Variety is (more than) the Spice of Life

Dancers are probably known more for being creatures of habit than variety. Why wouldn’t we be? Our art form demands it. We do roughly the same exercises in the same order every day, and work on the same things over and over again.

As creatures of habit and repetition, it’s natural that we would carry that thinking into our diets. How many of us eat the same thing for breakfast every day? Why? Because it’s fast, easy, and we can predict our body’s reaction to it.

If this describes you, you’re not alone. When you have a strong, clean diet of whole foods, habit is not necessarily a bad thing. But we can all benefit from adding some variety to our diet and here’s why.

Kiwis and Oranges

Think about kiwis and oranges for a minute: not only do they look and taste differently, but they also have different nutritional make-ups. We think that oranges are high in the recommended daily allowance (RDA) of vitamin C at 139%, but kiwis are even higher at a whopping 273%!

Kiwis are also high in vitamin K (89%) and potassium (16%), while oranges give us thiamin (12%) and calcium (8%). But neither fruit gives us much Vitamin B6 or potassium. For that, you’re better off eating bananas. So, while you might be an orange lover and be getting your daily allotment of fruit from oranges, look at what you’re missing out on by not eating other types of fruit.

The same comparisons can be done for whole grains like brown rice and quinoa, and greens like kale and lettuce. If you get stuck on one, you’re missing out on vital vitamins and minerals that your body needs.

Simple tips to get out of your food rut

When you grocery shop, aim to get at least three kinds of each food group.

  • Proteins: choose from both animal and vegetable sources, like eggs, salmon and black beans. If you’re a vegetarian, try yogurt and tempeh in place of the animal products.
  • Whole grains: try different ones for breakfast (steel cut oats), lunch (quinoa), and dinner (wild rice).
  • Vegetables: go for color! For example, dark leafy greens like spinach, red peppers, and carrots, or beets, sweet potatoes, and broccoli.
  • Fruits: go for different colors and textures: blueberries, oranges and kiwis, or bananas, apples and strawberries.
  • Healthy fats: walnuts, avocados, and olive oil.

Your dancing body needs a wide variety of nutrients, and keeping track of what those are and where to get them can be a big job. But experimenting with the abundant choices of available whole foods is easy and fun, not to mention more exciting for your taste buds.

So the next time you are shopping or eating out, try breaking out of your food rut and trying a few things outside of your comfort zone. If you want to do some research on what nutrients are found in your favorites foods (and the new ones you’re investigating), check out http://nutritiondata.self.com/.

 

Lucious Beets & Kale for Lunch

There are a ton of beets in my local farmer’s market lately so this is what I’m whipping up for lunch today.

Start by grabbing your vegetable scrubber. (I like this one by Oxo.) It’s a special brush for scrubbing vegetables, which although it seems like a frill you can live without, it does make the job of cleaning vegetables much faster and easier. I use it on all veggies whose skin I want to eat. (After all, the skin is often the best part and full of nutrients.) Consider it a small investment with a big return.

Recipe for Kale & Beet Salad

  • 2 bunches of beets: I used one bunch of golden and one bunch of red beets
  • 2 bunches of Tuscan/dinosaur kale

I like to cut the beet greens off first and clean/store them for later use in smoothies. Then scrub beets and put into pot of boiling water for 15-25 mins, depending on size of beets. Cook until you can pierce straight through them easily with a fork.

In the meantime, rinse and chop your kale leaves. Bring 2 cups of water to boil in a large skillet. Drop the kale leaves in and cover with tight-fitting lid. Cook for 4-6 minutes till greens are wilted but still bright in color.

Drain beets and greens. Set greens in a large bowl. Chop beets and toss with the greens and a vinaigrette of your choice. I like olive oil and balsamic vinegar with some salt and pepper – easy peasy.

Tuck in and enjoy.

Beyond Nutrition

There are reasons beyond nutrition for adding beets to your diet. Just two of these tubers have 528mg of potassium (more than a single banana!), which is an important mineral for heart health and muscle cramps. Beets get their bright color from betalains, which have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. That’s good news for your inflamed tendons.

