The summer is in full swing, and, if you are lucky, you are heading on a vacation to soak up some sun at the beach or enjoy some quality time with your family and friends. Whether you head to the shore or just to a friend’s house for cocktails by the pool, chances are you will be required to wear a bathing suit at some point. A select few people are blessed with good genes and naturally have an amazing body, however, the majority of people with a slamming body work extremely hard for it. Exercise is crucial for developing that nice back, washboard abs and toned legs… but you won’t get that body if you’re not eating right. Here are the top foods you should incorporate into your diet so that you too can have a rockin’ bod:
You’ve heard it before, but dark leafy greens and colorful vegetables are some of the best foods for you. However, some veggies that don’t necessarily come to mind are considered extreme health benefits, such as:
Swiss Chard: This leafy green has a compound called betalain which is a phytonutrient associated with anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and detoxifying properties- all of which are important to keep your body, and specifically, your skin healthy when exposed to the sun. Swiss chard also has syringic acid which inhibits an enzyme that breaks carbs down to simple sugars; this means that you won’t get large spikes in blood sugar, which is a major cause of inflammation and increased body fat. I often stir fry Swiss chard with an Asian miso-type dressing.
Dandelion Greens: Yes, these are the greens coming from those annoying little weeds in your yard. You could pick them right off your property – assuming that you don’t spray them with weed killer! Dandelion greens have a compound called xeaxanthin, which helps to protect your retina from the sun’s UV rays. These greens are also very high in fiber, which keeps things moving through you so you don’t feel bloated walking around in your skimpy bikini. Dandelion greens are very bitter (but worth it for their endless health benefits!), and are commonly sautéed with salt, olive oil, garlic, and red pepper flakes.
Red, Yellow, and Orange Vegetables: Now that you’ve broken out the grill, it’s time to start grilling those sweet potatoes, carrots, yellow and red peppers for a delicious side dish to any meal. These colorful veggies are full of beta-carotene which is an antioxidant that has profound health benefits. Research has shown that this compound can help improve physical performance and strength in older people (helps keep those muscles toned as you age), and most importantly for the beach, can reduce the risk of sunburn in people with sensitive skin. Be sure to cook all of these veggies with about a teaspoon of oil per serving to absorb the most beta-carotene while eating.
Fermented or Cultured Foods
Kimchi: Kimchi has long been one of my favorite foods and is now just getting the recognition it needs by showing up on trendy restaurant menus. If you see this Korean fermented cabbage on a menu, I recommend you order it since it is a fantastic source of healthy probiotics and is spicy which boosts your metabolism. There is tons of new research out there which link gut bacteria to disease risk and obesity- and there has been more than one study showing that consumption of this fermented cabbage can actually reduce body fat and waist circumference, along with fighting cancer, constipation and more!
Kefir: You may have seen kefir taking over the supermarket dairy aisle over the past few years. This product is a cultured beverage, often referred to as a “drinkable yogurt.” Kefir has tens of thousands of health probiotic strains which help to keep people regular, breed healthy gut microflora/bacteria, and like the kimchi, may help reduce body weight. Dairy-based kefir’s health benefits go beyond just the probiotics, as it is a good and natural source of Vitamin B12 (energy!), calcium and vitamin D, phosphorus, potassium, and a good source of protein. All of these elements function to keep you healthy and allow you to have high energy on the beach volleyball court.
Fish: People often struggle making healthy food choices when eating out. Luckily, this time of year if you find yourself down the shore, you are able to get locally caught fish from most restaurants in town. Even when not out at a restaurant, it is simple enough to buy fresh fish from the market, use canned or pouch tuna in salads or sandwiches, or pick up some sashimi on the way home from work. Many fish, including salmon, tuna, rainbow trout, arctic char and more, are good sources of omega-3 fatty acids, which helps keep your skin clear and hair shiny and healthy. In addition, current guidelines recommend everyone eat at least two seafood meals a week for heart and brain benefits Try grilling tuna with a side of roasted vegetables and topped with kimchi!
Turkey: If you are not much of a seafood person, I recommend you consume lean poultry a few days a week to get in some high quality protein to keep you satiated and keep your body working to burn fat throughout the day. By consuming protein regularly throughout the day (as opposed to just at one meal), you can help your body absorb the most protein, keep your body from breaking down muscle for energy, and promote muscle recovery after a hard workout. Turkey breast is often overlooked (except at Thanksgiving) as a healthy protein source, and it is actually slightly leaner than chicken breast per ounce and has a similar protein content. Look for turkey raised without growth-promoting antibiotics like Shady Brook Farms Turkey and try grilling turkey burgers instead of beef burgers or making these turkey kebabs at your next BBQ.
Barely: Barley is not only one of the cheapest grains at the store, but it is also one of the healthiest. Whole grains have long been known for their ability to help reduce disease by lowering cholesterol and being an excellent source of antioxidants, phytochemicals and essential nutrients. However, there are also countless studies showing that people who eat whole grains daily have lower body masses and less abdominal fat compared to those eating refined or no grains at all. Barley, specifically, seems to be extremely beneficial for weight control as several studies have shown that the carbohydrates found in barley are not completely broken down to simple sugars, thus reducing blood sugar spikes and calorie absorption. Hence, making barley a staple in your diet can help you stay full and fuel your body with fiber and other nutrients, which should potentially help curb your cravings for those chips or ice cream. For a healthy start to your day try an overnight barley bowl, or try a refreshing cold barley salad for the side dish to any summertime cookout.
Teff: Most people have never had, nor heard of Teff, but the health benefits are great. This little grain is native to Ethiopia and Eritrea and is an excellent source of calcium (as much as ½ c cooked spinach), is gluten-free, and high in resistant starches. Resistant starches are not absorbed by the human body, making the key to regulating blood sugar, weight control and keeping you regular. You can combine the health benefits of fermented foods and whole grains by stopping by an Ethiopian restaurant where a traditional fermented bread (injera) made of teff flour is always served with a meal.
Last, but certainly not least, proper hydration is essential for cleansing your body, critical for proper metabolism, maintaining healthy skin and keeping your energy levels high. It is hard to say how much water one needs, but it is generally recommended that most people consume at least 64 fl oz of water each day, with more needed the bigger and more active you are. Be sure to drink water with and in between any cocktails you may be having, and drink before and with meals to keep you full so you don’t overeat. For a refreshing summertime drink, try making a pitcher of water with cucumber, mint and orange slices.
Incorporating these foods into your diet this summer will keep you feeling satisfied, your body functioning optimally, and looking good in that little bikini or speedo. Don’t shy away from trying new things and exploring your options, as many fruits, veggies and proteins have huge health benefits that could essentially keep your body healthy and in great shape all year around.
Kelly Strogen, MS, RD, LDN is the owner and Registered Dietitian for Wayne Nutrition LLC in Wayne, PA where she is very focused on educating and counseling clients to enable them to reach their optimal health potential, making recommendations based on the latest and most dependable scientific evidence and from years of experience working with clients. She also consults with the National Fisheries Institute and Shady Brook Farms Turkey, while also writing for her personal blog Kelly’s Pantry.
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