Should You Eat: Kale?

kaleYou are probably thinking it’s a no brainer, right? Kale is a vegetable. So why would a dietitian tell someone not to eat a vegetable?! Well, that’s not what this blog is about. Clearly vegetables should be a part of everyone’s diet, and most people probably don’t eat enough, but what I’m questioning is whether or not kale really lives up to all the hype. It’s been touted as a super food that fights cancer, slims waistlines, and improves mood and brain health, just to name a few. Anyone who has read this blog before already knows that I am not a fan of labeling any one food as “super”.   No one food alone is enough to sustain human life. We need variety, not just for nutrient balance, but for pleasure. People seem to forget that eating too much of a healthy food can cause problems too, which is why I believe it’s all about balance and moderation. Case in point, did you know that kale contains oxalates, which in high amounts can impair calcium absorption and cause kidney stones? That sure doesn’t sound fun! I even have a friend whose good friend got on a kale kick and started eating it daily. After awhile he started feeling unwell and got a weird rash on his palms. He even had blood thickening problems. His doctor told him to quit the kale. I know that’s just one person’s (extreme) experience and not exactly a scientific experiment, but it still points to the problem of too much of a healthy food.

So we shouldn’t over do it, but my real question is, is kale so darn great that we should all be shunning our spinach and other leafy greens in favor of it?

First, what exactly is kale? It’s only become mainstream the past couple of years. Kale is part of the cruciferous vegetables family, which also includes veggies such as cabbage, broccoli, spinach, and Brussels sprouts.

At first glance, nutrition-wise kale does look pretty good: 1 cup of kale contains about 35 calories, 2 grams protein, 3 grams fiber and a small amount of omega-3 fats in the form of alpha linolenic acid. Not too shabby. Kale also contains high amounts of vitamin C, vitamin A and vitamin K (hence my friend’s blood-thickening issue), as well as iron, calcium, copper, potassium, manganese, and phosphorus. Man, sounds like a multivitamin!

It is important to note that vitamins A and K are fat soluble vitamins, which can be stored in the body if eaten in excess. This means it is possible to get vitamin toxicity if you get too much of them (unlike water soluble vitamins, which your body will typically just excrete excessive amounts of through the urine). To put this in perspective, the recommendation for vitamin K is 90 mcg per day and 1 cup cooked kale contains 1062 mcg- that’s over 10 times the recommended daily amount! Although one day of eating an excessive amount of vitamin K won’t hurt you, doing it day after day on an ongoing basis could. A lot of people (present company included) are on green smoothie kicks these days, but if you are drinking one daily you could be getting more of some of these vitamins than you need, especially if also taking a multivitamin.

But back to the positive. Kale is also a good source of many phytonutrients, including carotenoids and flavonoids, among others, which act as antioxidants in the body, protecting the body from free radical damage.   The carotenoids lutein, zeaxanthin, and beta-carotene promote eye health as well. So kale certainly is packed with health promoting nutrients.

That’s all great, but how does it compare to its sister leafy green spinach?

  Spinach (1 cup cooked)* Kale (1 cup cooked)*
Calories 41 35
Protein (g) 5 2
Fiber (g) 4 3
Vitamin A (%DV) 105% 98%
Vitamin C 24% 71%
Vitamin K 987% 1180%
Manganese 84% 27%
Iron 36% 6.5%
Calcium 25% 9.3%

*All numbers taken from http://www.whfoods.com

As you can see, Popeye’s favorite green is not too shabby itself. Although lower in some vitamins (which as noted above, it is possible to get too many of anyway), spinach is actually higher in protein and fiber. Spinach also contains many of the same phytonutrients as kale, including lutein and zeaxanthin. So should you dump your spinach in favor of kale? I say no. Both are nutritious and because they taste slightly different they can be used in different dishes.

