Friday, January 16, 2015

The Rutabaga

The majority of people have no idea what a rutabaga is. In fact, they may even have a hard time pronouncing it (pronounced root-a-bayga). A rutabaga is actually a cross bread between a turnip and a cabbage. It is a root vegetable that can be eaten raw or cooked. Originally, it was used to feed cattle, however, today it is used by many in salads, stews, pastries or just as a baked side dish. Rutabaga is in season from October to April but you can probably find it year round.
Nutritionally, rutabagas are high in fiber, have no fat or cholesterol, are low in calories, are an excellent source of vitamin C and are a good source of potassium, zinc and vitamin A which are all important for performance. Rutabagas taste slightly sweet and peppery. They can be stored for a long time in the fridge (about 2-3 weeks) or about 1 week in the pantry. They have a waxy exterior and that is mainly to keep the moisture. This exterior needs to be peeled off before eating. Many people will use rutabagas instead of potatoes since they contain more fiber and slightly less carbohydrates per serving. Meaning, you can mash it, bake it, boil it, stir-fry it and even fry it.
Here are some ideas of what to make with these lovely roots:
As you can see it is very versatile and can be a part of your main entree or as a side dish. With so many health benefits and uses as well as the ease of buying it and its price, I highly suggest trying this great vegetable. 

Friday, January 9, 2015

Paleo Diet for Athletes (Article Summary)

Not long ago I heard this great presentation from a fellow RD (Steve Hertzler PhD, RD) about the Paleo diet (caveman diet) for athletes. Since the Paleo diet has been such a popular topic in the past several years, I decided why not share the wealth of information with you. Here is a summary of his talk and article from SCAN's Pulse. He reviews and references The Paleo Diet for Athletes by Loren Cordain and Joe Freel as they paved the way for this diet in the past decade.

First lets try and define the paleo diet: It's typically defined as the diet that was available in the paleolithic era which was in the pre-agricultural period between 2.5 million to 10,000 years ago. However, different regions had different diets during those times which means there was no one paleolithic diet. Books on Paleo state that humans should not have dairy products nor grains/legumes, since they did not exist in that era, but have a diet rich with meat/fish, vegetables and fruits, low in starches and only natural sources of sugar. The theory is that our "human genome was developed based on this diet" and by sticking to it we decrease risk of multiple chronic diseases and improve human performance. However, some of the science shows otherwise; anthropologists have evidence that during that era there was more reliance on starches and tubers. Moreover, research shows that our guts have evolved and continue to evolve since 10,000 years ago allowing us to digest many foods not present during that era. Lastly, to replicate that exact diet is quite impossible since most of the foods we currently have (meats, produce, fats) are very different than what they had back then. 

Pros about the diet and book:  
  • The diet promotes eating less refined carbohydrates and more fruits and vegetables
  • Lean meats (including game) are recommended
  • Adequate fish (containing omega 3) is highly encouraged
  • Healthy fats are important
  • Timing is important when it comes to performance
  • For recovery, combination of carbs and protein is important post exercise
Cons about the diet and book:
  • Elimination of several food groups (e.g. grain, dairy) leads to limited variety which in turn could cause defeciencies
  • Interestingly, alcohol in moderation is permitted (I wonder what caveman drank alcohol?!)
  • The book itself only addresses endurance athletes, not power nor strength athletes
  • To date, there are not many studies on the Paleo diet in athletes. The studies that have been done were done on mainly obese and sick individuals (heart disease, diabetes) which have seen improvements in body composition and health markers (blood lipids, blood sugar). Athletes are very different than obese individuals
  • In the book there are multiple exceptions to meet the high carbohydrate demands of the endurance athlete. If there are so many exceptions are they really eating Paleo?!
  • "The diet is nutritionally inadequate, expensive and impractical". Studies show that the diet would lack calcium, Iron and fiber recommendations as well as cost 9.3% more annualy
  • "Acid ash theory states that by eating a diet high in grains and dairy we produce a high acid load on the body and the body must remove calcium from the bone to buffer the load." The more the food is acidic the more we are supposed to see calcium in the urine. However, urine pH does not represent blood pH as it stays more or less the same. Moreover, there is no evidence indicating that high calcium levels in the urine mean that there is less calcium in the bone or a decrease in calcium balance
  • Some of the research quoted by the authors for "avoiding certain foods such as potatoes, peanuts and canola oil are misinterpreted and taken out of context"
  • The authors mention that the Paleo diet is the best. However, currently, the people that live the longest (to about 100 years of age) eat meat infrequently and their diet is based on grains or starch
In summary, the Paleo diet promotes certain healthy habits that are worth keeping such as limiting processed foods, eating fruits and vegetables, healthy fats and lean meats. However, by adding dairy, legumes and grains in your diet you can have a more complete varied and healthy nutrition plan to promote your activity.   

