Why You Should Eat a Plant-based Diet & How to Get Started

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Watercress salsa with bean chipsThis post is sponsored by B&W Quality Growers, the world’s largest grower and marketer of watercress.

Eating a plant-based diet will improve your health. Plant-based diets are associated with lower rates of heart disease, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, certain cancers, and better cognition (1,2,3,4).  Data from vegetarians suggests plant-based diets might also be associated with a longer lifespan (5).  If you love dairy or meat, you don’t have to give up either to benefit from a plant-based diet. But you will benefit from adding more plant-foods, particularly leafy greens like watercress for a healthy body and mind.

Fortified with more than 18 essential vitamins and minerals, watercress is the healthiest leafy vegetable on the planet as it is high in water content, a naturally low calorie and low-fat food. It’s also one of the most nutrient-dense vegetables in the world, earning perfect score on the Aggregate Nutrient Density Index (ANDI) nutrient density scale.

What is Plant-Based?

Plant-based means the bulk of your diet comes from plants. Fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, whole grains and legumes (beans, peas, lentils and more) are the staples of a plant-based diet.

Eating plant-based does not mean you never eat dairy, eggs, meat, fish, or poultry. However, these foods do not make up the bulk of your diet when you are eating plant-based.

How does a Plant-Based Diet Lower Disease Risk?

Plant foods are all not only full of vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates protein and healthy fats but they are also full of fiber and phytonutrients. Most Americans get half the fiber they need each day for good health. In addition to helping support digestion and preventing constipation, fiber feeds the good bacteria in our gut. The health of our gut depends on the diversity and type of bacteria that live there. Also, most of our immune system is in our gut making gut health important for immune health and, because of the gut brain axis (the gut and brain talk to each other), brain health. Gut health is quickly becoming a hot topic as scientists learn more about the importance of gut health every day.

How to Make Your Diet Plant-Based:

1. Eat More Leafy Greens

As part of the MIND diet, leafy greens are linked to a lower rate of cognitive decline. Watercress is a cruciferous vegetable, which are generally known as cancer-fighters due to their high levels of phytochemicals known as isothiocyanates. A growing body of evidence suggests watercress earns its “superleaf” title because it may help prevent the spread of cancer cells (6,7). Plus, it is a good source of vitamin A, an essential vitamin necessary for normal vision, skin health, and maintaining immune function (2). Watercress is also high in the antioxidant vitamin C, which protects the body against free radicals. Vitamin C also supports the normal function of blood vessels, healing of wounds, iron absorption, and neurological function (3).

– Try my favorite snack: watercress salsa along with lentil or bean chips (post recipe below).

– Spread avocado mash on a piece of higher fiber toast (my favorite one is made from almond and sweet potato flour) and top it with watercress, feta and a drizzle of balsamic glaze.

– Make broad bean or garbanzo bean chips.

– Dip celery or carrots in peanut, almond or another nut butter.

– Make my favorite salad: Watercress, pear, fig and goat cheese salad.

2. Try different forms of plant-based foods.

There are many forms and ways to cook each plant-food!
– Lentil or bean pastas are a fantastic substitute for regular pasta.
– Split pea soup vs. peas.

– Brussels sprouts cooked with turkey neck vs. roasted and crispy.

– Top cauliflower with avocado oil and parmesan cheese and roast it.

– Boil red potatoes and add olive oil and dill after cooking.

3. Make your dessert fruit and nut-based.

Fruit is available all year long. From watermelon in the summer to pumpkin in the Fall, there are many ways to enjoy fruits for dessert. I like pairing plain Greek yogurt with berries or grapes and a sprinkle of granola.

4. Add greens to your smoothie.

Use greens like watercress to enhance your favorite fruit smoothie. This is the perfect way to get more greens in your diet. My favorite smoothie includes 8 oz. 100% orange juice, a handful of frozen watercress (any time I can’t use a fruit or vegetable in a timely manner I freeze it), frozen mango, ginger and vanilla or unflavored whey protein powder (an amount that contains 30 grams of protein).

