Healthy Food All Fired Up

Spices for nutrition_Central YMCA_healthy foods

So, what’s on your plate this autumn? Traditionally the start of a period of hibernation, and often as the days get shorter, our energy levels can begin to dwindle – so here are 3 suggestions for keeping that fire and those energy levels high:

•    Celebrate the vibrant colours & taste of autumn utilising colourful vegetables – rich in vitamins, minerals & carbohydrate to power through that autumn training routine, and keep our immune systems at optimum levels.
•    Utilise some of the fabulous spices out there to keep ourselves healthy, fired up and warm, as well as adding variety to our cooking.
•    Make a plan to fuel those training sessions, and the muscle repair process, that utilises this new found knowledge & creativity.

Colour my fire: 

3 of my favourite colourful vegetables:

I love butternut squash for its versatility – soups, stews, roasted veggies and curries spring to mind; and it’s easy to find and fairly inexpensive. It also gives a good nutritional hit; supporting the immune & nervous system, as well as providing potassium for bone health – and probably its biggest claim to fame is from its orange hue, which indicates its richness as a source of beta-carotene, an anti-oxidant that helps support our immune systems, protect against free radicals, and is thought to lower the risk of developing cancer and heart disease. 

Another favourite is beetroot – again a food of exceptional nutritional value and great versatility – and it can be eaten raw or cooked (ideally grated if raw). It’s given added nutritional punch by the fact that we can eat the leaves – rich in calcium, iron and vitamin A & C – as well as the more well-known phytonutrients that give it its purple colour, associated with helping fight inflammation & ward off cancer, as well as lower blood pressure.
Some would argue that the leaves are the most beneficial part; and one thing to remember – the beets are one of the sweetest of all the veggies; so as with most things, consume in moderation. Additionally, there are some more recent interesting studies on the impact of beetroot on sports performance – interesting reading based on an Exeter University study.

It can be roasted with other vegetables, or served as a salad, or used as a soup; here’s a great warming roasted vegetable dish and 2 equally good salad options: feta and beetroot salad or roasted beetroot salad.

And something a little more indulgent, though I train hard & eat healthily most of the time, so it’s perfectly fine on those special occasions: beetroot and chocolate cake. 

And my final choice – the sweet potato; again for the combination of practicality and nutritional punch; relatively inexpensive and simple to prepare, and a rich source of beta-carotene; and one medium potato will give you all our vitamin A (daily?) requirements and more – as well as being a good source of potassium, which amongst other things, can help lower blood pressure. For my favourite uses, I usually cube it, steam it and then season it to accompany my protein source and greens. Sometimes, I’ll roast it with some olive oil and oregano to produce some delicious roasted cubes, and just occasionally, I’ll make some sweet potato fries!

And a few general points  on  the above  choices: they are all rich in fibre; remember too that as they are rich in beta-carotene and vitamin A, which is a fat soluble vitamin, we will need to make sure that there is sufficient fat in our diet to maximise our absorption capabilities. Finally, all the chosen foods are good healthy carbohydrate sources – remember though that a healthy diet includes food from all nutrient groups – so make sure they are accompanied with protein and fat for optimum health & achievement of your goals.


Spice my fire: 

3 of my favourite spices

And, we talked of spicing things up too, so next here goes with 3 great spices:
Turmeric is my top spice – based on its power. It contains Curcumin, a powerful anti-oxidant which helps fight oxidative damage, as well as supporting the body’s own anti-oxidant enzymes. It is also regarded as a highly potent anti-inflammatory. It is also believed to support brain function, to fight Alzheimer’s disease and reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer. It is the spice that gives curry its yellow colour, and there are plenty of recipes out there to utilise it. I like to keep it simple using it in a lentil curry or similar, or with some lamb or chicken. Plenty of recipes here – take your pick based on time, complexity and your goals.

Next is ginger; I like it for its power, simplicity & versatility. A powerful anti-oxidant associated with reducing inflammation & nausea, as well as reducing the risk of diabetes and heart disease. I like it in a hot drink, or will use it in a soup, with some sweet potato, and it makes a great accompaniment to spice up a chicken dish too.

And finally, Cinnamon – again a great combo of power, simplicity & versatility – a potent anti-oxidant associated with helping fight inflammation as well as lower cholesterol and blood sugar levels


Fuel my Fire: 

3 Fiery suggestions

You may wonder why I am making this point here; well, a selection of the foods mentioned above are the perfect accompaniment for anyone who is interested in getting the maximum from their training and eating regime: 

  • Fuel that workout; it is carbohydrate that provides the energy for a tough training session; make sure you have consumed sufficient before you work-out – even better if it’s some of the carbohydrates above with the additional vitamin & mineral properties
  • Recover & Repair; a tough training session breaks down muscle and produces free radicals; the body needs to repair – so use the above foods to maximise supporting this repair process – foods high in anti-oxidants are great.
  • Rest! One of the most important aspects of getting results from your training is getting adequate rest, and giving your body time to repair – do this, and give your body the time it needs – otherwise you will slowly be reducing your ability to train hard and effectively.

And finally, two interesting articles here with that theme in mind; one geared more to resistance training, one geared more to running. Useful insight also on what leads to inflammation. One final note on supplementation, I am a fan of real food rather than supplementation so will leave that judgement to you – and interestingly, even the benefits of fish oil supplementation is now being questioned.

Hope this helps with lighting that autumn fire – happy fuelling, happy training, happy refuelling!

About the Author

Nick Owen is a qualified nutritional adviser, holding a Diploma in Non-Medical Nutritional Advice. Nick uses nutrition to support a wide variety of client goals including weight management, fat loss and muscle building, general health and well-being; and improved energy levels, concentration and complexion. Nick’s approach is practical and realistic, starting with an analysis of current eating patterns and lifestyle, making recommendations for change and then working over a series of consultations to support achievement of the desired goals.

ymca | 4 November 2015