12 Super Foods: making good nutritional choices
The following article was written for our blog by Rock/Creek Race Team member Tom Sell. Enjoy! ~The Editor
Nutrition is often overlooked by people who train for athletics. Wise nutritional choices will make your body perform better, faster, stronger and longer. Everyone can step up their game by just carefully reflecting on what they are about to ingest, and if it is the best thing to fuel their body.
You would never put sub-standard gas in your vehicle because you know it would be horrid for your engine. Likewise, with your body you should avoid putting sub-standard foods in your body, things like fats, sugars, and high-calorie, low-nutrient, dense foods.
Let’s say, hypothetically you, were going to be put on an island for one year with an unlimited food supply of just 12 foods. What foods would you choose, and why?
I posed this question to myself, and came up with my list of 12 super foods and why I think they are super foods. The foods I have listed make up the majority of my current diet. Almost all the foods I list are low in calories and high in nutrients, a perfect combination for making your body perform at its best.
Before I begin my list, we are going to have to revisit some health 101 to know exactly what our bodies need most. In order for the human body to survive, you have to have 7 essential nutrients. The following is the list of those nutrients and a brief description of what role each plays in the human body.
- Water. Necessary for every single body function. Enough said
- Fat. Cushion to vital organs, an energy source, insulates body against heat loss.
- Vitamins (organic compounds). Divided into 2 categories: water soluble, which includes C & B complex vitamins, and fat soluble, which includes vitamins A, D, E, & K. All vitamins are essential for body growth, maintenance and repairing of cells.
- Minerals (inorganic compounds). Help in maintenance of the body as well as regulates certain body actions, reactions and reflexes.
- Protein. Building blocks of the body. Contain certain amino acids necessary in maintaining a strong and healthy body.
- Carbohydrates. If I am a carbohydrate, I am ticked off at all these fad diet freaks that are screaming low/no carb is the way to go. Carbs are not bad! Too many calories consumed are bad. We should watch our calorie intake. It’s real simple: if you take in more calories than you expend you are going to store these excess calories and get fat. Flip that around and if you burn more calories than you take in you will lose weight. Carbohydrates are an excellent fuel to run your body. There are 2 types, simple and complex. Simple carbohydrates are a quick source of fuel and quickly digested and usually have no fiber or very little nutritional value (think sodas, candy and cookies). Complex carbohydrates are usually nutrient dense and contain fiber. They remain in the blood stream for quite some time and are a great source of fuel (think pasta, potatoes, and breads).
- Fiber. Indigestible carbohydrate and the scrub brush of the intestines. Fiber cleanses the GI tract and keeps waste products from lingering inside you.
My 12 Super Foods
I sat down to make my list, and I picked things I loved to eat, but I also picked a variety of foods that would provide my body with the 7 essential nutrients I know it needs. After picking my foods, I did a bit of research to find out a little more about each one and got some pleasant surprises about bonuses that some of my foods offer. In no particular order, with a short description of why I think each is a super food, here goes:
- Water. Okay, water is not a food because it has no caloric or nutritional value, but you sure aren’t going to get very far without it. Water is absolutely necessary for every single body function you have. I am convinced that the majority of the population exists in a state of partial dehydration and that very few people get adequate amounts of the wet stuff. The beauty of our body is that we are able to pull water out of foods and other drinks to get our quota, but nothing beats plain old water to hydrate and keep your machine buzzing along. Additionally, your body is constantly creating waste products and toxins; water helps to “flush” those waste products out of your body. Drink up on the H2o…
- Albacore tuna. This is one my favorite foods and I usually eat it directly from the can. It is loaded in omega 3s, which have been shown to boost brain function as well as have a positive effect on cardiovascular function. Tuna is a great low-fat source of protein. Directly out of the can, broiled or baked, it is the best way to prepare for eating.
- Brussel Sprouts. A vegetable loaded in vitamins C & K, and a good source of dietary fiber. Brussel sprouts also have indole-3-carbinol which boosts DNA repair and inhibits the production of cancer cells. You can’t beat steaming to best preserve its nutrient content, but boiling also works to prepare these miniature cabbage look-a-likes.
- Potatoes. A vegetable and a good source of vitamin B6, vitamin C, and the minerals copper, potassium, and manganese. They are also an excellent source of dietary fiber and provide protection of the cardiovascular system. Steamed, baked, or boiled are the best way to prepare these; leave the skin on for extra benefits.