One other consideration with kale is pesticide residue and overall cleanliness. I’ve ran across some slimy doodads while washing my kale-I don’t even want to know what they were! It’s easy for dirt and bugs to get stuck within kale’s curly leaves, so be sure to wash your kale thoroughly. Another consideration is pesticide residue. You’ve probably heard of the “dirty dozen”, the list of the top 12 fruit and vegetables with the highest level of pesticide residue. Kale isn’t on the list, but it’s not too far off (perhaps it’s part of the baker’s dirty dozen). If you can afford organic kale that helps since organic vegetables are grown without the use of pesticides. It is of note that most dietitians, self included, believe that the benefits of eating vegetables probably outweigh the cost, even if you can’t afford organic. Again, just be sure to wash thoroughly!

 

Bottom Line: Kale is a nutritious vegetable, but certainly not the only one. Fruits and vegetables should be a large part of your diet (5-9 servings/day) but if you don’t like kale there are plenty of other nutritious leafy greens to try, such as spinach or arugula. Aim to incorporate kale or other cruciferous veggies 2-3 times per week (a serving size is one cup raw). Remember, different colored vegetables have different nutrients, so aim to eat a colorful mix!

 



Recipe- Kale Chips

1 small head kale, washed and ripped into small pieces (remove stems if desired)

1-2 tablespoons olive oil

1 tsp salt

 

Toss kale pieces in olive oil to coat evenly. Bake at 350°F until crisp, but not browned, usually 10-12 minutes. Sprinkle salt on cooked chips and enjoy!

 

 

What Is Orthorexia?

celeryWe all know that super healthy eater. The one who makes us feel guilty about ordering a burger and a beer when they are munching on a quinoa stuffed celery stick with a side of kale kombucha. Yummy. They might shop exclusively at Whole Foods and follow a complex list of dietary rules as long as the dictionary itself. You may start to wonder if you should be following these rules too. But is this person someone to aspire to, or to be concerned about? How do you know if someone is just a healthy eater or if they are struggling with the disordered eating pattern called orthorexia?

Simply put, orthorexia is an obsession with healthy eating. Orthorexia often starts with good intentions: an attempt to cook at home more instead of eating out or to add more vegetables to one’s diet, but it slowly (or sometimes not so slowly) becomes an obsession with having the perfect diet. Orthorexia is not an officially recognized eating disorder, but whatever it is, it’s becoming more prevalent. In a society where obesity and over eating are the norm, it’s hard for many people to even grasp the concept that there could be such a thing as paying too much attention to healthy eating, but the truth is orthorexia can have devastating consequences.

You may be thinking, why is being concerned with healthy eating a problem? And the truth is, sometimes it’s not. Clearly, health is important and paying attention to what you eat usually isn’t a bad thing. The problem is when this concern becomes a full blown obsession that controls one’s life. If taken too far it can destroy your health and your emotional well being. It can pull you into depression, and it may even lead to a more serious eating disorder such as anorexia nervosa. Someone suffering from orthorexia may miss out on vital nutrients or suffer from malnourishment due to their limited food choices. Their weight may get dangerously low, even if not intentionally. They may also lose relationships and friendships due to scheduling their life around their food regimen and avoiding social situations that revolve around foods, which, let’s face it, a lot of social situations revolve around!

The obsession with having the perfect diet is self propagating, because, how does one define the “perfect” diet? If you haven’t noticed, there is a lot of conflicting nutrition information out there. One could very well drive themselves mad trying to figure out what the “best” diet really is, so the orthorexic’s quest is never over. To them, their diet is never good enough, which leads to feelings of guilt and shame, as well as the need to be constantly perfecting their diet.