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Fighting Inflammation, The Healthy Way

In sports nutrition we talk about inflammation a lot. In fact, even in the clinical setting, we talk about inflammation. We talk about it because it promotes negative outcomes. It's associated with cancer, diabetes, heart disease and other conditions as well as sports injury, becoming ill (e.g. flu) and lack of ability to recover optimally. Therefore, we put emphasis in our practice to educate athletes on how to fight inflammation. Its important to understand though, that inflammation is an important process for an athlete as it is naturally created due to activity. However, we want to fight it in a healthy manner. Research shows that fighting sports related inflammation with drugs such as Aleve, Ibuprofen or other anti-inflammatories, may prevent the natural healing process muscle and even increase inflammation.

Here are some things you can do to help fight inflammation the healthy way:
  • Sleep well! For a college athlete recommendations are about 8-10 hours per day. If you did not meet this quota at night, consider taking a nap in the middle of the day. Lack of sleep prevents healing and promotes inflammation. 
  • Avoid or limit alcohol. Alcohol promotes inflammation and also decreases deep sleep (as mentioned above, sleep is important).
  • Avoid or limit fried fatty foods (pizza, fried chicken, fries, etc.) and concentrated sweets (Pop Tarts, soda, cookies, cake, milkshake, candy, etc.) as they promote inflammation.
  • Hydrate. Mainly with water. Fluids are important to help deliver nutrients to different parts of the body, including nutrients to fight inflammation. Moreover, dehydration decreases your immune function, which could cause you to get ill (=inflammation).
  • Eating plenty of fruits and vegetables. Fruits and vegetables are rich with antioxidants and phytochemicals that help fight inflammation. When you get injured, the first thing most people do is put ice. Think of fruits and vegetables as your ice inside the body. Very powerful anti-inflammatory.
  • Omega 3's, the fat located mainly in fish (salmon, tuna, mackerel, etc.) as well as some nuts and seeds (flaxseeds, chia seeds, walnuts, etc.) are a great source of anti-inflammatories. It is recommended to have at least 8 oz of fish per week. In certain cases, a supplement could be considered (please consult with a medical professional before taking any supplement).
  • Vitamin D aka the sun vitamin has been shown to be quite the immune booster. Vitamin D can be found in fortified products such as orange juice, dairy, soy foods as well as fish. Supplements can also be considered (please consult with a medical professional before taking any supplement).
  • Vitamin C, Vitamin A and Zinc. These micro-nutrients have been shown to boost our immune system and help with healing. 
  • Eating enough calories. Calories are a measurement of energy. If we do not eat enough calories, we will not have enough energy to fight inflammation or recover optimally from exercise.
  • Keeping your stomach healthy. Positive bacteria is important to keep a healthy gut. A healthy gut can help maintain healthy immune function. By eating a balanced diet, containing pre and probiotics with a good variety of whole grains, dairy (yogurt), fruits, vegetables, legumes and lean meats, you can help sustain a healthy gut. 
  • Rest. We all know the importance of recovery for performance. Overtraining and overreaching have a lot to do with chronic inflammation. Make sure you take rest seriously, as you would your training. 

This winter, "let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food" to help you fight inflammation and keep a healthy immune system. Here is a great handout by NCAA Sport Science Institute of how to promote immune function.

Friday, December 19, 2014

To Juice or Not to Juice? That is the Question

I was recently asked at a presentation what my thoughts were on juicing. Moreover, new years is quickly approaching and with it come resolutions, which many will be losing weight, especially after indulging during the holidays. Therefore, I decided to write about whether to juice or not to juice. People juice for several reasons; whether it's "detox", weight loss, staying healthy or "rebooting", but is it appropriate?! Many companies talk about raving health benefits, however, hardly any of these claims can be supported by scientific evidence.

