Superfoods: Going Green 101

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What’s so important about eating your leafy greens? First, they provide us with the most phytonutrients. Phytonutrients are natural chemicals that are found in plants. These chemicals guard plants from harm, such as pests and UV rays. But they do not just benefit the plant itself; they benefit those who eat the plant as well!

Greens whose leaves grow separately off a stalk, rather within a bunch, are much more phytonutrient-dense. This is because the leaves are more exposed to the environment and must develop an abundant amount of phytonutrients for survival.

Here are some of the most nutrient-dense leafy greens you should include to your diet!

Kale

kale

Crazy for kale? Don’t worry. The rest of the world seems to be too. It is no surprise how popular this leafy green has gotten these past few years. What makes kale so super you may ask? Well, kale is very high in beta-carotene, a powerful antioxidant that keeps your skin and eyes healthy. It also contains Vitamin K, which helps transport calcium throughout your body to enhance the strength of your bones.

You can toss them in your stir-fry meal/salad or add to your post-workout smoothie. As a study break snack, you can even munch on some delicious kale chips.

Dandelion Leaves

Dandelion Leaves

 We’ve all seen them before, the common weed with the yellow flowers and the fluffy seed balls. As the dandelion may be a large nuisance in the garden, it is an underrated, nutrient-rich leafy green in the kitchen.

Dandelion leaves are full of essential minerals such as potassium, iron, magnesium, zinc, and phosphorous. Additionally, one cup of cooked dandelion provides you with 15% of your daily calcium value. (That’s more than spinach!).

I enjoy tossing dandelion leaves in my salads. But they are just as tasty in sandwiches and pastas. Note: The leaves have a strong flavor, use cautiously. Start with small amounts.

Chard

Chard Mm, chard. It’s probably my favorite leafy green out there. One reason? They come in a variety of beautiful colors that add vibrant life to any meal you add them to.

Another reason would be chard’s richness of Vitamin C; about 1 cup provides you with 33% of your daily value. In addition, chard contains syringic acid, a phytonutrient that helps regulate blood sugar. Other nutritional properties of chard include high amounts of Vitamin K (<500%) and A (<50%).

(*Note: another leaf that’s just as tasty and nutrient dense is Collard)

Here is a super simple, yet tasty chard recipe that only uses 4 ingredients!

For a more daring soul, this curry recipe is golden.

Spirulina

Spirulina

 

The last on our list of green superfoods does not take a leafy form. Instead, it is derived from a type of algae and is bought as a powder. The wonders of spirulina are endless.

First, it is about 65% complete protein, which makes it one of Earth’s most protein packed plant (Vegetarians, take note!). Second, it is rich in chlorophyll, a strong detoxifying agent. Lastly, spirulina is rich in beta-carotene, antioxidants, and many other important minerals.

The best way to benefit from this superfood is by adding a teaspoon to your smoothies. This smoothie includes kale, creating a delicious superfood duo!

-Janelle Marzano, Sustainability and Nutrition Intern

Finals Week Survival Guide

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No sleep, caffeine overload, sweats and flip-flops. It’s that time of the quarter again.

Even though in a week we’ll be enjoying the sweet taste of summer vacation and, for some of us, graduation, there’s one last hurdle we all have to get over. You probably guessed it, the daunting week of finals! Many of us associate Finals Week with eating fast food and down energy drinks. Let’s take a step back, though, to see how food choices can affect how well we study.

Caffeine

During Finals Week we all need that boost of energy while we study, but it’s important to realize not all caffeinated drinks are created equal. Instead of grabbing an energy drink, which contains sugar and empty calories, try drinking Matcha green tea or brewed coffee instead. These beverages don’t have a lot of sugar and empty calories plus they may offer natural health benefits.  Keep in mind that 200-300 mg of caffeine is considered a healthy, moderate level.

Monster

  • 92mg caffeine per 8 fl oz
  • 100 calories per serving
  • 27g sugar per serving

Matcha Green Tea

  • 70mg caffeine in 8 fl oz
  • 12 calories in 1 tsp
    • Caffeine released into the body continuously over 6-8 hours
    • Slow release of caffeine prevents jitters and caffeine crash
    • Contains antioxidants and calming properties

Coffee

  • 108 mg caffeine in 8 fl oz
  • 2 calories per cup
  • Shown to decrease risk of developing dementia, Alzheimer’s, and type 2 diabetes
  • Contains antioxidants

Broccoli

Our bodies convert food into fuel for energy by using folic acid, which is found in broccoli. Folic acid also prevents that feeling of sluggishness. As a quick side to your meal, drizzle olive oil over broccoli florets, season with salt and pepper, and roast at 425 degrees F for 15-18 minutes. By roasting broccoli on non-stick foil, you can study while it’s in the oven and the foil makes for easy clean up. It’s delicious!

