Your Body: Let It Drizzle
Dancers tend to avoid fat in their diet, but your body needs a healthy amount to function. “Fat plays an essential role in the absorption of vitamins A, E, D, and K, which are key for bone health and the immune system,” says Emily Cook Harrison, a nutritionist for the Atlanta Ballet. “The body uses fat as building blocks. Plus, fat can be used as fuel along with carbohydrates when dancing requires endurance.”
But what are healthy fat sources and how much should you consume? Fat has nine calories per gram versus protein’s four. This means that a little goes a long way. Harrison recommends getting only 25 percent of your daily calories from fat. Houston Ballet nutritionist Roberta Anding suggests that using oils to season food can be a nutritious way to make sure you get enough. And there’s no need to stick to olive oil. “Canola oil and flaxseed oil, for example, have omega-3 fatty acids, and these are heart-healthy and fight inflammation,” she notes. Here are four oils, all with additional nutritional benefits, to spice up your meals.
Virgin coconut oil has a near cult following. Because it’s a saturated fat, consume it in moderation. But the body absorbs it rapidly, so it can serve as a quick source of fuel. Coconut oil is an immune booster as well, and a good source of lauric acid, which increases your HDL, the good cholesterol. Use it for baking or spooned right into yogurt or oatmeal. It can withstand high heat and does not need to be refrigerated.
Its delicate nutty flavor is one of walnut oil’s many benefits. It also packs a nutritional punch with omega-3s, vitamin K, which is essential to bone health, and vitamin E. Plus, walnut oil has melatonin, which can help improve sleep. Studies have shown a correlation between using walnut oil and lower blood pressure, and it also lowers the risk of heart disease. Because of its strong flavor, a small amount will be all you need to season a salad or add some dash to a vegetable recipe; you won’t be adding a lot of calories with it. However, since walnut oil has a short shelf life, it must be stored in the refrigerator.
Touted by many as a more palatable alternative to fish oil, flaxseed oil has anti-inflammatory properties. It’s rich in omega-3s, which are critical for brain function and help to lower the risk of heart disease. Go for the unfiltered varieties, which offer more nutrients. Flaxseed oil is not a good substitute for cooking oil, but works well in pesto, hummus, and salad dressings. Since it’s perishable, store it in the fridge.
Nothing jazzes up soy vinaigrette like a dash of sesame oil. It’s also got a host of health benefits, like helping to lower blood sugar and cholesterol levels. Added nutritional value comes from vitamins E and K. Some studies connect consuming sesame oil with reducing high blood pressure and artery plaque. It works well in stove-top cooking, baking, and many dressings.
Really the Most Important Meal
The urge to skip breakfast and run out the door to class happens to all dancers. Recent studies show, though, that regularly missing breakfast can have an impact on your long-term health. A Harvard University School of Public Health study found a strong link between omitting a morning meal and heart problems. And another Harvard study found that skipping breakfast raises the risk of Type II diabetes. So take a few minutes for a protein-rich meal to get your dance day off on the right foot.
It turns out that canned vegetables have gotten a bad rap. A recent study published in the Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture found that, in many cases, canned vegetables had similar nutritional value to fresh or frozen ones. In fact, in some instances, the canned varieties delivered more nutrients per ounce. Clear canned winners? Peas and tomatoes.
Most dancers do not eat huge meals before going to bed. However, according to sleep expert Michael Breus, Ph.D., a growling stomach is a recipe for a sleepless night. So a pre-bedtime snack that combines carbs and proteins, like celery with hummus, can aid sleep because it boosts serotonin. For more connections between diet and sleep, see The Sleep Doctor’s Diet Plan: www.thesleepdoctor.com/books.php.