So how do you know if someone is just a healthy eater or if they have crossed the line into orthorexia? The simple answer is when the focus on health becomes all consuming and starts to negatively impact one’s life. The following are possible signs that someone is suffering from orthorexia:

-          Unplanned weight loss due to limited food choices

-          Avoidance of social situations that revolve around eating

-          Inability to be flexible when healthy choices are not available, possibly choosing to go hungry instead of eating something off the plan

-          Feelings of guilt or that one’s day is ruined after eating something unhealthy or “bad”

-          Feelings of satisfaction or worth when following food rules

-          Elimination of multiple food groups

-          Spending a large amount of time thinking about and planning what to eat

-          Feeling the need to compensate or make up for unhealthy food choices

 

What should you do if you recognize these signs in yourself or someone you know? If you recognize these signs in yourself the first step is to admit that you may have a problem. Cliché, I know. I would recommend seeking professional help from a therapist and a dietitian to address your nutrition and the underlying causes of the orthorexia. Usually there is a need for a sense of control that is not just about the food. If you can, challenge yourself to let go of your food rules. Practice all things in moderation and allow yourself to eat the foods you enjoy, even if they aren’t health foods. Try to incorporate new foods and to increase your variety of foods, maybe using the support of a friend. Take the judgment out of eating. Choosing to eat a certain way does not make someone better than someone else. It does not make a person good or bad. After all, at its most basic level, food is just fuel.

If you recognize these signs in someone else, gently point out what you notice and express your concerns for that person’s well being. Be sure not to blame or point fingers, but simply express your concerns using “I statements”. Possibly offer to accompany them to see a therapist or dietitian, if they are open to that.

So the next time you start to feel guilty about that burger and beer, remember, life is too short to spend it worrying about everything you eat. Be healthy but don’t let it rule your life. Food isn’t just fuel, it’s meant to be enjoyed, after all.

Product Review: BeetElite

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Finishing the Mt Evans Ascent, fueled by beets!

A lot of athletes are chowing down on beets these days, and with good reason. Studies have shown that beets can help improve athletic performance due to their high concentration of nitrates. These nitrates, once converted in the body to nitric oxide, cause vasodilation, letting oxygenated blood get to working muscles quicker and more efficiently. (See my blog “To Beet or Not to Beet” for more info on the benefits of beets and beet juice).  http://mountaingirlnutritionandfitness.com/2013/04/16/to-beet-or-not-to-beet-that-is-the-question/

If you train and compete at altitude like I do, you probably have a greater appreciation for oxygen than most! So any advantage with oxygen sounds like a sweet deal right? But what if you don’t like the earthy taste of beets or can’t stomach the 2-3 cups of beet juice that some of the studies used?

Enter BeetElite. BeetElite is a beet supplement. It’s actually concentrated organic beetroot crystals that you mix with a small amount of water. A single serving packet (10 grams) is mixed with 4 oz of water and consumed just 30 minutes before exercise. Each packet is supposed to be equivalent to 6 whole beets worth of nitrates. Beet juice, on the other hand, needs to be consumed 2-3 hours before exercise to be in full effect, which means it takes a lot more advanced planning. You also need to drink at least 500mL (about 2 cups) to get the full effect of beet juice. So what’s the deal with BeetElite? Read on!

Price: $34.99 for 10 single serving packets ($3.50 per serving), or $44.99 for a 20-serving canister ($2.25/serving). If you buy a 16.9 oz (500mL) bottle of beet juice at Whole Foods it will set you back $5.99. Given that most studies used about 500mL (which is about equivalent to 3 beets, this actually makes the BeetElite a better deal.

 

Nutrition Breakdown: A single serving pouch has 30 cBeetEliteNutritionFactsalories, 0 grams fat, 8 grams of carbohydrate, 7 grams sugar, and 0 grams of protein.

 

Ingredients: organic beetroot crystals, natural flavors, malic acid, stevia leaf extract.

The beetroot crystals are formed from organic beets. Malic acid is a common food additive, found naturally in fruits such as apples and rhubarb and used to impart a tart flavor. There are some studies that associate malic acid itself with improved sports performance. It is considered safe. Natural flavors could mean anything. I emailed the company for more specifics about that but have not heard back yet. Stevia leaf extract comes from the Stevia plant. While stevia leaf is natural, the extract is a little bit more processed. It is generally considered safe by the FDA and is probably fine in small amounts.