5. Add vegetables to your main dishes.

– Chopped mushrooms and onions work well in beef or turkey patties.

– Add veggies to your kabobs. Try grilled veggie and meat (or tofu, which is made from soybeans!) kabobs.

– Top your pizza with sliced tomatoes, broccoli, onions, peppers and mushrooms.

– Chili is a great staple for the winter and naturally loaded with beans and diced tomatoes.

 

References

1 McMacken M, Shah S. A plant-based diet for the prevention and treatment of type 2 diabetes. J Geriatr Cardiol 2017;14(5): 342-354.

2 Kahleova H et al. Cardio-Metabolic Benefits of Plant-Based Diets. Nutrients 2017;9(8): 848.

3 Lanou AJ, Svenson B. Reduced cancer risk in vegetarians: an analysis of recent reports. Cancer Mang Res 2011;3: 1- 8.

4 Hardman RJ. Adherence to a Mediterranean-Style Diet and Effects on Cognition in Adults: A Qualitative Evaluation and Systematic Review of Longitudinal and Prospective Trials. Front Nutr 2016;3: 22.

5 Orlich MJ. Vegetarian Dietary Patterns and Mortality in Adventist Health Study 2. JAMA Intern Med 2013; 173(13): 1230-1238.

6 Gill IR et al. Watercress supplementation in diet reduces lymphocyte DNA damage and alters blood antioxidant status in healthy adults. Am J Clin Nutr 2007;85(2): 504-510.

7 Boyd LA et al. Assessment of the anti-genotoxic, anti-proliferative, and anti-metastatic potential of crude watercress extract in human colon cancer cells. Nutr Cancer 2006;55(2): 232-41.

 

Are NSAIDs Safe for Cartilage and Health?

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NSAIDsNSAIDs can help decrease inflammation and pain from musculoskeletal injuries, menstrual cramps, rheumatoid arthritis and more. However, they come with some major potential side effects.

NSAIDs can Destroy Cartilage

NSAIDs (non steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) like ibuprofen (Advil) and indomethacin may speed up the breakdown of cartilage in osteoarthritic joints. They might also inhibit tissue repair. But, not all studies show NSAIDs damage cartilage. It may depend on the specific NSAID. The best study I’ve seen to date (and also published in a very reputable journal) found older adults (a group that commonly has osteoarthritis) who used NSAIDs including diclofenac, ibuprofen, naproxen, ketoprofen and piroxican for an extended period of time had higher risk of cartilage defects and nonsignificant loss of cartilage compared to nonusers.

Osteoarthritis is very common (athletes, older adults, those who are overweight, those who have been very active their whole life) and is “wear and tear” arthritis; symptoms include joint pain and stiffness.

If you have mild osteoarthritis look for other solutions including curcumin, glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate, and boswella serrata AKBA.

NSAIDs Can Lead to Major Side Effects:

In most cases the increase in risk is statistically significant but very small (see below in blue).

  • Increased risk of heart attack and stroke. Risk increases even with short term use (1 week) and increases more with higher doses of NSAIDs used for a longer period of time.

The increase in risk is about 20 – 50% higher if using NSAIDs vs. not using them. What does this mean? If you take NSAIDs the risk of heart attack is about 1% per year. 

Aspirin does not increase risk.

  • Heart attack and stroke risk is greatest in those who already have heart disease though people without heart disease are at risk.

“Patients treated w/ NSAIDs following a first heart attack were more likely to die in the first year after the heart attack compared to those not treated with NSAIDs” (FDA).

