Monthly Archives: October 2014

This Week in Food, Health, and Fitness

This week, read about how to fuel for a faster marathon, more reasons to eat Mediterranean style, the health benefits of oats, Halloween candy to fuel training, and more.

Want to Run a Fast Marathon? Make Sure You Fuel it Right with Carbs!

Berlin marathonMany athletes don’t consume enough carbohydrates in training and racing, despite a significant body of research showing that consuming carbohydrates during  endurance events leads to better performances. Endurance or intensity sessions deplete muscles of glycogen, so it’s important to consume carbohydrates to delay the onset of fatigue and replenish these stores.

The New York Times reports this week on a study showing that proper timing and dosage of sports gels during a marathon led to better performances than a group who used their usual nutrition strategies. The “gel” group consumed more carbohydrates during the marathon than the “usual” group, which supports other research showing that optimal carbohydrate consumption improves performance. Of note, the gel group didn’t experience more gastrointestinal distress than the usual group, and practiced this fueling strategy during training – something many athletes neglect do do. Research shows that you can train your gut to tolerate and increase its ability to absorb carbohydrates . . . don’t wait until race day!

More Reasons to Eat a Mediterranean-Style Diet

Two new studies out this week add to the growing body of research showing that eating a Mediterranean style diet is good for your health.

One study, published in the American Heart Association’s journal Stroke, updates recommendations for stroke prevention, and recommends a Mediterranean-style diet; another study showed that eating a Mediterranean-style diet could reduce the risk of kidney disease.

What is a Mediterranean-style diet? A Mediterranean diet typically focuses on plant-based foods like vegetables, fruits, and whole grains; healthy fats from nuts, seeds, and olive oil; moderate intake of fish and poultry, and low intake of dairy products, red meat, processed meats, and sweets.

A Mediterranean-style eating plan can include many delicious foods, is not restrictive, and an extensive body of research links eating “Mediterranean-style” to numerous health benefits.

The Health Benefits of Oats

oatmealbars_smallThis week I discovered that there is an International Oat Day.  Oats are certainly a dietary staple for me: a typical breakfast includes oatmeal and fruit or muesli, and I usually incorporate oats into other foods and baked goods.  As an endurance athlete,  my diet is typically high in carbohydrates, and oats are an inexpensive, healthful, and versatile source of carbohydrates to fuel my activity.  Also out this week was a journal supplement dedicated to a scientific review of oats (summary is here; and you’ll find all the articles in the October 2014 supplement of the  British Journal of Nutrition October ).  Among other topics, the supplement reviews research, including the following:

  • Oatmeal is more filling than ready-to-eat, oat-based cereals (calorie for calorie)
  • Oats contribute to digestive health
  • Oats improve cardiovascular health, and the beneficial impact of beta-glucan fiber in oats on low-density lipoprotein-cholesterol (LDL-C)

I”ve incorporated oats into the following recipes: Sheila’s Quick & Easy Oatmeal Bars; Traditional Swiss Oat Muesli, and Tasty Veggie Burgers

More links of interest this week:


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This Week in Food, Health, and Fitness

This week, read about what’s lurking in your receipts, how to create effective practices, looking beyond beets for nitrates, and more.

receiptReceipts and Greasy Fingers, Is it a Problem? 

Thermal receipt paper from supermarkets, ATM machines, gas stations, and other settings is a source of BPA exposure. BPA is a hormone disruptor that might have adverse health effects. New research shows that certain conditions can dramatically increase BPA absorption. Scientists mimicked a food court scenario: people used hand sanitizer, held a cash register receipt, and then ate French fries: they found that these people were quickly exposed to high levels BPA (a hormone-disrupting chemical).  Study authors are calling for alternate technology for receipts. (Time, PLOS One October 22, 2014).

How much do you need to worry about the BPA in cash register receipts? Although this new study provides more data to advance the science of BPA exposure,  it is unlikely that the hand sanitizer and receipt-holding pattern used in the study is typical. Read a good review of this study and potential risk here.

A Quick Cure for Ineffective Practice

What causes a bad practice? It’s easy to say that players/athletes/children aren’t engaged, but more important to look at the practice design.  The video below presents a great visual of how an ineffective space can present challenges that zap enthusiasm and prompt learners to lose interest.  Seems this concept might be generalized to many situations beyond athletics.  (The Talent Code)

Beets Benefit Athletes and Heart Failure Patients

The research on beets continues to reveal the health-promoting properties of dietary nitrate, with one of the latest studies showing that beet juice can increase blood flow to fast-twitch muscle fibers.  These researchers also suggest that beet juice might improve the quality of life for heart failure patients by increasing oxygen delivery to muscles. (Nitric Oxide, October 2014).

I have written about earlier research on beets and endurance here.  Most of the studies use beet juice, likely because it’s consistent with other studies, has stable nitrate levels, and has a good placebo (nitrate-free beet juice). But other nitrate-containing vegetables might have similar benefits: One study found that a diet rich in traditional Japanese foods (plenty of leafy greens) increased plasma nitrite levels and lowered blood pressure, showing that high-nitrate vegetables other than beets may also increase nitric oxide levels.