An Apple a Day, the Tim Hortons Way

If this is your idea of “an apple a day,” Mr. Tim Hortons or my dear readers, I strongly urge you to reconsider.

For starters, the “apple” is in the bagel somewhere, which means it’s not really an apple. It might be more like apple puree or apple juice, or maybe even, an apple-flavored something. That’s not the same as an apple.

An apple is a fruit. It grows on a tree. It tastes delicious all by itself. It is full of vitamins and nutrients such as 5% of your recommended daily allowance of potassium and 14% of your daily vitamin C. It also gives you 17% of your daily fiber needs.

I’m not so sure we can say the same for your bagel, Mr. Horton. In fact, ‘et’s just take a look at what’s in there.

Tim Horton’s – Carmel Apple Bagel

Calories 340 Sodium 520 mg
Total Fat 4 g Potassium 0 mg
Saturated 1 g Total Carbs 68 g
Polyunsaturated 0 g Dietary Fiber 3 g
Monounsaturated 0 g Sugars 17 g
Trans 0 g Protein 9 g
Cholesterol 0 mg
Vitamin A 0% Calcium 6%
Vitamin C 0% Iron 20%

I have bold-faced the two red flags.

  • There is over 20% of your recommended daily allowance of sodium, or salt, in this single bagel. That’s a problem.
  • There are 17 grams of sugar as well. The World Health Organization recommends that teenagers eat no more than 24 grams per day of added sugar. That’s 6 teaspoons. In this bagel, you’re already over halfway there.

The big takeaway here is that this is not a healthy breakfast choice. It’s not even a healthy snack. It’s just a hot mess. I would classify it as dessert, for sure.

It’s always worth remembering that companies are trying to sell you their products. End of discussion. They will make it sound “healthy” if that’s what it takes. They will make it sound “fun” if that’s what it takes. And they will make it “seasonal” to lure you in.

Needless to say, your daily fruits and veggies should be whole foods. They should grow on a tree or out of the earth. Don’t accept fake substitutes for the real thing!

Grains & Greens Lunch: Meal Plan

Whole grains* are a staple for many dancers: the complex carbs, fiber and protein combine to give you long-lasting energy. They’re also versatile and can be mixed with all kinds of veggies, greens and beans for a healthy meal.

Today, we’ll combine grains with leafy greens, which is the number one missing food in the American diet. This meal travels well in a Tupperware and is good hot or cold, so I’m putting it in the “lunch” category. Of course, it would also make a yummy dinner…

Recipe: Grains

  • Add a cup (or 2) of rice to a pot of boiling water.
  • Wait for water to boil again, then turn it down to a steady simmer on medium heat and cook until grains are tender.
  • Then strain them in a strainer. (Most grains have cooking directions on the bag/box; if they don’t just google it to double check.)

Recipe: Greens

While the grains are cooking, prepare the greens.

  • Wash and chop the greens (or rip with your hands)
  • For kale and collard greens, add them to a large frying pan that has about 2 cups of boiling water in it. Cover and let cook down for 5 minutes. When greens are still bright green, but reduced, remove from heat and strain.
  • For spinach, add to an inch of boiling water or a bit of olive oil; let wilt. Remove and strain.

**Some suggestions for leafy greens:fresh spinach, kale, collard greens, and Swiss chard. These four are full of calcium, fiber, vitamins and minerals your body needs.

Recipe: Mix

Now you are ready to mix the grains and greens. Keep your proportions 1 part grains to 2 parts greens. Depending on oils and spices, you can make the dish taste any way you like. You’ll not need much oil- just a drizzle. Here are some suggestions:

  • Mediterranean: olive oil, pine nuts (optional), salt and pepper
  • Middle-eastern: sesame oil, sesame seeds (optional), salt and pepper
  • Asian: peanut oil, bit of soy sauce or tamari

And voila! A healthy, hearty meal that will sate your appetite and give back in the form of energy and nutrients. If you prefer more complex tastes, stay tuned for ways to jazz up these simple dishes. However you serve it, this is going to make your body a lot happier than that rice cake you usually eat. I promise.

* Whole grains are grains in their original, unaltered form, like brown rice, farro, or quinoa. Not like white rice or “quick cook” anything.

