Monthly Archives: September 2015

Beets & Arugula in a Curry Vinaigrette

Beet Root 687251 1280 Pubdomain (640x427)Sweet and colourful, beets will certainly brighten up any meal! Their brilliant red hue comes from pigments called anthocyanins, powerful antioxidants studied for their disease-prevention potential. Beets, arugula, and celery are also good sources of dietary nitrates, which have been linked to improved athletic performance and blood pressure regulation.

This beet and arugula salad is great anytime, but terrific when fresh beets and apples are in season. It takes a little longer to prepare than my typical salads, but if you cook the beets in advance it is pretty quick to put together.


  • 2      lbs. beets, cooked and peeled (about 4 cups cut up)
  • 3      green onions, minced (or about 1/2 cup finely chopped red onion)
  • ½    cup raisins
  • 4      cups of young arugula leaves
  • 2      firm apples
  • 1      cup celery, chopped (about 2 large stalks)
  • ½     cup chopped walnuts

Curry Vinaigrette

  • 1-2 cloves garlic
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 2 tsp. curry powder
  • 1/2 tsp. fresh grated ginger
  • 1/4 cup seasoned rice vinegar
  • 2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil


  1. Scrub the beets, wrap in foil and bake on a cookie sheet or in a pan at 400° for 30 minutes (this may take longer depending on the size of the beets). Beets will be tender when their skin is wrinkled and slips off easily.
  2. While the beets are cooking, prepare the vinaigrette. Mix together the garlic, salt, curry, ginger, and rice vinegar. Then add the olive oil. Set aside.
  3. When the beets are cooked, unwrap and place them on a plate to cool. When cool enough to handle, peel, slice in half, and then into wedges. Toss them with 2-3 tbsp. of the curry dressing and half of the green onions. Set this mixture aside while you prepare the rest of the ingredients. (You can do this the night before serving.)
  4. Quarter the apples and slice them into thin pieces (size of sliced mushrooms). Combine the apples with the celery and raisins, and the rest of the green onions and dressing.
  5. To serve, arrange the beets on the arugula, and spoon the celery/apple mixture on top. Sprinkle with chopped walnuts. Alternatively, you can gently mix all ingredients together (I think this method works better, and still looks o.k. — if you don’t mind beet-tinted apples and arugula – pictured below).

Makes EIGHT 1/2-Cup Servings

Beets Arugula Tall Sm

Nutrition Notes

This salad is tremendously nutritious! Beyond beets, most other ingredients have potential health benefits, for example . . ..

  • Arugula is part of the cruciferous family of vegetables.  Cruciferous vegetables contain several compounds that researchers are investigating for their disease-fighting potential: these include glucosinolates, crambene, indole-3-carbinol and isothiocyanates. Arugula is also a good source of dietary nitrates, which have been shown to help lower blood pressure and benefit athletic performance. 
  • walnutinshellWalnuts are a good source of healthy fats, and contain more of the omega-3 fat alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) than other nuts. Eating walnuts has been associated with lowering cholesterol, reducing breast cancer risk (in mice), helping control blood sugar, and reducing the risk of diabetes.
  • Peeled ApplesApples are a good source of fiber, and rich in antioxidants and other protective compounds.  Don’t peel your apples, because you’re throwing away important nutrients. Not only does the peel account for about 75% of an apple’s dietary fiber, but also about two-thirds of an apple’s antioxidants are found in its peel. In addition, apple peels contain biologically active components  with anticancer effects called triterpenoids. Ursolic acid is another protective compound in apple peels that might prevent muscle atrophy associated with aging and help control blood glucose, cholesterol, and triglycerides, and possibly increase brown fatRead more about the health benefits of apples here
  • Green Onions are rich in protective phytochemicals. The sulfur compounds — which give onions their pungent taste and smell — help lower blood cholesterol and protect arteries. Onions are one of the richest dietary sources of flavonoids, especially quercetin, which is linked to reduced muscle damage after exercise, and reduced chronic inflammation that can trigger heart disease and some cancers.