Vegetables high in nitrates include rhubarb, arugula, spinach, celery, cress, chervil, lettuce, beets, chinese cabbage, endive, fennel, kohlrabi, leek, and parsley (levels vary depending on soil conditions and other variables, but the table below provides approximate nitrate content).


bushel of applesIN SEASON: Apples

In most areas, it’s  a great time to enjoy apples at their peak. Find out more about the health benefits of this versatile fruit.


More links of interest this week:

  • Beware the Single-Study Story.  Nice article explaining why you need to be skeptical when reading research headlines. (Outside) Beyond single studies, also be aware of articles or books that “cherry pick” studies. That is, presenting only information that supports your ideas. Wheat Belly is a good example of a book with health recommendations based on cherry picked data (and many other pseudoscientific arguments).
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Sweet, crisp, versatile, and robust are attributes that make apples a favorite fruit.  The nutritional benefits of apples have been touted since medieval times, and the old English saying “Ate an apfel avore gwain to bed Makes the doctor beg his bread” is still popular, but better known as  “An apple a day keeps the doctor away.”   Research is lending support for this expression, as recent studies are revealing that apples may help protect against a number of chronic conditions.

apple_MSIf you typically eat the same variety of apple, consider trying a new kind. There are more apple varieties on record than for any other food (about 7,500), making this fruit one of the more varied on the planet. In the US, about 100 varieties are grown commercially. Although the choice at most supermarkets may be limited, visit a Farmer’s Market or specialty produce store to discover the many different flavors this fruit has to offer.

Treasure the Apple Peels

Peeled ApplesApple consumption is linked to a reduced risk of many chronic health problems.  Research shows that the peel contains most of the beneficial phytochemicals believed to be responsible for the “apple-a-day-keeps-the-doctor-away effect.”

In addition to being a good source of fiber, apples are rich in antioxidants and other protective compounds. Not only does the peel account for about 75 percent of an apple’s dietary fiber, but also about two-thirds of an apple’s antioxidants are found in its peel.

Many recipes call for peeling apples, but if you skip this step, you’ll save time, and add more protective compounds to your dish.

Cornell University researchers isolated biologically active components from apple peels and identified a group of compounds with “potent” anticancer effects. These compounds, called triterpenoids have been found to inhibit or kill cancer cells in laboratory cultures.

Ursolic acid is another compound in apple peels that may have health-promoting properties: preliminary research showed that ursolic acid might prevent muscle atrophy associated with aging. Mice fed ursolic acid had increased muscle mass and were leaner, with lower levels of blood glucose, cholesterol and triglycerides (a follow-up study showed increases in brown fat as well).

Apples are a rich source of soluble fiber, which can help lower cholesterol levels.  This in turn is thought to reduce the risk of heart disease.  One study suggested that an apple a day could reduce deaths from heart disease and strokes about as well as statins. The soluble fiber in apples supports the growth of “friendly” gut bacteria, which play an important role in supporting the immune system.

Other potential benefits of apples may include reducing the risk of metabolic syndrome, diabetesstroke, dementia,  obesity, and increasing exercise endurance, through the activity of a flavonoid in apple peels called quercetin.

Although apples are healthful, it’s best to limit apple juice, because it is a concentrated source of sugar with little fiber and it is much lower in protective compounds.  Also, the fruit will fill you up more than juice, which can help you control your calorie intake.

applesaladEnjoying Apples

Apples are perfect to eat out of hand and a popular lunchbox fruit, but you can incorporate this fruit into many meals. Chop them into your morning oatmeal, add them to salads, or bake them into a fruit crisp.

This Apple Walnut Cake is all about apples. . . and you’ll be hard pressed to find a more delicious cake with such healthful ingredients.  Boasting the nutrients of 3 cups of apples, the healthy Omega-3 fats of walnuts, whole wheat flour, and just enough sugar for optimal sweetness,  you can enjoy this nutritious treat as a breakfast bread, a nourishing snack, or a light dessert.

Here are some other great apple recipes to inspire you.

Wondering about the best way to select, store, and prepare apples? Check out these tips.


This article was adapted from Food for Thought: Healing Foods to Savor, a Cookbook and Food Guide I wrote with Vicky Newman, MS, RDN. 


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This Week in Food, Health, and Fitness

This week, read about nutrition strategies for health and athletic performance, chocolate cake, how to define science, and more.

Nutrition Strategies for Health and Athletic PerformanceOverallNutrition

I’ve complied many of my sports nutrition articles under one page, with additional information to tie it all together.  The page reviews Overall Healthy Eating,  Sports Nutrition,  Food and Recipe Ideas for Athletes, and Sports Nutrition Resources. It’s a great resource for athletes of all ages. I”ll be adding information and new links to the page, so be sure to check back.

ChocolateCakeChocolate Cake: Guilt or Celebration?

Do you ever feel guilty about eating certain foods? A study conducted by researchers at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand showed that associating  a food like chocolate cake with celebration rather than guilt predicted healthier eating behaviors and better weight control. In the study, people who associated eating cake with guilt were more likely to have gained weight 18 months after the initial study (while cake celebraters were more successful at losing weight). (Appetite, March 2014).

Tim Crowe has a nice review of the study, and reminds us that “Eating food is far more than about nutrients and health. It is an incredibly pleasurable and social activity that is important to cultures the world over. Being overly worried and concerned about food or nutrient X may be doing more harm than good if it magnifies an unhealthy relationship with food.

Strive to eat well, but don’t forget to celebrate food.

More links of interest this week:


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