The best way to do help you decide if to juice or not is by just dividing it to pros and cons:


  • Good way to get more fruits and vegetables in the diet, especially if you are picky or not a big vegetable and fruit eater
  • High in antioxidants as well as vitamins and minerals
  • Feels "lighter" since you do not chew anything or have "bulky" food in your stomach
  • Could help with weight loss  
  • Very pricey. From the juicer to the amount of vegetables and fruits you need in order to get 1 cup of juice. In addition, if you ever buy the commercial juice cleanses they can be really expensive
  • Lack of fiber which not only helps regulate our bowel movements but also helps with feeling fuller longer
  • Many juicers eliminate the pulp and the peel which are packed with most of the vitamins and minerals 
  • Thankfully, we have kidneys and a liver to help us "detoxify" or get rid of the toxins. Juice is not needed for that purpose
  • Hunger is a constant feeling
  • Contains mainly simple carbohydrates (sugars) which in turn will cause spikes in blood sugar and that could cause: dizziness, headaches, mood swings, agitation and fatigue
  • Lacks important nutrients, such as: protein, fats and multiple minerals
  • Although it could cause weight loss, it will be unwanted weight loss due to loss of muscle mass, which in turn will also slow down the metabolism
  • May not help with weight loss due to the constant hunger feeling which will cause more drinking. Moreover, consumption of more fruits than vegetables can prevent weight loss (fruits are more calorie dense than vegetables)
  • To stick to juicing year round is impossible. Temporary solutions will also bring temporary results
  • May be tedious and time consuming (cleaning and cutting of produce and juicer as well as making it daily) 
  • Food safety may be an issue since the juice is not pasteurized. Paying more attention to washing hands and juicers become very important
There are more cons than pros to juicing. Nonetheless, you can use juicing as a way to kick start your healthy eating new years resolution. Juice by adding or replacing one daily meal. Consider a cold press juicer to help retain the majority of nutrients and some of the pulp if you are planing to try it. The best thing for your health (and your pocket) would just be to try and eat more vegetables and fruits daily (5-9 servings a day) but if you need more help getting there, juicing can be an option.

Friday, December 12, 2014

These Are a Few of My Favorite Greens

Most people eat at least one vegetable that's green. Whether it's spinach, broccoli, green beans, peas or all the above, rarely is there a person that does not eat any.From an early age we have our parents and grandparents tell us to eat our greens and even the media, like Popeye, teaches us to eat our spinach so we get stronger. However, these are greens we all grew up on. There are many more greens out there which you may not even be familiar with but should be a part of any healthy and varied diet. Some of my favorites that are currently available are: arugula, chard and bok choy.

Arugula also called salad rocket, Is a very tasty leafy green (picture above) that has a refreshing peppery taste. It is very high with antioxidants and phytochemicals that help fight multiple cancers as well as vitamin C, vitamin A, vitamin K, folate and B vitamins. Arugula is also rich with nitrates that are compounds that help dilate the blood vessels. This in turn helps lower blood pressure and possibly improve aerobic performance. Arugula is mainly used in salads, pasta, pizza, soup or to accompany cold dishes. Here are some great recipes to try out with this lovely, tasty green.
Chard also called Swiss chard, is also a leafy green very similar to kale. The leaf is dark green but the stalk can be in multiple colors mainly: yellow, white and red. The leaf has somewhat of a bitter taste unless cooked. Chard is also rich with antioxidants and phytonutrients that help fight inflammation as well as contains a high amount of vitamin C, vitamin A and vitamin K. It is also a good source of different minerals such as phosphorus, magnesium, manganese, calcium, iron, copper and potassium. Chard can be eaten raw, in soup, stir fry, tomato sauce or even quiche. Here are some healthy recipes to help incorporate more chard into your cooking.
Bok Choy also known as Chinese cabbage, is not a leafy green but a type of cabbage. It has a very subtle somewhat sweet flavor. Similar to the other 2 greens noted above, bok choy also has a good amount of antioxidants and phytochemicals that help fight certain cancers as well as lower the "bad cholesterol", LDL. Bok choy is rich with vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin K and multiple B vitamins. It also has a moderate amount of some minerals such as: potassium, calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus and manganese. Bok choy is not eaten raw but only cooked. It is common in Asian cuisine but can go into anything hot including: stir fry, soup, tomato sauce, chicken saute, etc. Here are 13 recipes to help you incorporate this delicious vegetable.