Other sources of folic acid:

  • Black beans
  • Spinach
  • Avocado
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Beets

Trail Mix

Try trail mix instead of chips. You can easily make it by combining your favorite dried fruits, nuts, and even chocolate chips! Nuts, such as almonds and cashews, can help you feel energized while you are studying. They are high in magnesium, which produces and transports energy in the body.

Dark Chocolate

Sometimes when you’re stressed, all you need is a piece of chocolate. The good news? Dark chocolate has been shown to lower stress hormones in highly stressed individuals. Also chocolate has a number of antioxidants that are beneficial to our bodies.

Tuna

Canned tuna is a great option because it’s inexpensive and can be used for a quick sandwich. Tuna contains 20g of protein in a 3 oz serving, which help you feel full longer. Also, it has high levels of vitamin E and K, potassium, iron, and omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids are essential for brain memory and performance.

Powerful Food Combos

powerful-food-combos

Certain foods are meant to be eaten together to bring out their nutritional benefits in the best way possible. Bioavailability is a term that describes how easily a nutrient is broken down, absorbed and utilized by the body. Foods can work together to enhance bioavailability, and allow nutrients to become more powerful and efficient in our bodies.

Try these 10 food combinations that are better when eaten together.

Tomatoes + Avocados

Feel good about treating yourself to some guacamole. Tomatoes contain carotenoids, plant pigments that are powerful antioxidants that can help prevent some forms of cancer and heart disease, and act to enhance your immune response to infections. And healthy fats, like the ones found in avocados, are able to pick up carotenoids from the stomach and disperse them throughout the body. Enjoy this powerful combination on a salad or this delicious wrap.

Sweet Potato + Coconut Oil

Sweet potatoes are loaded with vitamin A, which plays a key role in maintaining healthy skin and hair. Vitamin A is absorbed more readily when paired with a fat source like coconut oil. Try this recipe for baked sweet potato fries that uses coconut oil.

Oatmeal + Peanut Butter

This combination of complex carbs and healthy fats is great for breakfast, or as fuel for an endurance workout. The complex carbs from the oatmeal keep you going, and the fats from peanut butter help stabilize blood sugar.

Raspberries + Chocolate

Raspberries and chocolate go so well together because they each contain flavonoids that, when combined, improve cardiovascular health. Next time you’re craving dessert, indulge in this raspberry chocolate tart.

Black Beans + Lime

Citrus fruits like lime provide high levels of vitamin C, which makes the plant-based iron in foods like black beans easier for your body to use. Try this recipe for black bean tacos with lime vinaigrette. Tasty and it will help sustain healthy cells and lungs.

Almonds + Yogurt

Fat-soluble vitamins A, D, and E are activated and absorbed when eaten with healthy fats, like the ones found in almonds. Yogurt is a great source of vitamin D, which helps repair and strengthen your bones. So tossing a few almonds in the next time you snack on yogurt will keep your bones strong and healthy.

Hard-Boiled Egg + Banana

This pairing is the perfect afternoon snack. The healthy sugars from the banana deliver a speedy energy boost, while the healthy fats and protein from the egg keep blood sugar levels from spiking.

Lemon + Kale

When you add a squeeze of lemon juice to leafy greens like kale, spinach and Swiss chard, it causes a chemical reaction in your body that helps absorb iron in those leafy greens, which will in turn stave off muscle fatigue. The next time you’re craving a salad post-workout, be sure to add a squeeze of lemon to your greens.

Kombucha + Cashews

Snacking on cashews is a great way to get a boost of protein and of zinc, which functions as an immune booster. Studies show that fermented products like kombucha help improve the absorption of zinc in the gut. This immune boosting combination is an ideal snack on the go. Like to do it yourself? Make your own kombucha instead of buying it at the store.

Garlic + Fish

Cooking fish with garlic enhances the cholesterol-reducing properties in fish oils more than if it’s prepared sans spices. And when these two are combined, the garlic can act as an anti-inflammatory agent, as well. Try this recipe for lemon garlic tilapia.

For more healthy combinations, visit the SPE Certified TASTE platform at any of the three resident Dining Commons.