  • Increased risk of a bleeding ulcer in the stomach or intestines. Bleeding often comes without symptoms. Bleeding could lead to death. Risk increases in those who drink alcohol, smoke, take corticosteroids and anticoagulants, those who are older and people in poor health.
  • Kidney damage
  • Liver damage; very low risk
  • Anemia; when used for a prolonged time due to wearing of the stomach lining and therefore decreased absorption of iron and / or an increase in bleeding.
  • High blood pressure
  • Central nervous system issues headache, fatigue
  • Asthma attacks in those with asthma
  • Risk of bleeding
  • Hives

Safer Use of NSAIDs

Lower your risk of harmful side effects from NSAIDs by doing the following:

  • Take the lowest effective dose.
  • Take your NSAID for the shortest possible time.
  • Don’t take more than one NSAID at a time!
  • Find other solutions for pain (see my previous and upcoming posts, especially on Instagram).
  • If you notice any other symptoms including black tar like poop, skin rashes, stomach pain, yellow skin or eyes, nausea, feeling tired, swelling or vomiting, call your doctor ASAP.
  • Call 911 ASAP if you experience any heart attack, stroke or allergy symptoms including but not limited to shortness of breath, pain in chest, arm or neck; difficulty speaking, headache, blurred vision, droopy face, swelling in throat or face.

Tylenol may be a better option though it can cause liver damage if taken in doses > 4 g per day

NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) might be okay for very short-term use if you have:

  • No bleeding history
  • You are well hydrated, healthy and without renal issues.

Types of NSAIDs:

There are many different NSAIDs on the market and each one has a generic name and sometimes several trade names.

Types of NSAIDs

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Keep in mind, NSAIDs are not a long-term solution to pain. Also, most NSAID safety data is not from athletes.

References:
FDA
Br J Clin Pharmacol 2010;69(6):689-700.
Ther Clin Risk Manag 2015;11:1061-1075.
Eur J Rheumatol Inflamm 1993;13(1):7-16.
J Prolotherapy 2010;(2)1:305-322.
Arthritis Rheum 2005(52):3137-3142.
Inflammation 2002;26:139-142.
Am J Med 2009;122(9):836-842.
World J Gastroenterol 2010;16(45):5651–5661.

NSAIDs Can Help Decrease Inflammation and Pain but Impact Muscle Gains

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NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) including ibuprofen, naproxen, diclofenac, celecoxib and indomethacin can decrease pain. Take them for the shortest possible time as they can be harmful.

Should you use NSAIDs? If you must get back to work ASAP then consider the risks vs. benefits. Talk to your pharmacist and physician (MD).

NSAIDs can help decrease inflammation and pain

NSAIDs can Help Decrease Pain from:

  • Acute ligament sprain – use for < 5 days. NSAIDs reduce pain and swelling so you can return to activity faster.
  • Osteoarthritis (cartilage wear and tear)
  • Delayed onset muscle soreness. When taken for several days before muscle damaging exercise, NSAIDs may reduce soreness. Take with caution as they can wreck your strength gains (see below).
  • Muscle bruise (contusion). Short term use can decrease inflammation with no adverse effects on healing.
  • Tendonitis – reduces inflammation and helps recovery. NSAIDs may do more harm than good for chronic tendon issues.

How NSAIDs Impact your Strength Gains

  • Short-term low dose (400 mg ibuprofen) use may have no real impact on muscle strength or size.
  • Longer term, higher doses (1,200 mg ibuprofen) may compromise muscle growth and, when training was preformed with all-out max reps, strength gains were also compromised.
  • The elderly may benefit due to a decrease in inflammation from taking NSAIDs. Chronic inflammation, which is not uncommon in the elderly, impairs strength gains. NSAIDs help tame inflammation.
  • After muscle injuries, NSAIDs can help reduce strength loss, soreness and muscle markers of inflammation, particularly when lower body muscles are injured.

Why do NSAIDs Impact Training (Strength) Gains?

NSAIDs work by blocking COX enzymes. COX enzymes alter prostaglandin synthesis, mediators of inflammation and pain. Prostaglandins have other actions in the body including regulation of muscle protein metabolism. Decreases in the prostaglandin PGFare associated with decreased protein synthesis and reduced muscle fiber size. In one study, 1200 mg ibuprofen blocked protein synthesis after resistance training. Other studies show signaling responses in muscle are decreased for hours or days after resistance training when NSAIDs are used.

