How beetroot can improve performance
The ordinary foods with super powers
Innocent Smoothies and Juices will be the official beverages of this summer's Olympics, but for canny athletes looking for the edge, the drink of choice is beetroot juice.
It's not official just yet, but leaked reports of a new mountaineering study by University College London suggest the purple extract is a world-class performance enhancer. A group of elite climbers fuelled on purple juice showed a greater ability to extract oxygen from their blood at high altitudes.
Beetroot is rich in stamina-boosting nitrates. Its juice also brims with betaine, a compound that encourages cells to retain water. This helps fight off dehydration.
But the beetroot is not the only food with cloaked superpowers. One is clumped all around Ireland's seaboard just waiting to be picked up by anyone who doesn't mind getting their feet wet.
A red seaweed found on most stretches of our coastline, dulse is a freely available but neglected superfood that contains up to 10 times more calcium than milk. Its chemical make-up is close to human blood plasma and helps purify circulation, making activity at any level that bit easier.
It was once a key part of the national diet, but it remains a summer favourite in the north of Ireland, where the leaves are dried in the fresh air and eaten like potato crisps, making dulse the ultimate super snackfood.
Beef from cattle grazed on green fields makes up less than 10pc of the world's consumption. In Ireland, that figure is close to 100pc. A 2010 study by California State University suggests beef sourced from grass-fed cattle is better in every way for an active lifestyle.
In addition to higher levels of Omega 3, plus Vitamins A and E, it contains an acid (CLA) that helps build lean muscle in training, while boosting endurance.
One of the hazards of aerobic exercise is the occasional sore throat. One of the many health claims made from Manuka honey is that it provides effective relief from inflammation and laryngitis. But Manuka is expensive, and a study by the UK's Institute of Food Research indicates that marmalade does the biz at a fraction of the price. One gram contains 20 times more antioxidants than a standard glass of orange juice.
Plain popcorn is an unsung body-booster. Catherine Collins, head dietician at London's St George's Hospital, explains: "Most people don't know popcorn's a wholegrain, shown to reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer, and just a 30g serving -- half a small box of cinema popcorn -- is equivalent to one portion of brown rice."
No other cheese is richer in whey protein than ricotta. According to nutritionist Molly Kimble, whey is a proven aid to boosting muscle recovery and growth.
"Whey is a fast-acting protein so its amino acids are readily available to your muscles soon after consumption."
Until around 10,000 years ago, almonds were useless, unless you had a house guest so unwanted you decided to kill them.
Wild almonds contain a lethal form of cyanide, but early farmers twigged that a few mutant trees produced pleasant-tasting non-deadly seeds and cultivated them. Among other things, its magnesium content aids the healthy blood flow required for safe exercising.
Both potatoes and microwave ovens have long suffered a bad reputation, but now the food boffins insist they make a winning combination.
Nutritionist Joe Vinson says: "Mention potato and people think -- fattening, high-carbs, empty calories. In reality, when prepared without frying and served without butter, one potato has only 110 calories and dozens of vitamins and phytochemicals."
The latest scientific advice is that microwaving is the best way to do potatoes, as it cooks off fewer nutrients than conventional methods.