Add These Foods to Your Plate for Optimal Health and Performance
I love giving talks about plant-based nutrition. I’ve been plant-based since 2013 and found a new level of performance and health after changing my diet.
I’m a big proponent of looking at what we can add in to our daily diets instead of what we should subtract. I find that change is easier to make when it’s not about cutting things out. Something I’ve found is that the more good things – foods, habits, etc that I add in as first priority tend to naturally crowd out the things I’m trying to do less of.
Before we get started, I recommend the free Daily Dozen App from NutritionFacts.org. It has the 12 foods you should eat daily for optimal health. It also has been newly updated to include foods for weight loss after the How Not to Diet book by Dr. Michael Greger was published. I recorded a podcast with Dr. Greger actually coming out very soon!
I also shared these foods my Strava Club and I wanted to write about them on ProKit too!
Here we go!
1. Nitrate Rich Vegetables
🌱A R U G U L A !! 🌱 Or any other nitrate-rich veggies. Arugula is at the top of the list, but here are some others- Rhubarb, cilantro, butter leaf lettuce, mixed greens, basil, beet greens, oak leaf lettuce, swiss chard, beets.
❓Why?! All of our blood vessels have a lining called the endothelium. Nitrate in veggies is converted nitrites and then to nitric oxide. The nitric oxide is a powerful vasodilator and enters your bloodstream and helps that endothelium relax. (This is also amazing if you have hypertension!)
👉🏼 So how does that help us go faster? A relaxed endothelium means better blood flow. Better blood flow means more oxygen being supplied to your muscles and THAT means speed!!
🤷🏻♀️ How to use it? I mentioned eating greens right out or the package- the easy way! For a key workout or race: you can drink 1/2 cup beet juice 2-3 hours before exercise. However- I recommend just eating these nitrate-rich veggies as much as possible will give you a boost, so add ‘em in wherever you can! Any leafy greens are good, but this list has the highest measured amounts.
2. Hibiscus Tea
You heard right! This magic tea is one of the highest, if not THE highest antioxidant drink. In a study against 280 other well-known anti-oxidant rich beverages, this came out #1! It also has been shown to lower blood pressure by 4 points and also helps with weight loss!
Why do we care about antioxidants? They reduce your risk of cancer, helps you recover faster from workouts by scavenging free radicals that cause oxidation in the body. Oxidation causes cell damage- we don’t want that! A diet rich in fruits and veggies also will include a lot of antioxidants!
Drink 12 ounces a day to see benefits! Rinse your mouth when you’re done and don’t brush your teeth for at least an hour after drinking it to protect your tooth enamel. For extended research and data, go here: https://nutritionfacts.org/2013/09/03/hibiscus-tea-the-best-beverage/
3. Ground Flaxseed
Ground flax is a powerhouse in a number of ways! First, compared to any other nuts or seeds, it has up to 15x the lignan content. What the heck are lignans? Lignans are compounds that protect us from cancer. There are a number of studies showing its protective benefits against breast and prostate cancer in particular.
Also! They are high in omega-3s. It also is a significant way to lower your blood pressure naturally.
How to use it? You just need 1 Tablespoon per day. I put it in my oats every morning and you can put it in smoothies as well. I also use it in my baking instead of eggs. Take 1 Tablespoon of ground flax and add 3 Tablespoons water. Wait about a minute and it’ll thicken up.
4. Super-Powered Spices
Spices are incredible for their anti-inflammatory properties.
Turmeric: 1/4 tsp per day is all you need.
According to the Dietary Anti-Inflammatory Index, Turmeric wins for the single most anti-inflammatory food. Curcumin is the super-powered pigment in Turmeric. More than 5000 studies have been published in medical literature about is many benefits. You can put fresh turmeric for a spicy addition to your smoothies, or use the powdered spice in your beans, tofu scramble, and stews.
Another amazing anti-inflammatory food. Have it with your sushi, in your smoothie, or even use ginger powder on sweet potatoes. Ginger has been pitted against ibuprofen for pain relief and worked just as effectively (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19216660/) Great for nausea and many different healing uses. Heck, even gingerbread cookies are good!
Ohhh yeah, go garlic! I bet you already eat a lot of it and it is good for you! Garlic has been touted for its strong anti-cancer benefits.
Super-powered, and helps with weight loss! Capsaicin gives the pepper its bite and according to the medical literature, has also helped with things like headaches, stomach pain, and nausea.
5. Cruciferous Veggies
Eat your Brussel Sprouts… yes! That joke is still alive and well. But even if you DON’T like Brussel sprouts, you can still eat other cruciferous veggies and greatly benefit.
What ARE the benefits? Well, they all contain this incredible phytochemical called Sulforaphane. Sulforaphane is an extremely strong cancer fighter. It works with Short Chain Fatty Acids in your gut to cure cancer, reduce inflammation, increases fat burning, improves blood sugar, and more. Most notably though is it’s cancer-fighting properties. A healthy body goes faster. A body with less inflammation goes faster (yes, cancer thrives in inflammatory environments).
In Gastroenterologist Dr. Will Bulsiewicz’s New York Times BestSelling new book, Fiber Fueled (we recorded a podcast about it here: https://www.sonyalooney.com/how-to-fuel-your-gut-for-optimal-immunity-and-performance-with-dr-will-bulsiewicz/), he says that sulforaphane protects us from cancer in 7 ways.
– inhibits the production of carcinogens
– activates enzymes that crush carcinogens
– shuts down blood flow to the tumor
– inhibits cancer cell migration and invasion
– promotes self-destruction of cancer cells
– regulates cancer development through epigenetics.
He also goes through a number of other ways sulforaphane is a rock star including benefiting people with Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, anxiety & depression, autoimmune diseases, weight loss, and A LOT more. It’s on page 164-165 if you get his book.
So what to eat?
#1 WINNER: Broccoli sprouts. You can even easily sprout your own seeds. They have up to 100x the amount of sulforaphane compared to broccoli.
Other winners? Broccoli, Cabbage (red), Brussel Sprouts, Cauliflower, and Kale. Arugula is also a cruciferous veggie (and as you saw in one of my other posts, is very, very high in nitrates which is a huge win for blood pressure/blood flow to exercising muscles).
Some notes. How to cook greens? What about buying frozen (pre-frozen blanched veggies). Eat it Raw? https://nutritionfacts.org/video/how-to-cook-greens/
Here’s what you need to know.
– chop your cruciferous veggies and leave them on the cutting board for awhile to activate the enzyme
– if it is precooked, add mustard seed powder (or even speed up the conversion by adding it to raw cruciferous)
– if you want to cook them: steaming is best
I’m trying to grow broccoli in my garden this year… and after learning about broccoli sprouts, it is immediately going in my sprouting jar!
Enjoy all the noms! If you like all these nutrition snippets, you’re welcome to join my free facebook group, open to anyone, no matter what your food preferences!