 

Plan the Perfect Picnic

perfect-picnic

Picture this: it’s a beautiful spring day, and you have finished all of your studying and assignments for the week. You’re ready to relax and enjoy a delicious picnic with friends in the arboretum, your favorite sunny spot on campus, or even just your backyard.

We’ve got just what you need to make sure your picnic consists of mouth-watering recipes that are not only sure to impress your friends, but packed full of the nutrients you need to keep your body healthy and happy.

Bon appétit!

Tomato Watermelon Salad with Feta and Toasted Almonds   watermelon                        Photo: Epicurious

Watermelon is a great source of vitamins A, C, B1, and B6. The antioxidants derived from the vitamin A help fight off inflammation. Tomatoes also contain a vitamin A and C. Tomatoes are rich in lycopene, which has been proven to halt the growth of cancer cells. This recipe is vibrant, flavorful, and only takes a few minutes to prepare. Add your choice of fresh herbs such as dill, basil, and mint.

Homemade Pesto walnut-pesto2                              Photo: Kiss My Spatula

Rather than buying premade pesto at the store, simply make your own! All you need is a food processor or blending tool of some kind. Basil, the main ingredient in pesto, contains beta-carotene, a precursor to vitamin A that protects epithelial cells (the cells that form the lining of numerous body structures including the blood vessels) from free radical damage. Basil is also a good source of magnesium, which promotes cardiovascular health. This recipe calls for walnuts, which are cheaper than the traditional pine nuts used in pesto. Combine with whole-wheat pasta and your choice of veggies such as zucchini, yellow onion, and tomatoes.

Peach Crisp

Peach crisp picture              Photo: Big Girls Small Kitchen

Peaches are in season May though October, so now is the perfect time to enjoy them! According to a study from Texas A&M, stone fruits like peaches, plums and nectarines have been shown to ward off obesity-related diseases such as diabetes, metabolic syndrome and cardiovascular disease.Try to get them local at the Davis Farmers’ Market for best quality and taste. This recipe for peach crisp is simple, only takes 30 minutes to bake, and can even be used with other types of fruits. Once you have your crisp, top it with a dollop of sour cream or plain Greek yogurt.

Mango and Mint Infused Tea iced tea                                            Photo: Katie’s Cucina

I’ll be honest I’m addicted to iced to of any kind, but this recipe really impressed me because of it’s great flavor without all of the sugar present in most tea drinks. The blend of mango and mint is unique as well as refreshing. Mangoes are a low-fat, low-calorie, cholesterol-free source of a variety of nutrients, especially vitamin A, vitamin C, dietary fiber and antioxidant compounds. Mint is a naturally soothing substance, so it can alleviate the inflammation and temperature rise that is often associated with headaches and migraines. Mint also promotes digestion and soothes the stomach in cases of indigestion or inflammation. 

Eat Your Way to a Better Sleep

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We’ve all had those days when we feel like there is not enough time to get everything done. With school, work, and extracurriculars in college it can be difficult to balance it all. Often enough sleep is the first thing to go when life gets busy: we think that extra hour or two that we sacrifice won’t make much of a difference.

In fact, sleep is one of the most important aspects when it comes to staying healthy.

Cortisol is a hormone that regulates many body functions, and is a strong determinant in how rejuvenating sleep will be. Cortisol is produced in a cyclic fashion with the highest levels being released in the morning and the lowest at night. This 24-hour cycle is called the circadian rhythm, and an abnormal circadian rhythm can disrupt hormone levels and lead to inadequate sleep.

Exercise also affects sleep. A study published in the December 2011 Journal of Mental Health and Physical Activity found that 150 minutes of physical activity a week provided a 65% improvement in sleep quality.

Here are a few changes you can make to your diet to improve sleep quality:

Avoid Sugar and Processed Food

The glycemic index of a food reflects how our blood sugar level is affected by the particular food. Foods containing high sugar and low fiber have a high glycemic index and result in wider fluctuations in insulin levels than foods with a low glycemic index. The glycemic index of a meal affects the cortisol level for approximately the upcoming five hours. High glycemic index foods, such as sugar and refined starches, cause cortisol levels to rise. The cortisol will likely remain elevated until night, making it difficult to get to sleep.

Maintain a Regular Meal Schedule

Having a high glycemic meal is worse than not having a meal at all. The cortisol level tends to rise whenever you do not eat within the first five hours of the previous meal or snack. A rise above the normal range during the day almost guarantees that the nighttime cortisol will be high, thus disrupting REM sleep.

