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By Nancy Wozny
Staples that pack a nutritional punch
Want some immunity-boosting vitamin C? Or some extra potassium to help avoid muscle cramps? You don’t need to take a supplement. It can be as simple as adding a squeeze of lemon juice to your salad, or making celery sticks part of your mid-rehearsal snack. Lots of ordinary fruits and vegetables are secret superfoods that pack a nutritional wallop. Plus, they are flexible, portable, and—with some creativity—can add zing to your meals.
Dancers need to be careful about nutritional balance, which can get lost in the daily shuffle between class and rehearsal. “For instance, dancers tend to be low in vitamin D, which is fat soluble,” says Ally Wagner, a nutritionist who works with dancers at Cincinnati Ballet. She also notes that a lot of dancers are low in calcium, which can lead to a higher risk of bone fractures. “Small tweaks, such as changing to fortified foods, will help,” Wagner says. It’s easy to add those vitamin- and mineral-rich foods. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) gives a half-cup as a serving size for most fruit or vegetables, and recommends about five servings a day. “So a half of a medium-size potato would be a serving,” says Wagner. “One lemon and half a cup of cut-up celery could be all you need to add to your diet.”
Here are three common fruits and vegetables that make a real difference in ensuring you are eating enough of your daily essential nutrients.
Lemons: A Citrus Boost
Vitamin C aids the body in making collagen, which helps create new bone, blood vessels, ligaments, and tendons. Most dancers don’t realize vitamin C’s role in the body’s recovery. When they fear getting a cold, they may down a package of Emergen-C or gulp a calorie-laden glass of orange juice. But the body needs vitamin C on a daily basis. A single lemon can contain more than 50 milligrams, or over half of the daily requirement for women. “Adding lemon juice to chicken or salmon will definitely add some flavor and eliminate the need for extra salt,” says Wagner. “Or try them with limes or oranges, which are also high in vitamin C.”
Celery: Old-School Classic
Dancers need to replace electrolytes like potassium quickly. “Celery can help during long practices and rehearsals,” says Wagner. “It’s also high in fiber and vitamin K and low in calories.” Long underrated as an old-school diet food, the crunchy stalks also have high percentages of folic acid, magnesium, sodium—also an electrolyte—and essential amino acids. A single serving will yield 40 percent of the body’s daily vitamin K, a critical element in blood clotting. Celery leaves also have vitamin A, which keeps skin healthy. You can dip stalks in hummus to add some protein, or chop some up and add them to salads, soups, and stews. Or if you prefer, juice the stalks for an all-natural, vitamin-rich beverage.
Potato: Vitamin Resource
The lumpy brown tubers get a bad reputation from no-carb zealots and often get overlooked by the nutrition-savvy for their more colorful counterpart, the vitamin-filled sweet potato. But it’s time to reconsider spuds in your diet. Made of complex carbohydrates, they are filling, portable, and low on the glycemic index. And if you eat the skin as well, you get a hefty vitamin boost. One medium potato with skin provides more than 50 percent of the recommended daily intake of vitamin C. They also have vitamin B, folate, and minerals such as potassium, magnesium, and iron. A single roasted potato delivers 21 percent of the daily requirement for vitamin B6, which helps maintain a healthy nervous system. Potato skins are also rich in antioxidant flavonoids.
Nancy Wozny writes about health and the arts from Houston.
Lean & Green Pennsylvania Ballet corps member Caralin Curcio has a favorite go-to celery recipe: Paleo Ants on a Log. Fill the celery gutter with almond butter, then sprinkle dried fruit, such as raisins or cranberries, on top. Another favorite? Topping grilled salmon with a dressing of lemon juice, olive oil, dill, and Dijon mustard.
Toe Treat Your toes take a beating when you dance. Help them stretch and align with YogaToes, a handy plastic massage device that separates and stretches the toes ($39.95, www.yogapro.com). By spreading and exercising each toe, YogaToes helps improve foot circulation and eases the pain of hammertoes, bunions, and corns.