Nutrition per 1/2 cup serving

  • 170 calories
  • 3 g protein
  • 23 g carbohydrates
  • 9 g fat (<1 g sat),
  • 0 mg cholesterol
  • 4 g fiber
  • 150 mg sodium
  • 500 mg potassium
  • 60 mg calcium
  • 40 mg magnesium

More Salads & Side Dishes

Recipe adapted from Food for Thought: Healing Foods to Savor, by Sheila Kealey and Vicky Newman with Susan Faerber. California: Regents of the University of California, 2012.










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This week in Food, Health, and Fitness

This week, read about BJM’s attack on the US Dietary Guidelines, self-talk for runners, a sneaky experiment about calorie counts, altitude training, respect for sports psychology, carrot wars, time-restricted eating, the Banting diet, and how you can learn anything.

Attack on US Dietary Guidelines

Many health experts were shocked this week when the British Medical Journal published  an article by a clearly biased journalist.  Nina Teicholz, author of the book Big Fat Surprise, criticized the 2015 US Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee Report (ironically for its lack of good science). True experts in the field of nutrition and health are responsible for crafting the US Dietary guidelines. I wrote about the guidelines and earlier criticism here.  It is puzzling many why a journal would publish such an article, but they are certainly getting a lot of press for their actions . . .

I think the best part of the new guidelines is an emphasis on dietary patterns, rather than nutrients or specific foods.  Although much of nutrition research focuses on investigating the influence of intakes of specific nutrients or foods on health, at the end of the day, it’s our overall diet that counts.  Also, this emphasis reflects a growing appreciation of the complex interaction among nutrients and other food components. And here’s a quick graphic I put together to summarize the current guidelines.


Teicholz promotes a high fat/low carbohydrate diet in her book, and she calls any contrary advice bad science.  For a run down on the “science” and writing in Teicholz’s book, have a look at the following:  THE BIG FAT SURPRISE: A CRITICAL REVIEW Part 1; Part 2.

Here are some excellent rebuttals to Teicholz’s BMJ piece:

More Headlines of Interest This Week:

Self-Talk for Ultramarathoners.  Alex Hutchinson reports on an ongoing study suggesting potential benefits of self-talk for ultramarathon performance.  (Alex Hutchinson, Runner’s World).

A sneaky experiment about calorie counts. A new study looks into the best way to convey calorie counts to help weight control. Numbers or traffic lights? (Journal of Public Policy and Marketing, September 2015).

Altitude Training. A few articles this week may be of interest to athletes and coaches who are training or racing at altitude. 

  • Altitude training and performance. This is an excellent presentation of the latest research on altitude training & performance by exercise physiologist Yann Le Meur.
  • Iron Levels and Altitude. Alex Hutchinson looks at a study that recommends that athletes with low ferritin levels take supplements while training at altitude.

The Myth That Links Poor Families to Fast Food.  A new study by scientists at the Centers for Disease Control  debunks the misconception that low-income Americans are the biggest consumers of quick-chain fare. It seems the wealthiest Americans are the most likely to eat fast food. (The Atlantic, reporting on NCHS data brief, September, 2015)

Sport Psychology Still Doesn’t Get the Respect It Deserves. Don’t underestimate the role of mental preparation for athlete development.  Sports psychologist Jim Taylor makes a compelling case for why mental training should be treated the same as physical and technical training in sports.

The carrot war gets serious. The frozen and canned food lobbies want a place in the school lunch program. (Politico)

clock of the human mindNovel research method to study eating habits and time restricted eating. An emerging field of research is looking into how the timing of meals in relation to our circadian rhythms (which influence biological processes and metabolism) affects health.  Researchers from the Salk Institute are investigating what they call “metabolic jet lag,” a name they use to describe when circadian rhythms become distorted due to irregular eating times.

Early findings in animals and preliminary small studies in humans suggest it might be better for health to restrict our feeding period.  The Salk investigators developed an app to get a snapshot of timing of eating patterns, and used the app to help study participants limit their feeding to a 10-11 hour period. After 16 weeks, participants with a restricted feeding window lost weight and reported better sleep and energy levels. You can download the smartphone app (and contribute your data to their research) here. (Cell Metabolism, September, 2015).

Stay Fast As You Age. Amby Burfoot looks at recent research showing that lower-leg strength training is important to maintaining running speed over time. (Runner’s World).