References:
Arthritis Res Ther 2013;15(Suppl 3):S2.
Annals of Phys and Rehab Med 2010;278-288.
Am J Sports Med 2004;32(8):1856-9.
Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab 2002;282(3):E551-6.
Acta Physiol (Oxf) 2018;222(2).
J Physiol 2009;587(Pt 24): 5799-5800.
Am J Sports Med 2018;46(1):224-233.

 

Supplement Testing for Banned Substances

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Banned substance testing

You can’t guarantee your supplement is completely free from banned substances. However, choosing a supplement that has been 3rd party tested (tested for banned substances by an outside company) provides added safety. Just because a supplement passes 3rd party testing this

doesn’t mean the supplement is safe for you. A sports dietitian with experience can determine if a supplement is safe for you. They will take your medical history, medications, health status, diet, training and other factors into account. It is also a good idea to double check supplement ingredient and drug interactions with your pharmacist.

  1. No testing company tests for all substances banned by MLB or WADA (World Anti-doping agency). Check out the WADA list by clicking here.

No certification program covers all banned substances for any sporting group. Why not? None of these lists are finite – they are always changing. Almost all sporting bodies (MLB, WADA, NFL etc.) include language that drugs with ‘similar biological effect or similar chemical structure’ or ‘including but not limited to the examples below’ are banned. These means drugs not listed may be banned. MLB says the list is a ‘non-exhaustive list’.

At this time, testing companies such as NSF, BSCG, Informed Choice and Aegis Shield fall short on testing for peptide hormones on the MLB list. The digestive track breaks down these drugs (such as HGH or IGF-1) when taken orally,  rendering them useless. So they will not likely have an effect if added to a supplement and taken orally (though they will if injected). MLB would like 3rd party testing companies to add peptide hormones to their tests. NSF and BSCG test for some though not all SARMs (selectiveandrogen receptor modulators). SARMs are tissue-selective (designed to decrease the progression of sarcopenia, the slow progressive decline in muscle mass and strength that occurs with age starting when a person is in their 40s or 50s).

    1. No testing company ensures a product meets 100% of its label claim (this isn’t a FDA requirement). For instance, a supplement may say it contains 20 grams of protein. However, it may actually contain 16 grams (or less because no testing company takes amino spiking / nitrogen spiking into account).

Click on the link below for a thorough snapshot of the most popular 3rd party testing programs:

Supplement Testing Programs

How do banned substances get in supplements?

Spiking supplements with banned substances can make the product “work.” Banned substances may also contaminate a supplement during processing. As an example, let’s say a production line (bottling line) bottles pharmaceutical weight loss drugs. A dietary supplement uses the same line to bottle their products. It is important to clean the machinery thoroughly after the weight loss drug is bottled and before the supplement is bottled.

You can’t be 100% sure your supplement contains no banned substances. However, you can go the extra mile by choosing a 3rd party tested supplement.

Are you in the NFL, NHL or MLB? You must use supplements that are NSF Certified for Sport only.

References:
1 FDA Guidance on Labeling. 
2 NSF for Sport. 
3 Informed Choice.
4 https://www.aegisshield.com/file/4839211-certification/GQ-6.Flooid.Green-Apple.216152.pdf
5 NSF 306 Guide 2016. NSF International Certification Guideline for Certified for Sport Program.
6 They spike compounds into formulas and run the formulas through analytical tests to ensure their tests will pick up banned substances within a supplement or food matrix.
7 The Aegis Shield app reviews products for banned ingredients listed on the product label. The app is not an assurance of safety as products listed on the app have not been through 3rd party testing.
8 This includes drugs on the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) Prohibited List and other banned substance lists like the MLB, NFL, NHL, NBA, NCAA, PGA, LPGA, CrossFit, UFC and other related programs.
9 This includes drugs that are on the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) Prohibited List and other banned substance lists like the MLB, NFL, NHL, NBA, NCAA, PGA, LPGA, CrossFit, UFC and other related programs.

 

 

Summertime Entertaining Recipes that will Delight Your Guests

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What should you serve when it’s close to 100 degrees outside and you have guests coming over? Though it may be tempting to run to the store and buy prepared dips and potato salad, I have a few fresh ideas that will impress your guests.