 

Taste: I have to admit that I don’t actually like beets. I eat them occasionally due to their health and performance benefits but I don’t enjoy the taste at all. (check out my  Beet and Goat Cheese Salad  recipe for a palatable way to eat them!)

BeetElite comes in a regular and black cherry flavor. So far I’ve only tried the black cherry flavor, and I actually found it to be quite good. It barely tasted like beets and was slightly sweet. Plus, being only 4 oz made it easy to drink. I just ordered some of the regular flavor and am hoping it’s not too beety!

Personal Experience: I’ve used Beet Elite (and beet juice) here and there before tough training runs and rides or races. Most recently I used it before the Mt Evans Ascent, which I did well at. Since I haven’t done an actual study on myself (and probably never will), it is hard to truly say whether or not BeetElite makes a difference. Did I feel strong at the Mt Evans race? Yes. Had I also trained hard for it? Yes. There is always the placebo effect to consider as well, but I’ve always said that if the placebo effect works, who cares? It’s still a benefit (although an expensive one I guess!)

I didn’t have any GI issues using BeetElite, which is always something I’m concerned about when trying a new product. It was convenient to use too. For the Mt Evans Ascent I actually mixed the BeetElite into a Generation UCAN shake and was pleasantly surprised at how the flavors and textures mixed. Maybe I’m on to something here?! Overall I would say I had a good experience with BeetElite.

Bottom Line: Athletes are always looking for a competitive edge, and there are lots of good studies on beet juice and athletic performance, so I think incorporating beets, beet juice, or a beet supplement is a good idea. Using the BeetElite is certainly easier and more convenient than chugging beet juice before a race and is also a great option for those who cannot tolerate the flavor of beets and beet juice. I really like that it only needs to be consumed 30 minutes before exercise and that only 4 oz is needed. It’s also great that it comes in portable little packets-can you imagine going through airport security with a bottle of beet juice?!

Even though I can’t say for sure if I personally noticed an effect with BeetElite, there is enough good data out there that I believe it very well could’ve helped me and I will continue to use it here and there (but not everywhere).

It’s important to remember though, that a supplement will never make up for poor training and nutrition, so don’t expect any miracles with BeetElite or beet juice if you aren’t training and eating well. As always, take supplements with caution and use them appropriately. I would not recommend using BeetElite all the time (only for tough training sessions and races). Also make sure not to over use it. BeetElite recommends no more than 2 packets in 24 hours.

 

 

*Disclaimer: I was provided one-time free samples of this product for being a sports nutrition coach with Peaks Coaching Group. I have since purchased my own.

Coconut Almond Crusted Mahi Mahi

I’ve been trying to incorporate more fish into my diet. Here is one of my favorite fish recipes!

 

Makes 2 servings

2 -6 oz mahi mahi fillets (or other white fish)

1 egg

1 tablespoon olive oil or coconut oil

1/4 cup sliced almonds

1/4 cup shredded sweetened coconut (may sub unsweetened if you don’t like sweet or are watching sugar/calorie intake)

 

Mix together coconut and almonds and put on a plate or in a large bowl. Whisk egg in a small bowl and dip each fish fillet into egg. Be sure to coat both sides of fish with egg. Immediately dip coated fish in the coconut/almond mixture.

Heat oil in a pan over medium high heat. Cook fish until opaque and flaky, usually about 3-4 min on each side.

How to Run a Smart Race

Getting ready to race smart!

Getting ready to race smart!

For possibly the first time ever, I felt like I ran a smart race at the Cherry Creek Sneak 10 Miler this past April. That’s not to say that all of my other races have been “dumb”, but they didn’t feel quite like this. For instance I set a PR at the last 5k I did, back in November, so clearly the race wasn’t bad, but my splits were wildly inconsistent due to starting out faster than I could handle and blowing up my legs. That’s not smart. For the Sneak my splits were as consistent as they have ever been in a race, a sign that I was racing within my abilities.