Banting or Ranting? Many hold sports physiologist Tim Noakes in high esteem after reading his popular books (e.g. Lore of Running). But he is losing respect among scientists. Here’s a look at the claims of Tim Noake’s Banting diet, that limits carbohydrates to about 50g/day (that’s about the carb content of one apple . . .). (Daily Maverick).

More bad science from Noakes . . . recently he seems to be in the anti-establishment/conspiracy theorist camp, disregarding science (that doesn’t support his opinions), promoting his high-fat low-carb diet as evidence-based, and stating that a proven link between vaccines and autism have been covered up.

Sitting Is Bad for Children, Too. A lot of research shows that sitting too much is bad for the health of adults, and a new study by researchers at UBC Kelowna show it’s a concern for children too.  Looking at 9- to 12-year-old girls, they found that prolonged sitting was bad for vascular function. The study authors recommend regular exercise breaks to offset the detrimental effects of uninterrupted sitting in young girls. (Gretchen Reynolds, New York Times, reporting on Exp Physiol, Sep 2015).

You Can Learn Anything

A great reminder from Kahn Academy.



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This Week in Food, Health, and Fitness

This week, read about the credibility of food bloggers, how mindfulness training can make you a better athlete, blood pressure guidelines, more benefits to a Mediterranean-style diet, the importance of rehab for sprained ankles, larger packaging leads to consuming more food, caffeine at night resets your inner clock, and more.

The Credibility of Food Bloggers

Today’s food bloggers do lot more than provide recipes and pictures. Nutrition advice abounds: even when not explicit, the ingredients that make up the dishes are often the result of nutrition myths and misconceptions.  Two articles this week looked at the culture of food bloggers and their credibility.

In this article When the cult of wellness promotes misinformation that leads to eating disorders and garbled medical advice Sali Huges looks into the misinformation peddled by popular wellness gurus.  (Sali Hughes, The Pool).  She has some clever lines, including this:

If wheat is Kryptonite to the clean-eating brigade, then coconut oil (delicious, versatile, also full of cholesterol score-raising saturated fat, according to my registered dietician friend Leo Pemberton) is the messiah. Eat it, drink it, dollop it into porridge, use it to heal your wounds, make your Corian worktops gleam, and “cure” your skin of sun damage. “

Earlier this summer, the Guardian published a similar story (pseudoscience and strawberries) about how some health bloggers should carry a health warning.

And just how do people rate the credibility of food bloggers? This is disheartening, but provides insight into why people follow the advice of some wellness gurus: a study published this week by Cornell University researchers found that readers are more skeptical of a blogger’s advice when the blogger is overweight. Weight bias and stereotypes are pervasive in society, and seem to affect health-related judgements as well. (Health Communication, September 2015).

In the name of health, should you drink only almond milk? Use coconut oil for fat and only “natural” sweeteners or agave for sweetener in your cooking? Ditch gluten and grains? Check out my Myths and Misconceptions about Healthy Eating, and here are 10 Ways to Spot Health Quackery.

Bmx 97089 640 Pixabay PdCan mindfulness training make you a better athlete?  There is a growing amount of research into mindfulness and health.  A number of studies suggest that mindfulness training can help how people respond to stressful situations, leading researchers from UC San Diego to wonder if mindfulness training could help elite athletes perform better.  In a small pilot study, they investigated if a 7-week mindfulness-based training course could help BMX riders. The study didn’t investigate performance, but researchers did find that the riders improved on several measures of self-awareness and stress response.   (Outside, reporting on Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience).

More benefits to eating Mediterranean style. This week two studies added to the evidence for eating a Mediterranean-style diet for better health. One investigation found that women who consumed a Mediterranean-style diet had a lower risk of breast cancer. The study studied women for almost 5 years, and controlled for a variety of factors that could influence breast cancer (JAMA Internal Medicine).

Another study looked at mental health, investigating the effect Mediterranean Diet Foodsof healthy dietary patterns on the development of depression. Researchers studied Spanish adults for 10 years, and found that adhering to a healthy eating pattern rich in vegetables, nuts and legumes was associated with a reduced risk of depression. (BMC Medicine, September 2015).

What’s a Mediterranean-style diet? Although studies have slight variations when defining “Mediterranean,” generally, the diet is rich in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, olive oil, and low in red meat.