Cool down with seasonal beverages

Individual sun teas with fruit come in beautiful colors and flavors to quench your guest’s thirst for something unique. Tea (black, green and oolong) is calorie free yet packed with health benefits. Regular tea drinkers have a low risk of developing heart disease. Adding fruit – orange slices, blueberries, and sliced peaches lends flavor and a healthy touch.

POM Princess is one of my new all time favorite drinks. Find the recipe here. The color pops and it’s refreshing + pure pomegranate juice also boasts polyphenol antioxidants, which are plant compounds being studied in the areas of athletic performance, memory and cognition, gut health, and more.

Pack Plant Foods into Mini Dishes

Plant-based mini dishes add eye appeal, flavor and great nutrition. Cucumber egg salad mini sandwiches are a good source of protein thanks to the eggs. Plus, using cucumbers as the bread helps you get more vegetables in your diet and lends a crunchy and pleasing texture on the outside of the creamy egg salad.

Who doesn’t love cheese Tortellini? Well this version, tortellini with pistachio basil pesto, is even better thanks to pistachio basil pesto. This pesto is easy to make and packed with good nutrition. Pistachios contain good for you fats. In fact, nearly 90% of the fats found in pistachios are the better-for-you mono and polyunsaturated type. Plus, they provide a good source of protein and fiber, for a trio that can help keep you fuller longer.

Baked cauliflower bites are super easy to make and so tasty even those who claim they don’t love vegetables will fall for this dish.

Give them a Sweet Treat

No party is complete without dessert and I love summertime desserts because they’re typically lighter and refreshing. Plus you can provide small portions that are inviting and satisfying. For mini portions – I love individual key lime cheesecakes.

 

Tortellini with Pistachio Basil Pesto

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* adapted from Wonderful Pistachios Basil Pesto by Christy Wilson, RD

Print Recipe
Tortellini with Pistachio Basil Pesto
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 0
Servings
Ingredients
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 0
Servings
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. Cook cheese tortellini according to package directions
  2. Place Wonderful pistachios, basil, garlic, lemon juice, and parmesan cheese in a food processor. Pulse until nuts are finely chopped.
  3. Drizzle olive oil through the food chute until the pesto is smooth throughout and reaches the desired texture (more liquidly pesto mixes easier with tortellini)
  4. Mix pesto into cheese tortellini and serve immediately
  5. Pesto can be stored for up to 3 days in the refrigerator
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SpringTime Entertaining Ideas that will Delight Your Guests

What should you serve when it’s close to 100 degrees outside and you have guests coming over? Though it may be tempting to run to the store and buy prepared dips and potato salad, you can wow your guests in no time with these ideas from registered dietitian Marie Spano.

 

Me: If you are thirsty for new ideas, I’m sharing a few new twists on Summertime entertaining.

 

Cool down with seasonal beverages
I have a few drinks that your guests will love! Individual sun teas with fruit are full of beautiful colors and flavors to quench your guest thirst for something different. Tea drinkers have lower risk of heart disease and the addition of fruit lends an added healthy touch.

 

Pom Princess is a flavor-packed drink made with POM wonderful 100% pomegranate juice, lemon juice and sparkling water. The color pops and it’s refreshing + pure pomegranate juice also boasts polyphenol antioxidants, which are plant compounds being studied in the areas of athletic performance, memory and cognition, gut health, and more. Each 8 oz bottle contains the juice of two whole pomegranates– no added sugar, fillers or preservatives.

 

Watercress, Pear, Fig and Goat Cheese Salad

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Watercress Salad tempts your Taste buds and Sharpens your Mind

Salads have come a long way since the days of iceberg lettuce with tomatoes and carrots sprinkled on top. Today’s salad combines a unique blend of tastes and textures along with ingredients to support your brain and body. I’m teaming up this year with B&W Quality Growers to share nutrition information and recipes on watercress.

