Just BEET It!

beets

What’s the deal with beet juice? It’s being used as an all natural exercise supplement over recent years, but why?

Beet juice is a great pre-workout drink because it’s ability to enhance oxygen flow to the muscles translates to enhanced fuel utilization through aerobic metabolism (which requires oxygen to break down food into energy that can be used by the body). Enhanced fuel utilization may delay feelings of fatigue, as well as lactic acid buildup (the burning sensation often felt during exercise as a result of anaerobic metabolism), which can lead to stronger workouts.

Nitrate can be converted to nitrite by bacteria located in saliva via the enzymes called nitrate reductases. Nitrite can then be reduced to nitric oxide (NO) by a variety of enzymes, which remain to be the subject of study (and still remain controversial). NO then enhances vasodilation (widening of blood vessels) through signaling via soluble guanylate cyclase, which ultimately allows for increased blood flow and increased oxygen and nutrient delivery to muscles. It should be noted that the existence of oral bacteria is essential for this conversion to occur, and so the use of antibacterial dental products (such as mouthwash or antibacterial gum) is not recommended directly before consuming nitrate-rich foods and beverages.

How do beets (and other veggies) get their nitrates?

While plants may receive small amounts of nitrates from the air and water, the majority of nitrates are usually delivered to the plant from soil. Specifically, nitrogenous sources in the soil can be converted to ammonia, which can then be converted to nitrates by bacteria. The plant can then absorb the nitrates to use for development and growth. High-nitrogen soils now exist in order to enhance nitrate absorption by the plant. Since the majority of nitrates used by the plant come from the soil, fruits and vegetables that grow in the ground (like beets!) generally contain a higher amount of nitrates.

I thought nitrates were bad for me? I’m told to avoid them in meat…

The difference between nitrates in processed meats and those found in fruits and vegetables has to do with other existing compounds in the food. Nitrates can be converted to small amounts of nitrosamines (carcinogenic compounds) in the presence of protein and heat (>300oF). However, fruits and vegetables do not contain the amounts of protein required for this reaction to occur. Additionally, veggies can also be consumed raw, meaning heat is not present, either. Regardless, both protein and heat are required for nitrosamines to form, so nitrates in fruits and veggies are safe.

So how do I use beet juice to my benefit?

Beet juice is generally used as an ergogenic aid (or an exercise supplement) prior to aerobic exercise (running, biking, etc.). Ideally, beet juice should be consumed about 15-30 minutes before the event (whether it is a race or training). This allows time for vasodilation to occur throughout the beginning of the exercise. Always remember to check regulations of your sport if this is not for recreation, to ensure that beet juice is allowed. Also, remember that consumption of beet juice does not guarantee an improvement in training or time – rather, the literature to date suggests that it may benefit the production of nitric oxide, which in turn could promote vasodilation and may lead to less fatigue during a workout.

*beet photo courtesy of: http://www.elizabethrider.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/benefits-of-beets.jpg

Chilled Quinoa With Citrus, Cilantro and Sunflower Seeds

Chilled Quinoa with Citrus, Cilantro and Sunflower Seeds

I know I’ve given you all a lot of quinoa recipes, but this one is my favorite to date, and is sure to become my new go-to for summer! Not only is this chilled quinoa salad refreshing, but it’s hearty in all of the right places (offering a significant amount of protein and fiber) and low in all of the right places, since it is low in total fat, saturated fat, sugar and sodium! Also, this vegetarian dish offers complete protein (i.e. all of the body’s essential amino acids) from quinoa and edamame, so it’s great as a main dish or as a smaller portion as hearty side or snack!

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Ingredients (yields about five – 3/4 C servings):

1 C quinoa, dry (rinsed and drained)

2 C water

1/3 C shelled edamame, unsalted (or rinsed and drained to remove excess salt)

1/2 C grated carrots

2 Tbsp sunflower seeds, shelled and unsalted

3 Tbsp cilantro leaves, washed, dried and finely chopped (optional: plus additional for garnish)

Juice from 1/2 a lemon (about 2 Tbsp)

1 Tbsp red wine vinegar

1 tsp extra virgin olive oil

dash salt

dash ground black pepper

Directions:

1. Combine quinoa and water in medium-sized pot and bring to a rapid boil, uncovered. Once boiling, reduce to a simmer and cover the pot. Allow quinoa to absorb the water (this should take about 15 minutes).

