Sweet Potato Black Bean Tacos

Looking for a healthy vegetarian meal? Look no further than these tasty tacos!

photo(14)1 large sweet potato

1 can black beans

1 small yellow onion

1 avocado, cut into bite sized pieces

½ bunch kale

8 6-inch tortillas (white corn/wheat mix works well)

Cumin or coriander

Olive oil


Pre-cook sweet potato in the microwave for 3 minutes, then cut sweet potato into ½ in cubes.  Toss cubes in 1 tablespoon olive oil and bake at 375°F for 25-30 minutes, or until tender and golden.

While the potatoes are cooking heat the beans over low heat, adding a pinch of cumin or coriander midway through.

Dice onion and sauté in olive oil until tender.  (If you are feeling adventurous and have a dark beer around, cooking the onions in beer instead of olive oil yields a nice flavor).

Rip washed kale into bite size pieces and sauté in a pan over medium heat with 1 tablespoon olive oil.

Divide sweet potato, beans, onion, kale, and avocado evenly amongst 8 tacos.


Should You Eat: Chocolate?

chocolateI’ve decided to add a new feature to my blog, the “Should You Eat: XX” blogs!  Here I will choose a particular food, usually one with lots of hype around it, and break it down to see what it really offers in terms of nutrition and sports performance enhancement, and whether or not I think it’s worthwhile to incorporate it into your diet.

First up, chocolate.  Let me preference this blog with a confession:  I love chocolate.  Most days of the week I have a piece or two, and it’s not always the dark “healthy” kind.  I don’t do it for my health so much as for enjoyment, but I do sometimes wonder if all this chocolate is helping or hurting my health and sports performance (physical health that is, there is no doubt it helps my mental health!).

Chocolate is made from the cocoa bean, which is a good source of a group of phytochemicals called “flavanols”.  These nutrients have antioxidant properties and are thought to help reduce the risk of heart disease, improve blood flow, and lower blood pressure.  There have also been studies that found improvement in memory and cognitive function with an increase in flavanols from cocoa in the diet, possibly from increased blood flow to the brain.  So that’s why you often hear that dark chocolate is good for you.  The difference between dark chocolate and regular milk chocolate is mostly the cocoa content.  Dark chocolate also contains much less milk than milk chocolate and it is generally only dark chocolate that is thought to have health benefits.

The downside is that chocolate is full of calories in the form of fat and sugar.  There have been some studies (on animals mostly) about the addictive properties of sugar and fat combined, meaning you may have a hard time stopping after just 1-2 pieces!  I, however, would like to think that I have a little more mental strength than a rat so I’m not sure how applicable those studies are to humans.  Still, it’s important to consider that to get 200mg of flavanols from dark chocolate (70% cacao) you would need to eat 2 ounces, which would contain about 300 calories**.  That’s no small sum.  Milk chocolate is too low in flavanols to even pretend you are eating a health food, so no luck there, sorry.

The good news is there is another form to try if you want to reap the health benefits of chocolate- cocoa powder.  Because it’s less processed it contains more flavanols than any other form of chocolate.  And because it doesn’t have sugar and milk added to it like chocolate, it doesn’t contain the fat or sugar either.  To get 200mg of flavanols from cocoa powder, all you need is 1 ¾ tablespoons, which will only set you back 20 calories!  Chocolate lovers beware though, cocoa powder is not sweet. In fact, it’s quite bitter and, well, kinda gross tasting.

Wondering if chocolate or cocoa powder can improve your sports performance? It would make sense that increased blood flow could be beneficial.  After all, that’s part of the reason beet juice helps.  A quick search on Pub Med didn’t yield a whole lot of results though.  There was one study that found reduced oxidative-stress markers and increased mobilization of free fatty acids after exercise but no observed effect on exercise performance with regular dark chocolate consumption.   I also found an article referencing a study claiming “eating dark chocolate improves athletic performance just as much as exercise”, which I find hard to believe. Turns out it was a mice study. I didn’t realize mice liked chocolate!  Anyway, looks like we need more studies on athletes and dark chocolate. I’d volunteer for that!  The down side with chocolate and sports performance is potential weight gain.  As I noted above, you’d have to eat 300 calories worth of dark chocolate to get the health benefits.  That’s a pretty big chunk of your daily caloric needs if you are eating, say, about 2200 calories a day.