As a dietitian I grew up with limited exposure to a wide variety of foods and a love for potato chips and baking anything sweet (from fudge to cinnamon swirl bread from scratch). My interest in nutrition led me to read many books on nutrition and athletic performance as well as overall health. When I opened my mind to trying a wide array of foods and learning about quality ingredients I realized healthy eating could give me the energy I needed and help me feel really good. This was an ah-ha moment: I didn’t have to compromise good taste to fuel my body well.

With a healthy dose of skepticism I tried different dark green leafy vegetables. Watercress quickly became one of my favorites. It has a sweet yet slightly bitter taste and works well with a wide array of vegetables and fruits. Plus, it packs a serious nutrition punch. Watercress is a good source of vitamins A and C. Vitamin A is essential for normal vision, skin health and maintaining immune functioning. Vitamin C is another powerhouse. It protects the body from harm due to free radicals. Free radicals are essential for health but they can run around and cause damage too. Vitamin C also supports blood vessel functioning, wound healing, iron absorption and nerve functioning.

Watercress is also an excellent source of vitamin K. Vitamin K forms and strengthens bones and limits nerve damage in the brain. As a green leafy vegetable it also protects against cognitive decline. A study published in the journal neurology found higher intake of green leafy vegetables, 1.3 servings each day, helped slow brain decline associated with aging compared to those who ate little green leafy vegetables getting only about 0.1 servings, on average, per day. Leafy greens, like watercress, are part of the MIND diet, a diet that is associated with a 53% lower risk in cognitive decline!

One of my new favorites combines the tantalizing tastes of watercress, pear, fig and goat cheese with balsamic vinegar and extra virgin olive oil.

Choosing Quality Ingredients

Ingredients matter. I choose soft dried Turkish figs since they are tender and moist. I opted for good aged balsamic vinegar, from Modena, Italy (with an IGP stamp). Balsamic vinegar has a strong sweet taste that intensifies the flavor foods you drizzle it over.

Olive oil comes in a wide variety of flavors and quality. I used one from Masseria Brancati in Ostuni, Italy. In a region known for olive farming, this is arguably the oldest olive farm in the world with trees dating back over 3,000 years. Though I recommend going to this region at some point, you don’t have to travel to Italy to get a good quality olive oil. Your local grocery store should have a few good options for you to choose from. Click here for a guide to oils, including olive oil. I used Bartlett pears because they are super sweet and blend well with the sweet taste of balsamic vinegar and figs and complex flavors in watercress.

You don’t need to sacrifice health, taste and convenience. Watercress is the next hot green leafy veggie. Try it in this mouthwatering salad today!

References:

Morris MC, Tangney CC, Wang Y, Sacks FM, Bennett DA, Aggarwal NT. MIND diet associated with reduced incidence of Alzheimer’s disease.

Alzheimers Dement 2015;11(9):1007-14.

watercress, pear, fig and goat cheese salad

Print Recipe
Watercress Pear, Fig & Goat Cheese Salad
Instructions
  1. In a small bowl, whisk together olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Set aside.
  2. In a large bowl combine rest of the ingredients. Drizzle with dressing and serve immediately.
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Just Beet It for Improved Performance

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In the back of the produce section, hidden behind sections of beautiful bright, shiny vegetables, in an array of eye-popping Crayola-crayon colors, there’s an unassuming, misshapen dusty-looking vegetable that can catapult your training and support heart and artery health at the same time. Consider beets nature’s perfect sports and heart-friendly food wrapped up in one sweet, though unusual looking, package.

Beets are special because they contain more nitrates than their neighbors in the produce isle, green leafy vegetables including spinach, kale, celery and Swiss crest. When you eat nitrate-rich foods, thebacteria on your tongue convert about 20% of dietary nitrate cto nitrite, which enters the bloodstream where it is converted to a small signaling molecule called nitric oxide. Nitric oxide controls blood flow and many metabolic processes. Increased nitric oxide production causes blood vessels to expand, increasing blood flow to working muscles. Think of your blood vessels like a garden hose. If you can open that hose even wider, more water will flow through it. In terms of blood vessel expansion, “the increase in blood flow improves the delivery of oxygen and nutrients to active muscles, and the removal of metabolic by-products that can interfere with muscle contraction and have an adverse effect on performance. In addition to improving the delivery of glucose to the muscles through better blood flow, nitric oxide also increases glucose (sugar) uptake by the muscle cell,” states John Ivy, PhD, Professor Emeritus, Department of Kinesiology and Health Education, College of Education. Bloodglucose is a major source of fuel for working muscles.