Breakfast Ideas: Steel Cut Oats

Breakfast is one of the most important meals of the day for a dancer because it usually happens before your first technique class of the day. Just like you can’t drive a car very far without gas in it, you can’t expect much from your body if it hasn’t been filled with nutrients since the night before.

Finding good breakfast options that give you energy without making you feel sluggish or overly full can be challenging. If you haven’t found what works for you, start experimenting! This is one of my go-to favorites.

Steel Cut Oats

Steel Cut Oats get absorbed slower by the body because the oats have not be refined or heavily processed, like “quick-cook” oatmeal. Slow-absorption foods means longer-lasting energy for you. So, even though steel cut oats take longer to prepare than their quick cook counterparts, I suggest you give them a try.

I like McCann’s and  Bob’s Red Mill, which you can find in any large grocery store. Trader Joe’s carries them as well.

Recipe

  • Boil 4 cups water in a saucepan.
  • Add 1 cup steel cut oats.
  • Bring to a boil.
  • Lower heat and give it a stir.
  • Set timer for 25 minutes.
  • Oats are finished when water is mostly absorbed and oats are a springy, creamy texture.

Add-ins

And here comes the fun part: add-ins to oatmeal can and should be delicious so that you enjoy eating it. Mix and match some of these:

  • Berries: strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, etc. If you can’t get them fresh, try Trader Joe’s frozen berries- take out only what you need for each morning. They will thaw when mixed into the hot oats.
  • Nuts: almonds, walnuts
  • Spices: Cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, cardamom
  • Sweetener: if you need it, try a Tablespoon of maple syrup or honey.

This will make about 3-4 servings. Make it at night and reheat in the mornings for breakfast. What’s easier than that?

Nursing Your Sweet Tooth: Amazing Graphic

 

Wow. We consume so much sugar that it is astounding. Check out this great graphic by Online Nursing Programs and have your eyes opened to the truth about sugar and how it affects your health. You may need to Zoom In once the webpage opens by putting your mouse over the graphic and clicking once.

Tomato and Green Bean Salad

This simple salad is a delicious summer treat, when tomatoes and green beans are fresh and aplenty. Also, when it comes to salads, many of us are stuck on lettuce, which, despite all of its wonderful qualities, can get boring after awhile.

It’s also light and travels well, which is good for in between rehearsals and classes.

In this recipe, quickly blanched green beans take the place of lettuce, and are paired with sweet red tomatoes (cherry, grape, beefsteak or heirloom all work).

Recipe

  • To blanch the beans, drop them into a pot with two inches of boiling water. Leave them until they just turn bright green. Remove from water and drain. Beans should be cooked but still snappy and bright.
  • Chop tomatoes. Use a variety that you like.
  • Toss green beans with finely chopped shallot, fresh basil, olive oil, and lemon juice to taste. (Note: lemon juice will discolor the green beans when stored, so only use as much as you are going to eat. Or, substitute vinegar for the lemon juice.)
  • Grind black pepper over the top and salt to taste.

This salad is even better the second day when it’s had a chance to marinate.

Variations

Once you’ve got this recipe down, you can try some variations on the produce just to make it more interesting. Farmers have been cultivating older varieties of both tomatoes and string beans of late, so you can now find them in interesting colors that can really enliven the look of your meal. Give them a try!

  • Cherry, yellow, orange, or heirloom tomatoes
  • Yellow or purple string beans
  • Shaved parmigiano cheese, small mozzarella balls, or crumbled feta cheese

And of course, it’s good for you! Tomatoes (a fruit) and green beans (a vegetable) are whole foods- unaltered and natural- full of vitamins and minerals your body needs.

Devour with joy!

Just how much sugar is in that drink?

There’s a lot of talk about sugar these days. It’s in the news and in films. We’re learning how sugar, not fat, is to blame for so many health issues. We’re hearing about how much we should and shouldn’t eat every day and when we’re supposed to cut ourselves off completely.

I found this PDF on sweet drinks from the Harvard School of Public Health.  It’s an easy way to see how much sugar is in one serving of each drink.

The red, yellow and green color-coding system is a simple way to learn what you should avoid and what is good for you.

Surprise!