2. Remove quinoa from heat and allow to cool for a few minutes before transferring into a large mixing bowl. Add edamame, carrots, sunflower seeds, cilantro leaves, salt and pepper.

3. Whisk together lemon juice, red wine vinegar and extra virgin olive oil in a small bowl. Drizzle over quinoa salad and mix all ingredients. Garnish with extra cilantro leaves (if desired) and chill in refrigerator until cold (about 2 hours) if serving that same day.

*This dish is great for quick grab-and-go leftovers and keeps well in the fridge for about 5-7 days if sealed in an airtight container!

The Goods: What’s Inside?

Nutritional Analysis Per Serving (1 serving ~3/4 C)

Calories 194 calories, Total Fat 6 g, Saturated Fat 0 g, Cholesterol 0 mg, Carbohydrates 28 g, Fiber 4 g, Protein 9 g, Sodium 44 mg, Calcium 56 mg

A Different Way To Relax – Massaged Kale Salad

Massaged Kale Salad 

Kale has a ton of nutrients, including vitamins E, K, A and C. However, when eaten raw, it can be bitter and the nutrients are less available for your body due its tough cell walls. When eating raw kale, it is always best to “massage” the kale with an acidic marinade, which begins the breakdown process and also counteracts its bitter flavor. For this kale salad, I massaged the kale with fresh lemon juice and extra virgin olive oil and added avocado, tomato, cucumber and some salt and pepper. Simple, presentable and delicious!

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Ingredients (serves 2):

4 C raw kale, chopped (*Note: remove large stem from middle)

1/2 avocado

1 C cucumbers, sliced

1/2 C cherry tomatoes, halved

juice from 1 fresh lemon

1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil

dash salt (to taste)

dash ground black pepper (to taste)

kale - ready to be "massaged"!

kale – ready to be “massaged”!

Directions:

1. Wash kale and pat dry. Add kale to large bowl.

2. Squeeze lemon juice directly over kale (watch out for seeds!) and add olive oil. Gently massage kale with dressing for 2-3 minutes, until kale begins to wilt and turns dark green. Kale should be soft when finished.

3. Slice avocado into small cubes. Add avocado, tomatoes and cucumber slices to salad. Add salt and pepper to taste. Mix well and enjoy!

The Goods: What’s Inside?

Nutritional Analysis Per Serving:

Calories 228 calories, Total Fat 16 g, Saturated Fat 3 g, Cholesterol 0 mg, Carbohydrates 23 g, Fiber 7 g, Protein 6 g, Sodium 142 mg, Calcium 200 mg

A Healthy Tuna Salad

Tuna Salad

This healthy take on a tuna salad replaces mayonnaise with olive oil and lemon juice, which cuts the fat content of this dish, adds healthy monounsaturated fat, and gives the tuna salad a lighter taste. Ideal for taking to work or eating right at home, this healthy lunch gives you protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals so you can be strong, focused and satiated!

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Ingredients (serves 1):

1 can (about 4 oz) solid white albacore tuna, packed in water (I like Trader Joe’s Half Salt tuna)

juice from 1/2 lemon (fresh squeezed is best!)

2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil, divided

2 C spinach

6 cherry tomatoes, halved

1/2 red bell pepper, chopped

1/4 C sliced cucumber

2 Tbsp onion, chopped

1 Tbsp red wine vinegar

a lighter tuna salad! dressed with extra virgin olive oil and lemon juice - hold the mayo!

a lighter tuna salad! dressed with extra virgin olive oil and lemon juice – hold the mayo!

Directions:

1. Drain water from tuna and pat dry with paper towel. transfer tuna to small bowl.

2. Add 1 Tbsp olive oil and lemon juice to tuna and mix well with fork. Set aside.

3. Place spinach on plate (or in bowl). Add tomatoes, onion, cucumber slices and chopped bell pepper. Add tuna on top. Dress with remaining 1 Tbsp olive oil and red wine vinegar. Enjoy!

The Goods: What’s Inside?

Nutritional Analysis Per Serving:

Calories 436 calories, Total Fat 32 g, Saturated Fat 5 g, Cholesterol 51 mg, Carbohydrate 16 g, Fiber 5 g, Protein 28 g, Sodium 421 mg, Calcium 86 mg