But, the benefits of nitric oxide don’t stop there. It also expands airways, making breathing easier. In addition, our cells become more efficient at producing ATP, the fastest source of energy for muscle contraction. Greater ATP production translates to improved speed and explosive power. “Nutrients that we take in through our diet such as carbohydrates and fats are broken down and the energy released from the breakdown of these fuels is used to make ATP in the presences of oxygen. As nitric oxide levels increase, less oxygen is required to produce ATP reducing the oxygen cost of exercise,” says Ivy. And therefore, along with greater ATP production less energy is required to sustain the same level of effort while you are working out. And finally, nitric oxide may improve recovery between training sessions and allow you to exercise at a higher intensity before fatigue sets in.

Go Red for Heart Health

Dietary nitrates from beetroot juice and green leafy vegetables haveother, more profound, benefits for your body aside from affecting your training and sports performance. Consistent intake can help lower blood pressure andimprove blood vessel functioning. Research also shows dietary nitrates may improve artery health by decreasing inflammation, platelets clumping together (a step in the formation of blood clots) and artery stiffness (stiff arteries do not easily expand to accommodate increases in blood flow, which may occur when blood pressure increases). With aging we aren’t able to produce as much nitric oxide, which may make regular consumption of nitrate-rich foods even more important to support nitric oxide levels in the body.

Don’t Confuse Beets with Similar Sounding Compounds

Though beets and therefore beetroot juice, are nitric oxide boosters, you won’t want to confuse them with another nitric oxide booster – l-arginine. Beets and other nitrate-rich vegetables work through the nitrate-nitrite-NO pathway – one that functions when oxygen isn’t as readily available and therefore when you are sucking wind during a spin class. L-arginine works through a very different nitric oxide boosting pathway, one that requires the presence of enzymes and oxygen and therefore isn’t effective when you are exercising at a very high intensity.

Beets and other vegetables rich in dietary inorganic nitrate are also not the same as nitrite salts (typically sold over the internet), which can be harmful, even deadly in low doses. Also, organic nitrates and nitrites are totally different than the inorganic nitrates found in beets and green leafy vegetables. Organic nitrates and nitrites are potent vasodilators (substances that open blood vessels) found in the drugs nitroglycerine and amyl nitrite and should only be prescribed and used under the care of a medical doctor.

How Much is Enough?

Research studies show 16 oz. of beetroot juice (equivalent to approximately 300 – 500 mg nitrate) consumed daily, 3 hours before exercise, for a period of several days will effectively increase your body’s production of nitric oxide so you notice a benefit while training. According to a few research studies, single doses of beetroot juice won’t make a dent in your training.

If you are loading up on beets, keep in mind that you need the bacteria in your mouth to convert nitrates to nitrites, the very first step in nitric oxide production. If you use anti-bacterial mouthwash or antibiotics, you’ll kill both bad bacteria and good bacteria and therefore make significantly less nitrite. Of course you shouldn’t stop using a prescribed antibiotic without your physician’s consent but anti-bacterial mouthwash might be optional, talk to your dentist.

Keep in mind that the amount of dietary nitrateintake varies in beets (as well as other vegetables) based on growing conditions including the nitrate content of fertilizer used, the level of nitrate in the water supply, soil conditions, time of year and how the vegetables are stored. “There are commercial products on the market that are made from different vegetables that claim to have high nitrate, but they aren’t. Consumers need to do their homework if they are looking for a commercial source of dietary nitrate,” says Ivy.

Though vegetables rich in nitrates are considered safe for healthy individuals, they may turn your urine and stools red (don’t worry, this is harmless). However, anyone with pre-existing cardiovascular disease should of course tell their cardiologist about any dietary changes they plan to make since certain foods can interact with specific prescription drugs. For instance, while green leafy vegetables are rich in good nutrition and contain nitrates that are important for cardiovascular health, they contain a good amount of vitamin K, a nutrient that can interfere with some blood thinningmedications.