That consistency not only helped me meet my time goal, but actually to beat it by a little over a minute! I was working hard the whole time but it totally felt within my capability. I was pushing but there was no fear of blowing up. There’s no other way I can describe it, but to say that I feel like I ran a smart race!

This was a new and awesome feeling for me. I think that learning to race smart is part of the evolution of a runner and I’m hoping it means I’m reaching new territory with my running and more specifically my racing. This is the first season that I’ve been following a fairly specific training scheduled given to me by a coach (well my sister, but she certainly knows what she is talking about when it comes to running and racing!), but what else helps a runner have a smart race? This is what I’ve learned:

  • Set specific goals, both short term and long- It helps to have a large goal to train for, such as a PR time at a race. For me this turns an everyday run into a specific training session, giving it more purpose and making me less likely to bail on it. It also helps to set smaller short term goals, such as what you want to accomplish for the week, as sometimes the long term goals seem so far off that it’s easy to justify not training for them in the moment.
  • Have a schedule, and maybe even a coach- I’ve always made schedules for myself to plan out my workouts, but I tend to be general with them. Having a more specific schedule this season is keeping training more interesting and productive. It’s also been helpful to have a coach to rely on. Not only do I no longer have to worry about creating my own training schedule, but I’ve found that it helps hold me more accountable knowing I’m going to have to fess up if I bail on a workout.
  • Don’t make your main race your first race- Plan at least one shorter race leading up to the big event. This will help you get into “race mode” and also give you time to address any fueling or clothing issues that could pop up during the main race.
  • Train your mind, not just your muscles- I’m a big fan of visualization leading up to a race, as there are a lot of studies showing it helps improve performance and I find it makes me feel more in control of my race. The more specific you can visualize yourself attacking the course with ease the better. It also helps to pick a mantra that you want to recite to yourself during the race and to practice it on training runs. For instance, tell yourself “I feel fast, efficient, and strong”. Accept that it will hurt, and remind yourself the pain is temporary and tolerable.
  • Know the course- Train on the course if you can, and at least spend a fair amount of time on the website looking at the map. Knowing where you’ll need to push hard and where you’ll get little breaks helps the race feel more manageable.
  • Pay attention to your fueling and hydration- A smart race can be easily foiled by dehydration. Make sure you are hydrating and fueling appropriately for your body and the race distance. Hopefully you practiced this on your training runs also!
  • Stay within your means- It’s so easy to get excited and start a race too fast, but it usually comes back to haunt you. Pay attention to your exertion rate and breathing, as well as your pace, and make sure you are not exceeding your abilities. Your race pace will likely be faster than your training runs, but be careful that it is not drastically so. Some people may be able to get away with this, but it ain’t a smart strategy!

 

  • Lastly, practice acceptance- Not all races will be good, and that’s okay. Same with all training runs. I haven’t had a single good tempo run since my smart race. It’s frustrating and discouraging, but I’m moving on and letting go of that. Sometimes just doing the training run or finishing the race is a victory in itself. Learn from the mistakes (for instance, were you over-trained or under-trained, or was it just a bad workout?), but don’t beat yourself up about them as it will only make you feel worse, and that’s not smart either.

 

 

Product Review: Bulumu Granola

I first discovered Bulumu granola a couple of years ago when I bumped into Bulumu co-founder (and my former high school classmate-disclosure) Jasmine sampling it at my local Whole Foods. Excited for her and happy to buy local, I decided to buy a bag. I’ve been buying it off and on ever since.

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Bulumu takes a hike!

Bulumu stands for “Buckle up, Love you, Miss you”, which is apparently how Jasmine and her mom would sign off on emails while she was traveling the world in pursuit of her dreams of being a professional triathlete. Bulumu is marketed as being an all natural, lower fat version of granola and is somewhat marketed towards athletes and active people in particular. It claims to sit lighter in your stomach than typical granolas and therefore to be a good pre-workout option that won’t cause GI distress.

