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Avant-CARB

Jazz up your diet with these cool carbs.

Women runners seem to have a natural aversion to the C word. For many of us, consuming the usual carbs (think pasta and potatoes) seems like a bad idea when trying to lose weight and eat better. We lose sight of the fact that they are the primary energy for working muscles, helping us to run hard and recover well. Perhaps you’re blasé about carbs because you’re burnt out on the old standbys.

Try one or more of these alternatives for a fresh take on the usual fare.

Sprouted Bread

Sprouted bread is what you should be using to make your tuna sandwiches. Made from sprouted whole grains and legumes, this bread is packed with protein—up to 8 grams per slice. Plus, the sprouting process brings out more vitamins, minerals, dietary fiber and great nutty flavor. Each slice has a lower glycemic index (a measure of how fast a food spikes blood sugar) than other bread varieties. This means a steadier supply of energy to power you through your day. In fact, a 2008 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition determined that a low glycemic diet protects against diabetes, heart disease and breast cancer.

Make it: For a pre-run snack, slather a slice of sprouted bread with peanut butter and sliced banana.

What to try: French Meadow Bakery (frenchmeadow.com) makes a variety of sprouted breads, bagels and tortillas.

Soba Noodles

Soba are native Japanese noodles made from buckwheat flour with just as much energy-boosting complex carbohydrates as pasta. Glutenfree buckwheat gives the noodles a great texture. A phytochemical in buckwheat called rutin has a number of beneficial qualities such as halting the expansion of body fat cells, keeping blood cholesterol levels in check and improving blood glucose control, which may lower diabetes risk. Soba noodles often contain wheat flour, but 100 percent buckwheat versions are available for those intolerant to gluten.

Try it: Soba can be prepared like pasta and be subbed for it in almost any recipe. For a no-fuss post-run meal, mix cooked soba noodles with cubed grilled chicken breast (or tofu), cherry tomatoes, diced red pepper, olive oil and chopped cilantro.

What to try: Look for soba in Asian markets or find Eden 100 percent buckwheat soba noodles (edenfoods.com) at natural food stores.

Molasses

This viscous syrup is best known for providing the robust bittersweet flavor to gingerbread and baked beans. But consider using it elsewhere as well. A 2009 study in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association discovered that molasses has higher levels of antioxidants than maple syrup, honey, corn syrup, brown sugar and other sweeteners. Antioxidants may speed muscle recovery by shielding them from oxidative damage. They also help vanquish the free radicals that can damage DNA and initiate cancers. Molasses also harbors B vitamins, agnesium, potassium and iron. Runners, particularly women, tend to be more at risk for iron deficiency. Because iron is vital for the delivery of oxygen to working muscles, low levels can negatively impact running performance.

Try it: Add 1 tablespoon of molasses to your post-run protein shakes to give it some kick. This is the best time to take advantage of its fast-digesting carbohydrates to replenish muscle energy stores.

What to try: Wholesome Sweeteners (wholesomesweeteners.com) molasses is organic- and fair trade-certified.

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Popcorn

Thanks to movie theatres, popcorn has a bad reputation as a high-fat snack. But homemade popcorn can be one of the smartest snack choices you can make. Recently, researchers at the University of Scranton in Pennsylvania found that popcorn provides more dietary fiber and disease-fighting antioxidants than any other snack food tested. Because a large volume of plain popcorn has few calories (just 31 calories in 1 cup), it can fill you up without breaking the calorie bank. And most people forget that popcorn is a whole grain. According to the USDA, at least half of all grains eaten should be whole grains.

Try it: Forget the air popper and bags of microwave popcorn—popping inexpensive loose corn kernels on the stovetop is a cinch. In a medium saucepan, heat 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil over medium heat and add 1/3 cup popcorn kernels. Cover, leaving the lid slightly ajar so steam can escape, shaking the pot regularly until popping slows. To liven up popcorn without the fat, season with a mixture of 1 teaspoon curry powder with 1/2 teaspoon each of dried basil, cumin and sea salt.

What to try: You can find iconic Orville Redenbacher (orville.com) kernels at most supermarkets.

Wehani Rice

Developed by the Lundberg Family Farms in Northern California, domestic wehani is a slightly chewy whole-grain rice with a delightful nutty taste. When cooked, it splits and fills the kitchen with a wonderful aroma akin to buttery popcorn. Like other whole-grain varieties, long-grain wehani rice has a wealth of fiber, B vitamins, magnesium and antioxidants. According to a 2009 Harvard School of Public Health study, eating more fiber and nutrient-rich whole grains like wehani may lower your risk of high blood pressure.

Try it: Combine 1 cup wehani rice and 2 cups water in a saucepan and bring to boil. Reduce heat to low and cook about 40 minutes or until rice is tender and liquid is absorbed. For a nutrient-packed side dish, add chopped walnuts, dried cranberries and diced avocado.

What to try: Lundberg Wehani (lundberg.com) is available at many specialty and health food stores.

Plantains

This oversized kissing kin of the banana is hard and starchy when still green. As they ripen, the skin turns yellow, then black, and the flesh becomes increasingly sweet and edible. Compared to a regular banana, plantains have 22 percent more vitamin A, 16 percent more vitamin C and four percent extra blood pressure-lowering potassium. This nutritional goldmine also has plenty of vitamin B6. According to a 2009 Harvard School of Public Health study, women with the highest blood levels of vitamin B6 had the lowest risk of suffering a heart attack.

Try it: Green plantains are perfect for frying or thickening stews and mole sauces, whereas yellowing plantains with a few black dots are best used for gentle sautéing, grilling and roasting. Once completely black, they’re great for desserts or mixed into smoothies.

What to try: You can find plantains year-round in Latin markets and the produce section of many supermarkets.

Matthew Kadey is a Canada-based nutritionist and writer. Visit him online at wellfedman.com.

 

Recipe

 

Black Bean Wehani Burgers with Baked Honey Plantains

Makes 4 servings

Burgers:

  • 1 can (15 ounces) black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 cup wehani rice, cooked
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 tablespoon cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne
  • Sunflower seeds (optional)
  • Salt and ground black pepper, to taste
  • 1/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped

Plantains:

  • 2 yellow-black plantains
  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Preheat oven to 400 F. Peel and cut plantains into half-inch-thick diagonal slices. Place slices in a medium bowl and toss with butter, honey and cinnamon. Arrange in a single layer on a baking sheet and cook for 15 minutes or until browned and bubbling. Meanwhile, mash beans in a large bowl with a fork or potato masher. Add remaining ingredients and mix well. Form into four equal-sized patties and cook over medium-high heat in a lightly oiled skillet for about three to four minutes per side or until firm and browned. Serve with baked plantain slices.