You can’t go wrong by picking up those oddly shaped red, yellow and orange bulb-looking veggies tucked away in back of your produce isle. Beets are a good source of the B vitamin folate and contain more dietary nitrates than any other vegetable. When consumed regularly they may improveyour training and also support cardiovascular health.

References
L-arginine. MedlinePlus.
Sports Medicine 2012;42(2): 99-117.
JISSN 2004;1(2):35-38.
FEBS Letters 1998;427;225-228.
Am J Clin Nutr 2009;1-10.
Nat Rev Drug Discov 2008;7(2):156-67.
Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology. 2005; 25: 915-922
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J Appl Physiol 2011;111(2):616-7.
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Coffee – a Cup of Cancer?

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Brace yourself. Thanks to a court in California, your cup of coffee may soon come with a cancer warning. The potentially cancer-causing culprit in coffee is acrylamide. Though the court decision is not final yet, the news articles are both confusing and misleading. Acrylamide is far from unique to coffee. Plus, there are no convincing research studies that clearly show acrylamide causes cancer in humans.

Acrylamide and Cancer

The Food and Drug Administration considers acrylamide a health concern. The World Health Organization says acrylamide has the potential to cause cancer to humans. This does not mean it will cause cancer. Cancer is complex. Plus, in research studies, animals were given 1,000 to 10,000 times more acrylamide than the average person consumes each day! No studies to date show a clear increased risk of cancer in humans due to acrylamide. However, these studies have many limits including self-reported food intake (relying on people to remember how often they eat certain foods). According to the American Cancer Society, more studies are needed to evaluate how this compound is formed, how to decrease it and determine potential health risks.

Making matters more confusing, every person metabolizes acrylamide differently. Plus, animals and humans differ as well.

Sources of Acrylamide in Our Diet

Acrylamide forms during high heat cooking including frying, roasting and baking. Boiling and steaming do not typically form acrylamide. Grains and coffee are the foods & beverages that contain higher amounts of this compound. Dairy, meat and fish aren’t a concern. French fries and potato chips are the foods with the highest levels of acrylamide. From chip to chip or French fry to French fry the amount varies depending on how the food is cooked.

Blue Mesa Grill Sweet potato chips contain 16 times the amount of acrylamide as a single cup of Maxwell House original signature blend. Enjoy Rippin’ Good Ginger snap cookies and you’ll consume almost 4 times the amount of acrylamide compared to that cup of coffee from Maxwell House. Though cold brewing sounds like a solution, roasting coffee beans leads to acrylamide, not brewing at home. Smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke are also routes to acrylamide intake. People who work in certain industries including construction, oil drilling, textiles, cosmetics food processing, mining, plastics and more may also be exposed to this compound.

For a list of acrylamide levels is in various foods click here.

Decreasing Your Exposure

Though there are a lot of unknowns and no studies to date that clearly indicate acrylamide contributes to or causes cancer, it makes sense to decrease exposure when possible and when it doing so doesn’t interfere with your enjoyment of food. Here’s how:

  • Eat a diet that emphasizes vegetables, fruits, lean meats, poultry, fish, beans, eggs, nuts and dairy.
  • Quit smoking and avoid secondhand smoke.
    Limit fried foods.
  • Boil or steam instead of baking and frying when possible.
  • Soak potato slices in water for 15 to 30 minutes (drain, blot dry with a paper towel) before baking them.
  • Cook your baked goods for a shorter period of time. Don’t burn your bread in the toaster, pull it out when it is light brown. Also, don’t char foods on the grill.

Learn more about other compounds formed during high heat cooking by clicking here.

References:
href=”http://monographs.iarc.fr/ENG/Classification/”>http://monographs.iarc.fr/ENG/Classification/
FDA CFSAN
American Cancer Society
Curr Drug Metab. 2016;17(4):317-26.