A sprained ankle may have lifelong consequences. This article looks at three new studies suggesting that ankle sprain rehabilitation should be taken seriously.  The research found that young people who have ankle instabilities brought on by ankle sprains are less active, and studies in mice show that surgically sprained ankles that have healed cause ongoing physical issues (poorer balance, less movement).   (Gretchen Reynolds, New York Times).

Yoga eases arthritis painA randomized trial in sedentary adults with arthritis showed that  8 weeks of yoga (three times weekly) improved pain, energy levels, mood, and physical function.  (Journal of Rheumatology)

cocoa powder (514x510) (2)Could cocoa hold the key to Alzheimer’s prevention? Cocoa is a rich source of polyphenols, micronutrients that protect against cell damage. This paper reviews the benefits of cocoa, focusing on research looking into cocoa polyphenols effect on brain again, in particular, Alzheimer’s disease. (Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, September 2015).

Hypertension Blood Pressure 867855 640 PdThe SPRINT trial: current blood pressure guidelines questioned.  Health researchers have debated over blood pressure targets for years. The Systolic Blood Pressure Intervention Trial (SPRINT) was designed to review the recommended targets (a systolic blood pressure of < 140 mm Hg for healthy adults; 130 mm Hg for adults with kidney disease or diabetes). Preliminary SPRINT results show that more stringent blood pressure targets (<120 mm Hg) could save more lives and reduce cardiovascular events. The results were so dramatic that this large clinical trial was stopped prematurely to share the early results.

These results will likely lead to more physicians prescribing blood-pressure lowering medications. Although lifestyle changes are more difficult than taking a pill, they can be effective at reducing blood pressure (and have many other benefits). The main lifestyle habits that help lower blood pressure include

  • maintaining a healthy weight
  • eating a healthy diet like the DASH Eating Plan — generally low in sodium (salt) and processed foods and rich in vegetables and fruit (nitrate-rich vegetables may have added blood-pressure lowering benefits – also, see study described below)
  • engaging in exercise (spreading light workouts throughout the day is achievable for many and helps blood pressure) and reducing sedentary behavior (sitting less)
  • managing and coping with stress, and limiting alcohol intake.

CDC_spinach1Consumption of nitrate-containing vegetables is inversely associated with hypertension. This research adds to the growing evidence that nitrate-rich vegetables are good for blood pressure. In the 3-year study, researchers found that those who ate more nitrate-containing vegetables had a lower risk of high blood pressure.  This study included celery, lettuce, and spinach as “high nitrate” vegetables; other nitrate-rich vegetables include beets, cilantro, arrugula, and rhubarb (you’ll find a table of nitrate-rich vegetables in this article). (Journal of Nephrology)

Other recent research showing the benefits of nitrates for vascular health include this study published in July, showing that a daily bowl of spinach soup improved blood pressure and vascular health; also, recently this study looked at the beneficial effects of dietary nitrates on health and reviews the evidence of dietary nitrates for the treatment of cardiovascular disease.

Larger-sized portions, packages and tableware lead to higher consumption of food and drink. A comprehensive systematic review of existing research shows that we consume more when food or drink is offered in larger portions, packages, or tableware. The findings highlight the important role that our environment plays in our eating behavior. Given that many Americans and Canadians are overweight (in the US, more than one third of adults and 17% of children and adolescents are obese;  in Canada (2008) 25% of adults are obese and 37% are overweight), policies to reduce portion sizes could have far-reaching health impacts.  (The Cochrane Collaboration)

Here are some ways you can alter your own food environment to promote healthy eating.

coffee_© Vincent Mo_LatteCaffeine at night resets inner clock. A new study shows that caffeine (the amount in a double espresso) 3 hours before bed influences melatonin and can shift circadian clocks, and could make it harder to wake up the next morning. Researchers speculate that consuming caffeine more than 5 or 6 hours before sleep wouldn’t have such an effect.  (Science Translational Medicine)

fruit tart with wordsThe Science Behind Breakfast (and 6 Healthy Morning Meals)

While there has been quite a bit of research on breakfast, it seems the science isn’t entirely clear on the overall health benefits of this first meal of the day.  This week I provide a brief summary of the latest research into breakfast, and six of my favourite breakfast recipes.

Read more weekly updates on current health and wellness topics, the latest nutrition research.







