Chicken Pear and Pistachio Salad

When it comes to nutrition, I like to think that I have a pretty good understanding of how to fuel properly throughout the day and post-workouts to recovery properly and try to be as lean as possible.  Lots of diets come and go (Atkins, low fat, etc.), usually with a lot of hype and with little success for people.  True, people may loose weight from these fad diets.  But it’s always interesting to check the person’s overall body composition before and after.  For example, Atkins diet causes people to loose weight quickly, but in the end their body fat percentage is often higher and the toxins in someone’s body from having to use protein instead of fat and carbs as a fuel source is something that a lot of people don’t know about.

Paleo diet seems to be the next diet fad that has hit America.  However, I do believe there is something to be said about this diet.  From what I understand about this diet, grains, milk, beans/legumes are off limits.  The diet promotes a high fat and protein diet from lean meats and nuts/seeds.  Carbohydrates are obtained through starchy vegetables,  such a sweet potato.

I hate jumping on board with fad diets until I have time to think them through and see if it would work for me as an endurance junkie.  I think that if I took this diet to the extreme, I would lack energy since I need lots of carbohydrates to fuel my workouts, recovery, and just have energy throughout the day.  Also, I’m not a big meat person… I prefer to cook without it and use beans/legumes instead.  However, I think that it could be good thing to do occasionally (maybe 3 or so meals a week… or late night snacking).  So I made my first Paleo diet meal with one modification… I added some feta cheese to this delicious salad:

  • 1 bag (9 ounce) of spinach
  • 1 bag (7 ounce) of craisins or dried fruit (i used dried pomegranates)
  • 1 cup chopped  chicken (i cooked an entire chicken in the crock pot and divided the meat into fourths, bagging the other three bags of meat from the chicken and throwing it in the freezer.  The entire chicken was only $5)
  • 2/3 cup pistachios
  • 8 ounce block of Feta cheese – shredded/crumbled
  • 2 pears, chopped
Use a dressing of your choice… I think that a raspberry vinaigrette would be a good pairing, or balsamic vinaigrette.  Enjoy!



Vitamin B12 and Vegetarian Athletes

Many people know that vitamins and minerals are necessary for basic functioning.  There are two basic types of vitamins, fat soluble and water soluble.  The fat soluble vitamins are A, D, E, and K.  the rest are water soluble.  It is possible to overdose on fat soluble.  But if someone ingests too much of the water soluble vitamins, the extras are dumped in the urine.  However, B12 doesn’t follow the same rules as other water soluble vitamins.  It can actually be stored in the liver with supplies that will last someone years.  One of the most common deficiencies in people that experience is actually a water soluble vitamin, Vitamin B12.  People most at risk are  athletes who are limiting calories or have specialized, consistent or restricted eating plans (avoiding meat, diary, and/or eggs).

Vitamin B12 plays an extremely important role in the body.  B12, along with the rest of the B vitamins, is a  ‘micronutrient’ and is used to convert proteins and carbohydrates into energy.  B vitamins are also used for cell repair and production.    Vitamin B12 specificially plays a role in red blood cell production and maintenance of the central nervous system.  A study at Oregon State University showed that even a small deficiency in B vitamins decreased the athletes ability to perform at high intensities and also delayed muscle recovery/repair after workouts.  With the knowledge of what B vitamins do for the body, its easy to see why a slight lack of these in the diet can result in drastic outcomes for athletes trying to perform well for race day, or even recover fast enough for their next working later in the day or tomorrow.

Since a vegetarian or vegan diets tend to limit or completely remove animal products, the natural sources for vitamin B12 are not going to be consumed by the individual.  These sources include eggs, meat, poultry, shellfish, milk, and milk products.   However, many fortified cereals contain all of, or most of the recommended daily intake of B12.  Additionally, if you buy a milk substitute, most of brands of almond, rice, soy milk are fortified with 50% of the recommended intake of B12 per 8 oz. serving.  With foods being fortified with B12, it is much easier than it was several years ago to consume enough each day.  However, many of the new “all natural” or “organic” cereals are not fortified.  So people that tend to buy these types of cereals are at a greater risk of a deficiency.

The daily recommended intake for B12 is about 2.4 mcg.  However, this number isn’t consistent across the board of experts.  A lot depends on the person’s ability to absorb the vitamin, their activity level, and many other factors.  Below are some common foods that contain higher levels of B12:


Sources of Vitamin B12
Food[58] µg vitamin B12/100g
beef liver 83.1
turkey giblets 33.2
pork liver sausage 20.1
Raw Pacific oysters 16.0
Cooked Alaska king crab 11.5
Raw clams 11.3
Simmered chicken giblets 9.4
Cheese 3.3
Beef (uncooked sirloin) 1.15
Egg (raw, whole chicken’s egg) 0.89
Whole cow’s milk 0.45


As mentioned above, only animal sources naturally contain B12.  So people eating a restricted diet should closely monitor their B12 intake.  But, even if their daily intake isn’t enough, the results won’t begin to show up for several years since B12 is stored in the liver.  Vitamin B12 deficiency is characterized by anemia, fatigue, weakness, constipation, loss of appetite, and weight loss. Neurological changes, such as numbness and tingling in the hands and feet, can also occur. Additional symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency include difficulty maintaining balance, depression, confusion, dementia, poor memory, and soreness of the mouth or tongue. The neurological symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency can occur without anemia, so early diagnosis and intervention is important to avoid irreversible damage.  Some of the neurological changes caused from B12 deficiency can be irreversible.

