Healthy Heavy Hitters

    Generally, when we evaluate how fit we are, we focus on the outside of our bodies. How strong are our muscles, how far can we run, how many sit-ups can we do? What we often forget is that what we put into our bodies impacts our fitness as much as what we do to our bodies. While studies have demonstrated the importance of augmenting our diet with vitamin and mineral supplements, nutritional experts strongly support the whole food approach to being healthful. This means eating foods that are rich in a variety of essential nutrients. In researching effective eating for keeping my body as healthy as possible, I have discovered that in the world of my pantry, all foods are NOT created equal. I have compiled a list of healthy heavy hitters. Fit each of these in your diet once a day and you can be assured you are off to a great start toward eating fit.


This delicious red fruit (yes, it is a fruit) is loaded with the antioxidant lycopene. A Diet rich in lycopene can decrease your risk of several forms of cancer as well as reduce the risk of coronary artery disease. Choose traditional red tomatoes over the trendy, funky colored heirloom varieties as they have the highest levels of lycopene. Interestingly, you can get a higher concentration of this powerful antioxidant in cooked tomato products like tomato paste or tomato soup. You want to try to consume at least 22 milligrams of lycopene a day, the amount you'll find in about an 8 ounce glass of tomato juice or Ω cup of spaghetti sauce. If you prefer fresh tomatoes, like me, one medium raw tomato contains about 4 mg. of lycopene.

Beans, beans, they're good for your heart, the more you eat, the more you... well, we all remember that charming childhood rhyme. But, as they say, out of the mouths of babes and so forth. Beans are high in fiber, thus lowering LDL (bad cholesterol), and high in folic acid, protein, and B vitamins making it a heart health headliner. Black beans in particular can also super-charge your brain due to their high concentration of anthycyanins. This is an antioxidant compound that has been shown to improve brain function. Aim for about a Ω cup serving of cooked beans per day and you will be getting 8 grams of protein, 7.5 grams of fiber and bunches of those anthycyanins for very few calories and zero saturated fat. Worried about the, ah, flatulence factor? A product called Beano contains a protein that breaks down the indigestible carbohydrates in beans that can cause gas formation.

Popeye was no dummy. Spinach is packed with plant-based Omega-3's and folate, which helps reduce the risk of osteoporosis, stroke, and heart disease. It also is rich in lutein, a compound that helps fight age related macular degeneration. Try to consume at least one cup of fresh spinach or Ω cup cooked spinach per day. Use spinach in your salad instead of lettuce or put some fresh spinach leaves under your mozzarella on a pizza. Or simply saute it with a little olive oil and sprinkle it with a dash of rice vinegar and a little salt and pepper. Delicious!

Pop on the TV and you can't help but catch a commercial touting yogurt's health benefits. Americans are finally catching on to what some cultures have known for over 2,000 years. Yogurt's fermentation generates hundreds of millions of probiotic organisms that reinforce the beneficial bacteria in your body. This boosts your immune system, provides protection against cancer, and helps your digestive system function more efficiently. Make sure you buy a yogurt that contains live and active cultures and watch your sugar content. Dollop some yogurt on top of your oatmeal and throw in some blueberries and walnuts and you have a powerhouse breakfast that hits four of your essential foods in one fell swoop. Low-fat plain or greek yogurt makes an outstanding base for dips or use it as a substitute for mayonnaise or sour cream. Aim to ingest about one cup of this calcium and protein rich creamy yumminess.

Oats are full of soluble fiber which binds with fatty acids in the stomach and reduces total cholesterol levels and LDL levels. Oats are indeed high in carbs, but the fiber slows the release of these sugars. In fact, the soluble fiber in oats help regulate blood sugar for people with diabetes. Oats are also high in protein. The recommended Ω cup serving has 10 grams of protein thus providing a steady energy source.

These are the only nut to combine three healthy features. They are higher in omega-3's than salmon, have more anti-inflammatory polyphenols than red wine and have about half as much protein as chicken. Other nuts only have one or two of these features but walnuts got 'em all! Just remember that nuts are calorie dense. One serving a day, about seven nuts, is sufficient. Keep a jar of toasted walnuts on hand to sprinkle on cereal or salads or to munch on as a post-workout snack.

Nicknamed 'brain berries', blueberries host more antioxidants than any other commonly used fruit. They help prevent age-related memory changes, diabetes, and cancer. Rich in fiber and vitamins A and C, blueberries boost cardiovascular health. Shoot for eating one cup of fresh or a half a cup of frozen or dried berries a day. Blueberries can be expensive. When they are in season and on sale buy several pints and freeze them unwashed in quart freezer bags. Scoop out a cup into a colander and wash them under lukewarm water. Once clean, you will find them perfectly thawed and ready to devour.  *Information gathered from Superfoods Rx by Steven Pratt, MD

Anneliza Itkor has been in the health and fitness industry for over 20 years. The Center for Health, Fitness, and Sports Performance, which offers a wide variety of fitness and massage services, is where she exercises her passion for total body wellness. Any fitness questions or comments are welcome and can be sent to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Dear A.J,
"I want my daughter to start weight lifting but she has the perception that she will get bulky and look like one of the guys."

    When you visit your local gym, you will see numerous men trying to "bulk up." Of these guys trying to bulk up, do you notice many Arnold Schwarzenegger-like figures? No! Of those few that almost resemble Arnold Schwarzenegger, there is a key reason they look so big. It's because of the type of workout plan, diet, testosterone levels, and their genetic potential to become big and bulky. The truth is that most people do not have the genetic potential to add large amounts of muscle mass. Furthermore, women are at a genetic disadvantage compared to men in regards to gaining muscle mass. Women have 10 times less testosterone than men, which is the hormone responsible for muscle growth.  Lastly, a program based on increasing muscle mass is quite different than a program that is designed for toning, losing weight or body fat, improving strength and power, and improving sports performance. If your daughter gains too much muscle mass and that is not her goal, then her program is improperly designed!

A.J. Kelly BS, CSCS, is a Fitness Consultant / Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist at The Center for Health, Fitness & Sports Performance. He has a Bachelor's in Exercise Science and has completed his Master's curriculum (Master's to be awarded after thesis completion). A.J. is also the Hilton Head Christian Academy Head Strength Coach. He has worked with all ages and fitness levels from youth to seniors as well as all skill levels from amateur to professional athletes. A.J. can be reached at 843.338.8752 and by email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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