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6 Healthy Morning Meals: The Science Behind Breakfast

cerealAh breakfast – my favourite meal! While there has been quite a bit of research on breakfast, it seems the science isn’t entirely clear on the overall health benefits of this first meal of the day.  Here’s a brief summary of the latest research into breakfast, and six of my favourite breakfast recipes.

Are There Benefits to Eating in the Morning?

 “Breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dinner like a pauper.”   – Adelle Davis

There may be some science behind this saying. Research suggests that frontloading calories might help control blood sugar and promote weight loss. One theory is that our circadian rhythms, which influence biological processes and metabolism, make us better at metabolizing meals earlier in the day.  For example, this study found that eating the largest meal of the day before 3 PM was more effective for losing weight than eating it after 3 PM.

Blood sugar control. Eating breakfast might help you have better blood sugar control over the course of the day, with the most recent studies being conducted in people with Type 2 diabetes. These studies found that skipping breakfast lead to blood sugar spikes and impaired insulin response (controlling glucose and insulin has important effects on metabolism and health), and these negative impacts persisted throughout the day (1,2).

Weight control. A lot of the research into skipping breakfast has centered on weight gain. Although earlier observational studies suggested that skipping breakfast leads to weight gain and potential health problems, some investigators are questioning these claims.

Heart disease. Researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health studied breakfast habits in men: this large prospective study found that regular breakfast skippers had a 27% higher risk of heart disease. The authors speculate that skipping breakfast could promote heart disease through its influence on obesity, blood pressure, cholesterol, and diabetes.

Cancer.  New preliminary research by investigators at UC San Diego (in a study I was involved with) suggests that increasing the nightly fasting interval reduces the risk of breast cancer recurrence.  This doesn’t necessarily mean skipping breakfast, but delaying the morning meal is one way of to extend the time you’re not eating. Alternatively (or additionally) you could also skip any late-night snacking.

At this point, the jury is still out on whether breakfast is the most important meal of the day, at least in terms of weight control. New, more rigorous research like the Bath Breakfast Project will help clarify some important questions about breakfast and health.

Breakfast for Athletes

Although some research is questioning the importance of breakfast, what does this mean for athletes?

Dylan Wykes Olympic Marathon Mens 2012 (7776651022) CC
Dylan Wykes in London Olympic Marathon*

Fasted workouts. Some athletes incorporate fasted workouts into their training (i.e. training in the morning without eating breakfast) to burn more fat; the rationale is that low glycogen levels cause your body to burn more fat for energy. While this sounds compelling, there is not a lot of good research to back up this trend, and this recent study showed no difference in body composition between fasted and non-fasted workouts.

Canadian marathoners incorporated fasted workouts on some days as part of their nutrition periodization leading up to the London Olympics to teach their bodies to burn fat as fuel.  If you’re considering this strategy, keep in mind that there is no research to that shows improved performance using fasted workouts, and carefully consider when and how you implement these workouts (probably best during baseline training). Be aware that for questionable benefits, you won’t feel great, and some other workouts might suffer.

Can skipping breakfast hurt performance? Some research shows that skipping breakfast can affect athletic performance later in the day. Even if you eat a big lunch, the effects of skipping breakfast seem to carry over until evening and can hurt your athletic performance and training adaptations. This study found that athletes who ate breakfast completed 4.5% more work in an evening 30-minute bike time trial compared to when they didn’t eat breakfast.

5 Healthy Breakfasts

I am a big proponent of breakfast. If you choose the right foods, breakfast is an excellent opportunity to help you get the protein you need to repair and build muscle, and the nutrients your body needs for good health.

Here are some tips to make your breakfast a healthy one. If you’re stuck in a breakfast rut of eating the same foods day in day out, try one of the recipes below. Varying what you eat will help you get the wide array of nutrients.