So, the question is, should you eat chocolate?  Like so many things with food and nutrition, I’m not going to give you a straight yes or no answer! First of all, I’m only talking about dark chocolate here.  There aren’t enough flavanols in milk chocolate to provide any health benefits, so if you really like milk chocolate make sure to have it as an occasional treat, not a daily occurrence, and don’t kid yourself into believing you are eating it for your health.  That being said, I think that there are some great possible health benefits to eating dark chocolate, but these must be weighed with the cost, i.e. lots of calories from fat and sugar.  However, if you don’t like dark chocolate and already eat a healthful diet there is probably no point in starting to add in dark chocolate.  If you are interested in amping up your diet but don’t care for dark chocolate, try incorporating cocoa powder.  Add a tablespoon or two to smoothies, recovery shakes/drinks, or coffee or even top your yogurt or oatmeal with it.  Now, if you do like chocolate then I say go for it!  Not only are there the potential health benefits, but there is also the pleasure factor to consider.  Depriving yourself of something you really enjoy is likely to make you want it more-and to end up eating a whole pan of brownies when you finally let yourself have some.  That will put way more of dent in your diet and health than a piece or two a day.  Plus, it’s okay to incorporate foods you enjoy into your diet (within reason of course). Just make sure to opt for dark chocolate (70% cacao minimum) most of the time and be sure to factor the chocolate into your daily caloric needs as well as your total sugar intake to avoid unwanted weight gain.

Next up, Should You Eat: Chia Seeds.  What other foods would you like to see featured?

**Statistics from Nutrition Action Healthletter, December 2013 issue

No New Year’s Resolutions!

Ah, 2014, we finally meet.  I’m looking forward to this year, as I plan on having lots of epic bike and running races on the calendar!  Not only that, but I’m joining a team this year: the Runner’s Roost Mountain/Ultra running team!  These are no resolutions however, since it seems to me that most resolutions don’t amount to much in the end.   So here is a blog I wrote last New Year’s about setting goals.  Enjoy!
 I’m not a fan of New Year’s resolutions. I’ve always thought that if you want to change something you should do it now and not wait until the start of a new year, so I don’t usually set resolutions. Sure, there are those that want a “fresh start” and so the first of the year makes sense to embark on a goal, but statistically speaking most New Year’s resolutions fail within the first half of the year. Another potential problem I’ve noticed is that sometimes when we set a start date for a goal we give ourselves permission to do exactly the opposite until then, such as eating or drinking as much as we can before giving up alcohol or starting to eat healthier.

I recently read a statistic that by the end of January over a third of resolutions have been given up on. Anyone who goes to a gym can witness this trend. The gyms are packed in January to the point that it’s nearly impossible to find a machine, but by March they’ve generally returned to normal levels.

I’m not totally pessimistic about resolutions though. A majority of resolutions involve health in one way or another which I am all for, and setting goals can be a good way to stay on track and change one’s life for the better, just make sure to be SMART when setting your resolution!

SMART goals are often used in the business world, but they can work for health and fitness related goals as well. You’ll see some variations, but SMART generally stands for specific, measurable, attainable (or achievable), relevant, and time sensitive (or timely).

Specific- A specific goal is easier to stick with than a general one, so instead of saying “I will lose weight” or “I will work out more” make it specific, such as “I will work out 4 days per week in order to improve my body composition”.

Measurable- You’ll need a way to know if you are meeting your goal, so make sure it’s measurable. For the above goal you could say, “I will do 30 minutes of cardio at the gym 4 days a week”. You could also use body composition measurements as an indicator of staying on track.

Attainable- They say reach for the stars, but if you set your goals too high you’ll likely get discouraged and give up. I recommend setting mini goals that feel manageable and work you towards the greater goal. For instance, what’s the goal for this week? This month? Don’t focus too far into the future and don’t set unrealistic goals (like losing 20 pounds in a week or running your first marathon next month when you’ve never ran more than a mile in your life).

Relevant- You gotta want it to stick with it so don’t set a goal you don’t really care about. If it is not really relevant to your life or worth the effort to you, you’ll likely get bored with it quickly. So make sure it’s a goal you really care about.

Time Sensitive- Put an end date on it. Having a deadline can be motivating (as long as it’s realistic and attainable!).

Good luck and Happy New Year!