Nutrition Information: This may vary slightly amongst the different flavors, but ¼ cup (1 serving) has about 110 calories, 2 grams fat, 18 grams carb, 6 grams sugar, 2 grams fiber and 3 grams protein. That is a lot less sugar and fat than the average granola, making Bulumu a good option for granola lovers who are watching their weight or sugar and/or fat intake. It’s also significantly lower in calories, as most granolas average 140-180 calories per ¼ cup portion (due to containing more fat and sugar).

Marketed as “wheat free, dairy free, soy free, and low fat”, Bulumu is a good option for those with allergies or intolerances to wheat, dairy, or soy. (If you think you have an allergy to fat we need to talk!)

Ingredients are mostly organic and for the orange ginger + cranberry flavor (my personal favorite) are as follows: rolled oats, organic agave nectar, orange juice concentrate, walnuts, dried cranberries (cranberries, sunflower oil), crystallized ginger (baby ginger, cane sugar), honey, ginger juice (ginger, citric acid), natural orange flavoring.

You’ve probably heard the adage that if you can’t pronounce the ingredients in a product you probably shouldn’t buy it. No worries here as there are no funky unnatural ingredients in Bulumu, another thing I like about the product.

Price: Bulumu seems to cost about $1 per bag more than most other comparable granolas (Kashi, Kind etc). It typically goes for $5.99 at Whole Foods and for some reason last I checked it was more- $6.99- at King Soopers. A bag contains 11 servings, which breaks down to about $0.55 per serving.

Taste review: Bulumu does taste a bit different that typical granolas, mostly due to the lower fat and sugar content. It’s not as sweet as most granolas, nor as crunchy. The consistency is also a bit different, as Bulumu does not come in typical granola clusters. As the website says, “OATS DON’T GROW IN “CLUSTERS”.™ That’s why we toast our oats individually without all the oil and sugar”.

Although I’ve only seen (and tried) 3 flavors in the grocery stores, according to the website there are 4: orange ginger + cranberry, vanilla almond + fruit, cinnamon chai + walnut, honey hemp + blueberry, and maple pecan + vanilla.

As to its claims about being a good pre-workout fuel, I can’t totally say. I’ve never been one for plain granola, so I typically use Bulumu in Greek yogurt, which doesn’t tend to do well with my stomach before workouts. It makes sense based on the ingredients, but I don’ think I’ll ever down a handful of dry granola before a run to confirm!

Overall: I like the concept of Bulumu, that it’s geared towards athletes and active people and attempts be as unprocessed and natural as granola can be. I also like that it’s a Colorado brand so I feel like I am supporting a local business when I splurge on a bag of it. It is a bit pricey though for those of us watching our budget, and some might find the flavor a bit plain if used to traditional granolas. However, I do think it’s a healthy option and will probably continue to buy it occasionally-when it’s on sale.

 

 

For more info check out Bulumu’s website at http://bulumulife.com/

Recipe: Quinoa with Spinach, Almonds, and Cranberries

You’ve heard by now that quinoa is good for you.  Whole grain, high protein, high fiber, and gluten free….need I say more? Plain quinoa, however, is a little boring so spice dinner up with the recipe below. It saves well for leftovers and can be served with a protein and veggie of your choice for a complete and delicious meal.

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Tofu and Brussels sprouts make it a delicious and healthy meal!

Makes 4 servings

1 cup dry quinoa

2 cups spinach

1/4 cup dried cranberries

1/4 cup sliced almonds

2 TBSP olive oil

2 cups vegetable broth

Cook quinoa based on package directions using vegetable broth instead of water (usually 2 cups liquid for 1 cup quinoa and simmer for 15-20 minutes). Add dried cranberries and almonds during last 2 minutes of cooking and stir.

While quinoa cooks wilt spinach in olive oil over medium heat. Add cooked spinach to quinoa mixture and stir to fluff. Serve warm.