- Bananas. A perfect little fruit that comes in its own biodegradable package! A typical banana has around 100 calories and is loaded with vitamins B6 and C, as well as the minerals magnesium and potassium. Bananas also have a chemical called fructooligosaccharide, which is a prebiotic in the digestive tract and provides good colon health by promoting probiotics (good bacteria in the colon). Bananas are also awesome for soluble fiber as well.
- Prunes. Another fruit, and an excellent source of vitamin A and beta carotene. Beta carotene is an antioxidant that eliminates free radicals, which are hell-bent on causing damage at the cellular level. Prunes also boost iron absorption in the body, and are an insoluble fiber excellent in aiding digestion.
- Carrots. A vegetable also best-known for beta-carotene. This antioxidant actually got its name from carrots! Additionally carrots contain vitamins A, K, C, B6, B3, B1, B2 and E. The little orange wonder food also contains potassium, manganese, folate, phosphorus, and molybdenum. Carrots are also a great source of fiber and are best raw, but may be cooked steamed or boiled.
- Eggs. Eggs are an amazingly complete, nutrient-dense food. They are a complete protein that is packed with all 9 essential amino acids. They contain the fat soluble vitamins A & D, and have the water soluble vitamin B12. Mineral-wise, the incredible, edible egg has selenium, sodium, iodine, calcium, and phosphorus. The healthiest ways to prepare eggs for consumption include poaching or boiling, but they may also be fried.
- Sunflower seeds. Tasty little nuggets that are available in the shells or already shelled. They are an excellent source of vitamin E, which is a fat soluble antioxidant that circulates the body looking for free radicals to destroy. Sunflower seeds also contain vitamins B1 and B6 as well as minerals magnesium, phosphorus, tryptophan, copper, manganese, fulate, and selenium. Seeds can be enjoyed on salads or eaten plain out of the shell.
- Coffee. This is a great way to start your day. A cup of coffee is low in calories and contains more antioxidants than the same serving size of blueberries. Additionally java can help relieve headaches, boost brain power and alertness, protect the liver, protect against diabetes, reduce your chance of a stroke and aid in keeping your digestion regular. Just be careful about loading it down with cream and sugar!
- Yogurt. Loaded with essential protein, minerals and vitamins; yogurt contains calcium, iodine, phosphorus, tryptophan, potassium, molybdenum, zinc, and vitamins B5, B2, and B12. Additionally, yogurt has been proven to boost immune responses, lower LDLs (bad cholesterol), raise HDLs (good cholesterol), raise the body’s fat-burning ability after ingestion, build bones, and protect against ulcers & colo-rectal cancer. To aid in digestion, yogurt contains probiotics which are good bacteria thriving in the large intestines. Yogurt is a must-have food to maintain great health.
- Beer. Look, I am on the island for a year — I am going to enjoy a good cold brew! Providing you are not attending frat parties, poking holes in the bottom of your cans or using a funnel to aid your consumption, beer is not a bad thing to ingest. Beer is actually much healthier than a soda. Moderate consumption can provide your body with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, prevention of gallstones, kidney stones and osteoporosis. Beer also contains Xanthohumol, a chemical that helps prevent cancer, as well as flavonoids which are powerful antioxidants. Beer will aid in digestion as well as cleanse the gastrointestinal tract… just make sure to use moderately!
There you have it, the 12 super foods I’ll have on my island. When making good nutritional choices, remember to pick up natural foods; the less they have been processed the better they are for your health. These natural foods will be high in nutrients and low in calories, and most likely be loaded with antioxidants and other bonuses. In the new year, take a 4-week challenge of eating healthier to see if you notice a difference in your health and training!
Rock Creek Team member Tom Sell recently won the masters title at Rock Creeks Lookout Mountain 10k. Tom is also the only man to win both the Stump Jump 50K and 11-Mile-Races. He is 8th on the list for most all time wins in UTC wrestling history-He was named Outstanding Wrestler in both the Southern Open and the Southern Conference. 2x Chattanooga Track Club Runner of the Year, a 2x Cross-Country Coach of the Year, a 2x Ironman finisher. Questions or comments? Email firstname.lastname@example.org