A single late meal or skipped meal or high glycemic index meal during the day can result in a high cortisol during the early part of the night. A cortisol level higher than it should be during the night results in a disruption of REM sleep and with it non-refreshing sleep.

Eat Protein with Every Meal

Low glycemic index foods such as eggs, meats, poultry, fish, and most vegetables tend to lower the cortisol level. Try to eat foods from the low glycemic index category every five hours during the day to keep the cortisol on its normal downward track. The high glycemic index of sugar or starch, including whole grains, requires consumption of nearly an equal weight of animal protein to maintain glycemic balance. Vegetables usually balance themselves in terms of glycemic index, but vegetables are not of sufficiently low glycemic index to balance grains. To prevent the upward swing of cortisol, balance all sugars and grains, including whole grains, with animal protein.

Use Sprouted Whole Grains

According to the American Nutrition Association, grains have been hybridized to contain about half the protein that they contained in 1900. In addition, non-sprouted grains are now used in flour and many commercial bread products, so many people consume them on a daily basis. Non-sprouted grains result in an inflammatory response in the gut that causes the secretion of excess cortisol into the intestinal tract. Look for bread that contains sprouted whole grains in order to avoid these effects.

Drink Tea

Select a calming herb tea such as chamomile.. This herbal tea lacks the caffeine found in traditional teas, and it has a calming effect on the body. Also, a warm liquid before bed can make you sleepy by raising body heat. In the evening, as you wind down, drink 1-2 cups. Calming herbs can help clear clogged or damaged neurotransmitter receptor sites, and increase the production of healthy neurotransmitters.

Nutrition Secrets for Athletes

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Last quarter I had the opportunity to work as a sports nutrition intern for Dr. Liz Applegate, Director of Sports Nutrition for Intercollegiate Athletics at UC Davis. I worked directly with both her and our Division 1 athletes, and learned a few things along the way. What I found was that if there is one thing that athletes need to know, it is how to eat. Athletes, especially at college and professional levels, are required to be very in tune with their bodies, spending years figuring out what method of nutrition works best. Whether you are a seasoned athlete or training to run your first 5k, use these tips to improve your performance.

Don’t Skip Breakfast

Dr. Applegate emphasized that one of the biggest mistakes athletes make is heading out for a run in the morning without eating anything first. Your blood sugar is already low when you wake up, so you should eat something rich in carbohydrates, like half a bagel or toast upon waking. That way, 30 to 45 minutes will have passed before you actually head out the door.

If you’re not used to eating in the morning, start small. Drink a glass of apple juice before your workout until your stomach adjusts, and then add in a piece of toast. Mixing in protein with cream cheese, peanut butter, or yogurt slows down your gastric emptying rate, so you’ll need more time between the time you eat and the time you hit the road.

Gwen Jorgenson, American professional triathlete and a member of the 2012 Olympic Team, likes to eat her favorite breakfast of oats with raisins, walnuts, bananas, peanut butter, honey and two poached eggs on top. Lauren Wenger, a current member of the USA Water Polo Women’s National Team and Olympic silver medalist says “Every single day, no matter where I am, I always eat one pack of instant oatmeal with a huge scoop of peanut butter for breakfast. It keeps me fueled and gives me enough energy for the morning practice.”

Stay Hydrated

Drinking water while you work out is great, but the fact that you are thirsty means you are already dehydrated. Athletes should be consuming .5 to 1 ounce of water per pound of body weight every day. To get enough water, try carrying around a water bottle with you throughout the day (see water bottle suggestions in previous post on Staying Hydrated).

Heather O’Reilly, a member of the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team and two-time Olympic gold medalist, says “I wind up drinking more throughout the day when I carry around my water bottle, which keeps me going.” If you choose to consume sports drinks instead of water, avoid trying a new drink during competition. Sip on the same beverage you used during your training to stay hydrated, avoid any stomach issues, and  perform at your best.

Boost Your Immunity

One of the best things you can do to better your performance is to stay healthy, which means including antioxidant rich  superfoods in your diet. Incorporate whole-grain carbs, lean proteins, and colorful fruits and veggies into snacks and meals every day. The more color on your plate, the better. Another way to stay healthy is to eat Greek yogurt, which is high in probiotics. Sprinkle some walnuts and fruit or flax seeds on top for an extra antioxidant boost.