You might be surprised by some of the reds, like 100% fruit juice and Vitamin water, clocking in at 10 and 5 teaspoons of sugar per serving. Yikes! Even sports drinks are coded with a red spoon. That means you should drink them sparingly; think of them more as dessert instead of a harmless beverage.

Recommendations

What are the recommended drinks?

  • Water is number 1!

Plain, natural, and unflavored water. If you tend to like flavored drinks, it can take a while to reorient yourself towards water, but it’s a process that is well worth the trouble. This is what your body craves and needs more than any other liquid.

  • Next up is seltzer water with a splash of flavor.*

You can buy this ready made, like Poland Spring with vanilla, or you can make this at home. Making your own gives you more control over what goes into your flavored seltzer. Cut up berries or lemons to have on hand for your water.

*Beware of “zero calorie” flavored seltzers: a lot of them have chemical sugars in place of natural juice.

  • And finally, homemade herbal and regular teas.

Remember that loading up homemade teas with sugar can land you in the place you’re trying to avoid, so use sparingly.

This graphic is a great resource, but only if you look at it regularly! If you’re someone who gravitates towards sweetened beverages, try printing it out and hanging it on your fridge as a reminder.

How Sweet Is It? Grams & Teaspoons of Sugar in 12 oz. Drinks

 

Female Athlete Triad: know what it is!

The Female Athlete Triad is named for three health problems that are linked:

  • low energy availability
  • menstrual problems
  • weak bones

ENERGY AVAILABILITY

Energy availability refers to how much energy from food is available to your body after you have exercised. If you don’t eat enough, your energy availability will be very low after you dance- so low that other healthy functions like getting your period, repairing muscle tissue, and building bone won’t be able to happen.

Dancers, athletes, and other physical performers can also lose strength and muscle mass when the amount of food eaten is too low compared to the level of activity. Over time, this can cause you to feel more and more tired, get sick more often, and take longer to recover after injury.

MENSTRUAL PROBLEMS

When the body doesn’t get enough food and energy, its normal reproductive functions can be interrupted. Missing a period every once and awhile can be a sign that you aren’t getting enough calories in your diet. Missing three or more cycles in a row is a sign that your body isn’t happy. It means your body isn’t producing enough estrogen, a hormone that is necessary for menstruation and…building strong bones. (The term for this is amenorrhea.)

WEAK BONES

I’ll bet you didn’t know that your period was linked to bone health. (I certainly didn’t when I was dancing.) I also didn’t know that peak years for building bone start in puberty and end at age 20. This is such a small window to build strong bones!

In order to make the most of it, your body needs to have food and energy available; when your hormones communicate that not enough energy is available, your old bone cells don’t get replaced with new ones. Weak bones are susceptible to breaks and fractures, which keep you from performing and weaken your skeleton.

THE CONNECTION

So remember how these three things are connected: low energy from not eating enough food can cause your reproductive system to “shut down” and not produce a menstrual cycle; when this happens, the body isn’t producing enough estrogen which is needed to build and maintain strong bones. When your bones become compromised, you are at risk for developing stress fractures and early osteoporosis.

If you have even one of these three things: low energy availability/erratic eating habits, irregular periods, or stress fractures/reactions, you could be at risk for developing the Female Athlete Triad. And that means you could be at risk for getting injured.

If you have any one of these components of the Triad, talk to your parents and doctor right away. If they don’t know what the Triad is, print out this page and share it with them. Please don’t compromise all of your hard work and dreams for the future by ignoring the warning signs of the Triad!

HOW DIET FITS IN

All of this information serves as a reminder that eating a healthy diet is crucial to becoming a strong performer. We may think that we know what we’re doing when we play around with our diet in order to fit into a costume or feel ready for an audition, but your body does not go along with these practices. Your body knows what it needs to perform its best: it needs regular energy availability, which is a fancy way of saying FOOD.

If you don’t know what to eat, or feel that your eating habits are not good ones, email me  or talk to your parents or doctor. As a health coach, I help performers find ways to maximize their energy and keep their bodies healthy. You don’t have to do it alone.

Source: The Female Athlete Triad Coalition, femaleathletetriad.org