Most supermarkets stock more than 30,000 items, yet it seems like every time we race down the aisles of the grocery store, we toss the same 10 to 15 foods into our carts. Which isn't such a bad thing, as long as you're taking home the right foods-ones that will keep you healthy, fuel peak performance, and easily cook up into lots of delicious meals. Before your next trip to the grocery store, add to your list the following eight foods that RW nutrition columnist Liz Applegate Ph.D. considers "must-buys."
The healthy runners diet
Nuts, especially almonds, are an excellent source of vitamin E. Studies have shown that eating a small handful of nuts several times per week lowers cholesterol levels, particularly the artery-clogging LDL type. And the form of vitamin E found in nuts, called gamma-tocopherol, may also help protect against cancer.
Add to your diet: Add almonds and other nuts to salads or pasta dishes. Combine with chopped dried fruit, soy nuts, and chocolate bits for a healthy and tasty trail mix. Almond butter is perfect spread over whole-grain toast or on a whole-wheat tortilla, topped with raisins, and rolled up.
2. Sweet potatoes
Just a single 100-calorie sweet potato supplies over 250 percent of the DV for vitamin A in the form of beta-carotene, the powerful antioxidant. Sweet potatoes are also a good source of vitamin C, potassium, iron, and the two trace minerals manganese and copper, which are crucial for healthy muscle function.
Add to your diet: You can fill sweet potatoes with bean chili, low-fat cheese, and your favorite toppings, or you can incorporate them into stews and soups. Baked as wedges or disks, sweet potatoes make delicious oven fries.
Besides being an excellent source of high-quality protein (you get about 30 grams in a four-ounce serving), salmon is one of the best food sources of omega-3 fats. These essential fats help balance the body's inflammation response, a bodily function that when disturbed appears to be linked to many diseases including asthma. A recent study showed that people with exercise-induced asthma saw an improvement in symptoms after three weeks of eating more fish oil.
Add to your diet: Bake, grill, or poach salmon with fresh herbs and citrus zest. Precooked (leftover) or canned salmon is great in salads, tossed into pasta, stirred into soups, or on top of pizza.
4. Whole-Grain Cereal, Bread, or Pasta
Whole-grain foods are a must over refined versions because they contain more fiber to fill you up and B vitamins that are crucial to energy metabolism. Runners need at least three to six one-ounce servings of whole grains per day, and one slice of 100 percent whole-grain bread equals one serving. Look for whole-grain cereals that offer at least five grams of fiber. Pastas such as Barilla Plus also offer heart-healthy omega-3 fats and added protein to help with muscle repair and recovery.
Add to your diet: Whole-grain cereal is great for breakfast, but it also makes a good postrun recovery meal with its mix of carbohydrates and protein. Or you can sprinkle it on top of your yogurt. Pasta makes a complete one-pot meal when tossed with veggies, lean meat, seafood, or tofu. Or combine pasta with a light sauce, a bit of your favorite cheese, and turn it into a satisfying casserole.
5. Canned Black Beans
One cup provides 30 percent of the DV for protein, almost 60 percent of the DV for fiber, and 60 percent of the DV for folate, a B vitamin that plays a key role in heart health and circulation. Black beans and other legumes are low glycemic index (GI) foods, meaning the carbohydrate in them is released slowly into the body. Low GI foods can help control blood sugar levels and may enhance performance because of their steady release of energy.
Add to your diet: Mash beans with salsa for an instant dip for cut veggies, or spread onto a whole-wheat tortilla for a great recovery meal. Add beans to cooked pasta or rice for extra fiber and protein.
How to save and when to splurge on healthy runner-friendly foods
6. Mixed Salad Greens
Rather than selecting one type of lettuce, choose mixed greens, which typically offer five or more colorful greens such as radicchio, butter leaf, curly endive, and mache. Each variety offers a unique blend of phytonutrients that research suggests may fend off Alzheimer's, cancer, heart disease, and diabetes. These phytonutrients also act as antioxidants, warding off muscle damage brought on by tough workouts.
Add to your diet: Toss mixed greens with an olive oil-based dressing (the fat from the oil helps your body absorb the phytonutrients). You can also stuff greens in your sandwiches or wraps. Or place them in a heated skillet, toss lightly until wilted, and use as a bed for grilled salmon, chicken, or lean meat.
7. Frozen Mixed Berries
The compounds that give blueberries, blackberries, and raspberries their color are called anthocyanins-powerful antioxidants that may help stave off Alzheimer's disease and some cancers. Anthocyanins may also assist with recovery and muscle repair. Frozen berries keep far longer than fresh ones, making it easier to always have them on hand.
Add to your diet: Frozen berries make a great base for smoothies. Once thawed, eat them straight up, sprinkle them on cereal, or add to yogurt with chopped nuts. Or bake them with a nutty topping of oatmeal, honey, and chopped almonds for a sweet treat after a long weekend run.
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8. Low-fat Yogurt
Besides being a good source of protein and calcium (one cup provides 13 grams of protein and 40 percent of the DV for calcium), low-fat yogurt with live cultures provides the healthy bacteria your digestive tract needs to function optimally.
Add to your diet: Low-fat yogurt is great topped with fruit, granola, or nuts, or used as a base for smoothies. Plain yogurt can be mixed with diced cucumber and herbs like dill and spread over grilled tofu, chicken, fish, and other meats.
Susan Rinkunas is an associate editor at Runner's World, a magazine (and website) that informs, advises, and motivates runners of all ages and abilities-and we mean it. Her blog on Yahoo! Shine offers tips on running technique, nutrition and weight loss, shoes and apparel, and balancing fitness and life.
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