To combine all 3 together here is a cool stir fry recipe:
3 cups chopped chard
3 cups chopped bok choy
1 medium yellow onion chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp teriyaki
0.5 tsp red pepper flakes
1 -2 cup arugula

Turn stove on medium. Heat oil in pan. Add onions and stir until slightly translucent (4-5 minutes). Add garlic and stir for 2-3 minutes. Add chard and bok choy stir for about 5 minutes. Add teriyaki and red pepper flakes. Stir until stalks are soft (about 5-7 minutes). Move hot stir fry into serving bowl. Add arugula and stir. Serve hot or cold. Note; you can also add chicken breast or shrimp to make this a complete meal

Greens can be way more interesting than just your usual 4 or 5. Experiment a little and you'll be surprised at what you discover.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Easy Slow Cooking this Winter

Imagine a world where you put 5-6 ingredients in a pot and poof, without you doing anything, a whole meal is ready for you. Sounds to good to be true doesn't it?! However, I am glad to announce that this is the world we live in. It just all depends on the tools at your disposal. I would like to introduce you to the slow cooker. One of the best investments you will ever make. It can be found as cheap as $15.


It is literally as easy as cutting a bunch of ingredients up, adding spices and letting it sit for a couple of hours. You can make anything, whether its an appetizer, side dish, dip, entree, dessert or even a special drink. Slow cookers or as some refer to as Crock Pots (Crock Pot is actually the name of one of the brands that make slow cookers) require just a socket as they are electrical. Most people put something in the slow cooker before they leave home and by the time they get back, dinner is ready!
Here are some great website with multiple easy recipes:


  • Eating Well - The magazine Eating Well has some great healthy recipes. In addition, you can even download a free slow cooker cookbook. If there are several people in the household, these recipes include a great overnight oatmeal breakfast recipe
                                  Overnight Oatmeal
  • Fitness Magazine - 7 healthy recipes that are easy and simple to make. On a cold winter day, there is nothing like a hearty soup. That's why I like this easy beef and vegetable soup recipe
  • My roommate used to make chili that everyone loved yet it took him just 5 minutes to make:
    Approx 0.5 lb of lean ground beef or turkey
    1 can kidney beans (rinsed and drained)
    1 can white beans (rinsed and drained)
    1 medium size can tomato sauce
    1 can Rotel (mild, medium or hot based on preference)
    1 Packet of McCormick chili mix seasoning
    - Mix all ingredients in crock pot and cook on low for 6-8 hours. Serve hot with shredded cheese on top
The slow cooker just makes it so effortlessly easy! If you don't have one and you want one, consider just putting it on your Christmas wish list or just go and buy one for yourself. You're worth it!   

Friday, November 28, 2014

Carbohydrate Intake During Exercise

A recent review was published in Sports Medicine journal about carbohydrate intake during exercise. This review was meant to help bring what we know scientifically to practical implications. Here is a summary of the review article:

Recommendations of carbohydrates are always based on type of sport, duration and intensity as well as the ability consume them.

  • Activities that are at relative high intensities for a duration of 30-75 minutes have shown improved exercise performance when drinking or even rinsing mouth with a sports drink. It does not matter whether it is a single carbohydrate (glucose or fructose) or several combined. Some may be able to tolerate rinsing the mouth better than drinking the fluids.
  • ACSM (American College of Sports Medicine) guidelines recommend consuming 30-60 grams of carbohydrates per hour during endurance activity that lasts more than an hour. 
  • The ability to use carbohydrates as fuel is dependent on how well the intestine can absorb the carbohydrates
  • Multiple carbohydrates combined (fructose+glucose, maltodextrin+fructose, etc.) can help better utilize more carbohydrates as fuel. 
  • Research shows that being able to utilize more carbohydrates as fuel delays fatigue and increases performance.
  • Sport drinks can be combined with gels and/or bars (low fiber, low fat, low protein bars) to help absorb and tolerate the higher carbohydrate levels
  • Never try something new on race day. Training nutrition is important
  • People that train/race at lower intensities (example: a marathon time of 5 hours) will use less carbohydrates and therefore, will need to be supplemented slightly less.
  • Although not noted in figure below, a good hydration plan needs to accompany the nutrition plan.

Here is the figure that illustrates the recommended guidelines:


  • The gut can also be trained. A high carbohydrate diet may assist tolerating and utilizing the higher carbohydrate load during exercise (90 gr/hour).
  • In real-life ironman and long cycling races, greater carbohydrate consumption correlated with better finish times.
  • Carbohydrate intake, even during sports that require skills such as jumping, sprinting, agility etc. may improve the skills as well as delay time to fatigue. However, the game structure and given breaks may make it difficult to implement (example: soccer game). 
Next time you are training for an endurance event, a high intensity aerobic or anaerobic activity, use this figure as a guide of how to utilize carbohydrates. For more personal recommendations, talk to me or a sports registered dietitian.

Jeunkendrup A. A step towards personalized sports nutrition: Carbohydrate intake during exercise. Sports Med (2014) 44 (Suppl 1):S25-S33.