For myself, after being vegan for nearly a year, I decided that it wasn’t a good thing for me to continue doing.  Personally, I feel like I’m cheating if I take multivitamins to replace nutrients (although I do take a multivitamin occasionally).  I decided to start including eggs and cheese again, and meat about once a week.  With the fortified cereals that I eat, I am getting enough B12.  I don’t drink milk, but rather make my own soy milk, so the soy milk I consume doesn’t have B12 in it either.  If someone is unwilling to change their diet to include animal sources of B12, another really good source of B12 (and all the B vitamins) is something called nutritional yeast.  Just a 1/4 cup of it contains 150% of the RDA of B12 for the day and 9 grams of protein.  It has a cheesy flavor to it, and if used correctly can be a tasty alternative to cheese on vegetables, in casseroles, and many other dishes or soups.


For more information on vegetarian diets and protein, click here.

For more information on vegetarian diets and iron, click here.


Vegetarian diets, Triathletes, and Iron

This is the second of an undetermined amount of articles that will help triathletes (or athletes in general) make an educated change to either reduce meat consumption or become vegetarian.  This article will focus on acquiring enough iron in the diet, which is a big concern of people, especially athletes.  First let’s being with why iron is important in the diet and why the body needs iron to function properly and perform at the levels endurance athletes demand from it.

Iron’s main role in the body is for blood cell function.  It plays a fundmanetal role in the hemoglobin molecule. Hemoglobin is the molecule that carries oxygen to the tissues from the lungs and returns with carbon dioxide from the cells.  Although iron is both plentiful and obtainable from a wide variety of foods, iron deficiency is still the most common form of mineral deficiency. The most susceptible groups to iron defiency are children and adolescents, pregnant women, women of child-bearing age, athletes (due to a phenomenon called “heel strike anemia”), and older adults.

Iron also plays other roles in the body, such as:

  • Supporting the action of many enzymes (especially for energy production)
  • Antioxidant
  • May have anti-cancer properties
  • Powerful immune-system booster

Just like fat, carbohydrates, and protein, not all iron is created equally.  There are two forms of dietary iron are available: Heme iron and non-heme iron. Heme iron is effectively animal hemoglobin and is found abundantly in meat and animal products, especially kidney and liver, and is very well absorbed by the body. Non-heme iron is the mineral form of iron and is found in plants. Non-heme iron is poorly absorbed, which makes acquiring adequate amounts of iron in a vegetarian diet difficult.  Even though someone might be eating enough non-heme iron according to the nutrition labels on food, they may not be absorbing enough as it passes through their body.

Heme-iron is absorbed at a rate of about 25-35%, and non-heme iron is absorbed at only about 3%! There are tricks to increase iron absorption.  While eating sources high in iron, eat something that has a high Vitamin C level.  Vitamin C breaks down the iron before it gets to the gut and increases absorption.  Good sources of vitamin C include citrus fruits and juices, tomatoes, strawberries, melons, dark green leafy vegetables and potatoes.  Also, avoid eating foods high in calcium (dairy, etc.) because the calcium binds with the iron making it next to impossible for the iron to be absorbed.  Other factors may decrease the availability of iron. Coffee and tea consumption at the time of a meal can significantly decrease iron absorption.

Many foods in a vegetarian diet contain a high amount of iron, and should be eaten regularly to get enough iron.  If you feel the need to, take a multi-vitamin with iron in it to boost the amount of iron in your diet.  The daily recommended intake of iron per day is about 17.8 milligrams.  Below is a table of vegetarian foods that are high in iron labeled in milligrams:


Breads and cereals
wheat bread, enriched 1 slice 0.6
wheat bread 1 slice 0.5
whole grain cereals 1/2 cup 4.5-9.5
iron fortified cereals 1 cup 1.1-4.5
iron fortified cereals (100% DRI) 1 cup 17.8
Macaroni, noodles, enriched 1/2 cup 0.7
Fruits and vegetables
dried beans, cooked 1/2 cup 2.6
dried peas, cooked 1/2 cup 1.7
lentils, cooked 1/2 cup 2.1
greens, cooked 1/2 cup 1.8
dried apricots 10 halves 1.9
dates 5 1.2
raisins 1/4 cup 1.4
prunes 5 medium 1.2


Food Serving Size Iron % Guideline
soybeans 250ml 9.3 mg 52%
raw yellow beans 100g 7 mg 39%
lentils 250ml 7 mg 39%
falafel 140g 4.8 mg 27%
soybean kernels 250ml 4.7 mg 26%
toasted sesame seeds 30g 4.4 mg 25%
spirulina 15g 4.3 mg 24%
candied ginger root 30g 3.4 mg 19%
spinach 85g 3 mg 17%


Other foods high in iron are quinoa (2.8 mg/1 cup cooked), egg (0.9 mg), and green beans (1.1 mg/1 cup).

 So, if you make the switch to vegetarian or a reduced meat diet, how will you know when the iron levels are low?  Before that question is answered, here is a list of symptoms of being iron deficient:

  • Extreme fatigue
  • Pale skin
  • Weakness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Headache
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Cold hands and feet
  • Irritability
  • Inflammation or soreness of your tongue
  • Brittle nails
  • Fast heartbeat
  • Unusual cravings for non-nutritive substances, such as ice, dirt or starch
  • Poor appetite, especially in infants and children with iron deficiency anemia
  • An uncomfortable tingling or crawling feeling in your legs (restless legs syndrome)

Because of the lifespan red blood cells (about 90 days), iron defiency anemia won’t show up for a few months.  The most notable change will be a consistent lack of energy despite how much sleep.  Your friends and family may notice you being more irritable.  To be on the safe side, go to your doctor before the switch to see how your iron levels are, and get the level checked periodically throughout the year.

If you find yourself in a state of iron deficency, you may need to consider taking a iron supplement.  Eating meat that is high in iron (red meat, liver, etc.) once or twice a week may be needed too.


For information on getting enough protein for endurance athletes, click here.

For information Vitamin B12 and its role in athletes, click here.