General Tips

  • Limit fruit juice. Fruit juice is popular in the morning, but it packs a huge dose of sugar with little fiber. Eating fruit is always a better option.
  • Supplement packaged breakfast cereals. Even the healthiest packaged cereals (whole grain, low sugar, high fiber) don’t offer much in terms of nutrition (they are mainly carbohydrates, and even whole grain cereals are highly processed). Supplement cereal meals with nuts, fruit, or plain yogurt for extra nutrients, healthy fats, protein, and fiber.
  • Don’t skimp on protein. Most people don’t consume enough protein in the morning, even though they are getting enough total protein by the end of the day.  New research shows that protein distribution throughout the day is important: your body needs about 20 to 30 grams of protein at a time for muscle repair and muscle building processes, and many people fall short of this at breakfast – but eat two to three times the amount they need at dinner (and more than 25 g protein at a time doesn’t build or repair more muscle). This distribution is especially important for athletes and older individuals who require more protein overall.  You can find out more about your protein needs in this article.
  • nutsAdd nuts and seeds. Use nut butters, or sprinkle nuts and seeds on your cereal. Nuts and seeds are full of healthy fats and important minerals.
  • High calcium for cyclists and other athletes at risk for stress fractures. Athletes lose calcium through sweat during exercise, which puts them at risk for bone loss, especially if their activity is non impact since it doesn’t benefit bones. A study in female cyclists found that eating a dairy-rich meal 90 minutes before riding can counter bone loss.  The pre-ride calcium-rich meal keeps blood calcium levels stable, so your body doesn’t borrow calcium from your bones to replace what’s lost in sweat.
READ  How Much Protein Do You Need?

Breakfast Ideas

Mixed Berry Yogurt with Almonds

BerryYogurt_RT (640x373)This is a fast and easy breakfast, snack, or dessert that is high in protein.   You can prepare this ahead of time so that breakfast is waiting for you when you open the fridge. For breakfast on the go, layer it in a small mason jar with a lid.

Simple Peanut Maple Granola (3 Ingredients!)

3-ingredients for granola (640x429)You won’t find a granola that’s easier to make than this one, and it’s a lot more healthful than store-bought granolas and most home-made varieties, which can be very high in calories and sugar. Most granolas are made with some type of oil, but this granola uses nut butter instead. This substitution delivers great flavors and really boosts the nutrition (you’ll get more fiber, protein, and minerals).

I like to add nuts, seeds, and dried fruit to this basic granola, and often lighten it up by mixing with a lighter/low sugar cereal (whole grain flakes are a good companion for the granola).  I usually don’t have a big bowl of this, but combine it with other foods –  it’s really good in this Mixed berry parfait with almonds.

Baked Mediterranean Frittata

baked frittata with textThis frittata is a great way to eat some veggies in the morning, and you’ll get some good quality protein from the eggs and cottage cheese.  It’s really good for any meal, so make it for supper, and enjoy the leftovers for breakfast (it’s delicious hot or cold).

This fritatta features spinach, a nutrition powerhouse  full of vitamins A and C, folic acid, fiber, magnesium, and carotenoids. Spinach is also rich in dietary nitrates, which can help athletic performance.

Traditional Swiss Oat Muesli

iStock_000019059980_ExtraSmallHere’s a simple and nutritious way to serve oats. This healthy muesli recipe is a variation of the traditional Swiss breakfast food developed around 1900 by Swiss physician Maximilian Bircher-Benner for patients in his hospital (the Bircher-Benner Clinic). This muesli is wonderful with the addition of unsweetened applesauce or grated fresh apples, or other seasonal fresh fruit. Mix up your favorite combination at night to have a hearty and nutritious breakfast on hand in the morning!

Strawberry Banana Smoothie

smoothie cover higher textThis smoothie is quick to whip up in the morning. It combines strawberries, bananas, Greek yogurt, milk, and maple syrup to deliver a delicious drink that has over 20 grams of protein.  The strawberries are rich in vitamin C, fiber, folate, and potassium.  Berries also contain anthocyanin, a phytochemical that helps fight oxidative cell damage that can lead to chronic diseases including cancer, diabetes, and heart disease.

Fabulous Fruit Tart in a Walnut Crust

fruit tart with wordsDessert for breakfast? You bet! This crust features two nutrition all-stars  – walnuts and oats; the filling is protein-rich Greek yogurt; and the topping, nature’s bounty of colourful fruits full of health-promoting compounds. Just one piece has a whopping 1,715 mg of potassium, a mineral many people don’t get enough of in their diet.



* London 2012 Marathon photo By Surreal Name Given (Olympic marathon mens 2012  Uploaded by tm) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

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