British snowboarder Zoe Gillings, who competed in Snowboard Cross at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, says her favorite snacks include: berries and nuts with Greek yogurt; turkey and avocado wholegrain wraps; tuna salad with basmati rice; oat bars and milk; homemade smoothies; and cottage cheese with Ryvita crackers.

Multivitamins are another weapon against sickness. Erin Hamlina two-time luge Olympian, says “I recently started taking a variety of vitamins like vitamin C, calcium and fish oil, because fresh, nutrient-rich foods are hard to come by in some places.”

Eat for Health

Dr. Applegate has said one of the biggest nutrition mistake she sees athletes, especially female athletes, make is reducing their caloric intake in an attempt to be lean. This causes reduced stores of carbohydrates in your body, which are essential for training and performing, and can then lead to muscle breakdown. This leads to your body using protein as an alternative fuel source.

Swimmer and 12-time Olympic Medalist Natalie Coughlin says, “I don’t have a ‘strict’ diet but eat very healthy. I prefer to eat healthy because it makes my body feel so much better. And healthy food doesn’t necessarily mean tasteless. Healthy food can be delicious when you take advantage of herbs, spices and seasonal food. I focus on what is in season, with a big emphasis on veggies and fruits. I don’t eat a lot of meat, but when I do I indulge with pastured, sustainably raised meats from local farmers.” Coughlin also maintains her own garden at her Lafayette, CA home that includes ten citrus trees, seven seasonal vegetable beds, and five chickens for eggs.

Recover the Right Way

Within 30 minutes after finishing a high-intensity and/or endurance activity, you should consume a mix of protein and carbohydrates, such as a glass of chocolate milk or a whey protein shake. This will help reduce muscle soreness and aid in your muscle recovery. Russell Wilson of the Seattle Seahawks, the first NFL quarterback to win 23 games in his first two seasons, drinks a shake rich in protein and carbohydrates immediately after a game and a protein-rich meal two hours later. When recovering, avoid processed carbohydrates, which increase inflammation, and opt for anti-inflammatory foods, like cherries, walnuts, or kale instead.

 

Photo Credit: UC Davis

Grow Your Own Food!

grow-your-food-bannerNothing compares to the taste of a cucumber or tomato just picked from the vine from your own backyard. Gardening is a fun physical activity, providing you great tasting produce while saving you trips to the store. In addition, it’s a perfect way to learn about where food comes from and appreciate how much effort goes in to producing the foods we eat every day.

Here are a few easy steps to gardening and growing your own nutritious food:

Create your space. If you’re starting your garden on a patch of lawn, you can build up from the ground with raised beds, or plant directly in the ground. Building raised beds is a good idea if your soil is poor or doesn’t drain well. This approach is usually more expensive, however, and requires more initial work than planting in the ground. Before buying plants or seeds, calculate how much space you have (ground or container) that gets adequate sun. Most vegetable plants require at least six hours of light each day.

Know what grows. When buying your plants, ask what varieties will do best in the conditions you have to work with. For example, several compact tomato plants do particularly well in containers. If you are a novice gardener, consider buying seedlings. Doing so increases your chances of success, especially with crops such as eggplants, peppers and tomatoes which require a long growing season.

Check your soil quality. If you aren’t sure about the quality of soil in your backyard, use a testing kit to see if you need to reinforce it with any nutrients. After you’ve planted your plants, add some mulch. Just about any organic matter, such as straw or grass clippings, can be used as mulch. Mulch deters weeds, helps retain moisture, and adds organic matter to the soil as it decays

Start small. Your garden can be as simple as a potted tomato plant or a few herbs (see earlier post Five Herbs Worth Trying!). Here are some instructions on how to start an herb garden. All you need are some small pots, soil, seeds, and sunny spot in your house. Also practice patience when gardening. Rather than trying to plant your garden during one busy weekend, space your planting out over the course of several weeks by using short rows. Every time you harvest a row or pull one out that has stopped producing, try to plant a new one. This is known as “succession planting”.

Maintain your garden. Fruits and vegetables are made mostly of water, so you’ll need to make sure your plants are getting enough to drink. This is especially important for seedlings that haven’t developed a deep root structure. You’ll want to water them lightly every day or two. Once the crops are maturing, they need about an inch of water per week, and more in sandy soils or hot regions.

Learn more about growing you own food at the Resident Garden at Segundo: a space for all on-campus residents to learn about edible plants, how they are grown and cared for and how they can be prepared after harvesting.