short period.
Because barley is so rich in complex carbohydrates, its benefits for serious training cannot be underestimated. For example, carb up with barley the day before a serious leg workout, and see how you’ll be able to push the edge of your training envelope.
What You Can Do
Study co-researcher Anne Nilsson, associate professor at Lund’s Food for Health Science Centre, explains that the amount of barley used in the study was maximized so as “not to miss any effect,” but most likely “it is not necessary to consume such large portions.” She wanted Oxygen readers to know this, however: “The message must be to try to incorporate barley kernels as a natural part of the diet, e.g., to replace rice, potatoes, pasta and include the grain in soups and stews.”
With its rich, chewy, nutty flavor, it also can replace your morning oatmeal (toss in cinnamon and blueberries to add the antioxidant anthocyanins), or stir in frozen mixed vegetables during the last 10 minutes of cooking or broccoli to add the powerful antioxidant sulforaphane for a powerful lunch.
Love to Bake?
If your passion is baking and you’d like to try your hand at baking the bread used in the actual Lund study, search “barley” on MedicalNewsToday.com.
Because of its powerful impact on your digestive tract, when you first start incorporating barley into your diet, take your time.
- Begin with small quantities, and increase daily intake slowly as your digestive tract adapts.
- Drink plenty of water to help move along this supergrain.
* If you have celiac disease, you may want to avoid barley because of its gluten load.
Which Barley Is Better?
While nearly all forms of barley contain beta glucan, a potent fiber, not all barley is made equally.
Most barley found in supermarkets is the “pearl” version. While quite healthy, its outer husk has been removed, along with the nutrient-dense bran and germ layers, in order to facilitate reduced cooking time.
Hulled or Hull-less Barley
This grain retains the bran and germ layers, allowing this form, unlike pearled barley, to be considered a whole-grain food that is much more nutrient-dense than its stripped-down relative. Of course, the hulled version must first be soaked overnight and then cooked more than an hour before it can be consumed, but leftovers will remain viable in the fridge at least for a couple of days.
Get It Here!
If your local health-food store does not carry the hulled version, you can purchase Bob’s Red Mill Hull-Less Barley directly from BobsRedMill.com or GMO-free Organic Hulled Barley from GrainPlaceFoods.co. (Both are also available from Amazon.)
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