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8 Surprisingly Healthy Foods For Runners

Posted by: on July, 2 2013

Are you buying into grocery store myth and passing over these great sources of nutrition?

Grocery shopping in the summer months is about as good as it can get. The produce department is overflowing with seasonal offerings and tasty options. From avocado to zucchini, bananas to yams, just about every type of fruit and vegetable is readily available and more or less reasonably priced. And while a rainbow of colors is within reach, many shoppers shy away from certain varieties and versions, thinking them devoid of nutrients or health benefits whatsoever (iceberg lettuce, anyone?). So this week, we’ll discuss which grocery store finds really do have a place in your cart, and which grocery store myths should be left behind for good.

Iceberg Lettucefood shopping
Sure, it’s not as nutrient-rich as romaine or spinach (really, what food is?), but this seemingly ubiquitous head of lettuce still deserves a place in your cart. For one thing, it adds fiber to your plate without driving up your grocery bill. It is also very low in calories (one cup chopped contains only 8 calories) and rich in water (96% of the weight is water), helping to rehydrate you in the summer months. Finally, iceberg lettuce is an option your entire family will eat, which means that everyone at the table will take in just a bit more folate, iron, and potassium by the time the meal is done.

Did you know that the humble potato—the exact same one you pass up in the grocery, even though it’s extremely versatile, a great source of complex carbohydrate, and relatively inexpensive—is one of the top sources of potassium in the American diet? As a runner, you could likely benefit from more potassium since this critical electrolyte helps maintain fluid balance and influences muscle contractions. The “adequate intake” recommendation for potassium is 4700mg each day. A medium baked potato supplies 926 mg, a cup of au gratin potatoes supplies 970mg, and a cup of homemade mashed potatoes can supply up to 684mg. See? Told you it was a versatile.

I’m not one to recommend heavy fruit juice consumption, but if it’s 100% juice and takes the place of soda pop or Kool-Aid, then I’m all for it. Many consumers have started choosing exotic fruit blends over orange juice for varied reasons. But if you’re on a tight budget or just looking to get back to your roots, then look no further than Florida’s finest. Obviously oranges offer a wallop of Vitamin C, which is critical for muscle and collagen repair—handy, if you are fighting off an injury or healing a wound. They also contain folate, which helps produce and maintain cells, and if you grab a carton of fortified orange juice, you can also boost your intake of calcium and vitamin D.

Sure, it’s not as brightly colored as some of the other members of the cruciferous family, but cauliflower packs a punch when it comes to disease-fighting and immune-boosting capabilities. It’s packed with phytonutrients, as well as the essential nutrients vitamin A, C, and folic acid. Enjoy cauliflower and other cruciferous veggies raw or parboiled; too much heat can destroy some of the vitamins and phytochemicals that make these options nutritional powerhouses.

Frozen Vegetables
Not only are these items convenient, but they are also picked at the peak of freshness and immediately processed in order to lock in essential vitamins and minerals. Pound for pound, they can even offer more nutrients than fresh since they are processed immediately after picking rather than transported, stored, and eventually purchased by you. By the time you get some fresh veggies home, they may have lost some of their vitamin content and antioxidant ability. Frozen options can be a good bet overall, but to save on calories and sodium be sure to buy unseasoned veggies without sauces.

Instant Oats
You thought only steel-cut oats were a good option? Nope. Even instant oats provide dietary fiber (¾ cup of instant oatmeal supplies 3 grams) and beta-glucans, which have proven effective in lowering total blood cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) levels, reducing CHD risk. Added bonus? Satiating high-fiber diets have been linked to lower body weight.

Canned Tomato
Rich in lycopene, tomatoes have proved to be a helpful ally in the war against skin cancer and promotion of prostate health. According to the American Cancer Society, “Studies that looked at lycopene levels in the blood found that levels were higher after people ate cooked tomatoes than after they ate raw tomatoes or drank tomato juice.” Which means that lycopene in cooked tomato products, such as canned tomatoes, may be more readily absorbed by the body than lycopene in raw tomatoes. As with all canned goods, unless you are a salty and excessive sweater, it’s best to choose a no-salt-added variety since the majority of us consume well above the recommended levels of sodium.

That’s right—the humble peanut should find its way to your cart. Peanuts are naturally cholesterol-free, trans-fat free, rich in protein (one ounce contains 7 grams of protein, and 2 tablespoons of peanut butter contain 8 grams of protein), contain a myriad of vitamins and minerals, and are rich in heart-healthy unsaturated fat (and low in unhealthy saturated fat). While some sources of peanuts can be high in sodium, others, like dry roasted, unsalted peanuts are blood-pressure and heart-healthy choices that contain lots of flavor but no added sodium. Added bonus? There’s research that suggests peanuts are rich in the cardioprotective antioxidant known as resveratrol—the same component found in red wine that’s thought to slow the progression of atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries. So the next time you’re shopping, pick up some peanuts, peanut butter, or — my favorite — a delicious, omega-3 rich blend.