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choc-cheescake-ganache-cupcakes

The Naturopathic Chef: Gluten Free Vegan Double Chocolate Cheesecake Cupcakes

This is one of my most requested holiday desserts. The chocolate is so decadent and the cheesecake filling adds another layer of moist richness to the cake. Plus, you can include a spider web design inside the cake using a marbling technique — perfect for Halloween!

A splash of good coffee brings the super chocolate flavor and aroma. And, you’re adding some powerful brain health and feel-good neurotransmitters to the party!

Cheesecake Filling

  • 1 1/2 cups raw cashews, soaked 4 hours and drained
  • 1 large lemon, juiced (scant 1/4 cup)
  • 1/3 cup coconut oil, melted
  • 1/2 cup + 2 tbsp coconut milk
  • 1/2 cup agave nectar or maple syrup (or honey if not vegan)
  • pinch of salt

Flavor Options

  • 2 tbsp salted natural peanut butter
  • 1/4 cup berries
  • 3 tbsp caramel sauce

Place all ingredients into a high speed blender. Process until completely smooth and creamy. Add any flavor options and pulse to create a swirl effect. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and chill, while making the cupcake batter.

Cupcakes

  • 2 cups gluten free flour
  • 2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 rounded tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 2 tbsp applesauce or coconut oil
  • ¾ cup coconut sugar
  • 3 tbsp Chia bloomed in ½ cup coffee (this is your egg replacement)
  • 1 ½ tsp Vanilla
  • 3/4 cup Buttermilk (¾ cup vegan milk plus 1 tbsp white vinegar or lemon)
  • 2/3 cup vegan butter (Earth Balance)
  • ½ cup vegan chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place 24 cupcake papers in pans and spray lightly with pan spray.

Mix all dry ingredients and set aside. Cream butter and sugar until pale and fluffy. Stir in applesauce. Add Chia “eggs” 1/3 at a time. Blend well after each addition. Stir in Vanilla. Now, add dry ingredients, alternating with Buttermilk. Be sure to end with Buttermilk for a lighter texture. Gently fold in chocolate chips. Spoon batter into prepared cups and top with a dollop or swirl of cheesecake batter.

Use toothpicks or a bamboo skewer to pull white batter into a spiderweb design. You can also fill cupcake liners with a little chocolate batter. Add a good dollop on top and cover with additional chocolate batter, for a cheesecake surprise cupcake. Bake approximately 15 minutes. Any cracks should appear moist inside. Cake will spring back to a light touch.

Coconut Cream Ganache

  • 1 cup vegan chocolate chips
  • ¾ cup coconut cream
  • ¼ tsp vanilla
  • pinch salt

Warm coconut cream gently in small saucepan. Pour chocolate chips into a heatproof bowl. Pour warm cream over chocolate chips and allow to sit 2 minutes. Stir until smooth and glossy. Add vanilla and salt and cool until slightly thick. Dip cooled cupcakes into ganache and place back on cooling rack, to set ganache.

Don’t want to cover your spiderweb design? Place ganache in fridge and chill 40 minutes. Whip with hand mixer on high to create a fluffy ganache mousse. Pipe around outside edge and your spiderweb will have a delicious frame. Feeling really brave? Let your little ghouls and goblins dip their own cupcakes into the ganache.

Phyto Bites

When you’re cooking with The Medicine Chef, we always look at the #DeliciousMedicine contained in our recipes. This decadent dessert is no different: loaded with amino acids and phytonutrients of all types… but, sometimes it’s good for the soul to just enjoy the moment and allow yourself to have some indulgences and fun!


Affectionately referred to as The Walking Encyclopedia of Human Wellness, Fitness Coach, Strength Competitor and Powerlifting pioneer, Tina “The Medicine Chef” Martini is an internationally recognized Naturopathic Chef and star of the cooking show, Tina’s Ageless Kitchen. Tina’s cooking and lifestyle show has reached millions of food and fitness lovers all over the globe. Over the last 30 years, Tina has assisted celebrities, gold-medal athletes and over-scheduled executives naturally achieve radiant health using The Pyramid of Power: balancing Healthy Nutrition and the healing power of food, with Active Fitness and Body Alignment techniques. Working with those who have late-stage cancer, advanced diabetes, cardiovascular and other illnesses, Tina’s clients are astounded at the ease and speed with which they are able to restore their radiant health. Tina believes that maintaining balance in our diet, physical activity, and in our work and spiritual life is the key to our good health, happiness and overall well being. Visit her website, themedicinechef.com

veg in hand

Heart Disease is Preventable and Reversible through Nutritional Intervention

Heart disease is devastating to both our health and our economy. It is the number one cause of death in the country. Cardiovascular disease (CVD) accounted for 32.1 percent of deaths in the United States in 2013 – one out of every three deaths is due to this preventable disease.1 A significant number of research studies have documented that heart disease is easily and almost completely preventable (and reversible) through a diet rich in plant produce and lower in processed foods and animal products.6-9

As the prevalence of CVD escalates, medical costs are rising rapidly. The American Heart Association has projected that by 2030, 40.5 percent of the US population will have some form of cardiovascular disease, and the direct medical costs attributed to cardiovascular diseases will triple compared to 2010 costs.2

Risk factors for heart disease are commonplace for U.S. adults:32.6 percent have hypertension, 13.1 percent have total cholesterol above 240 mg/dl,3 9.3 percent of U.S. adults have diabetes,4 and 68.5 percent of U.S. adults are overweight or obese.5 As a result, it has become considered normal in our society to have atherosclerosis, and to die from cardiovascular disease. If you eat the standard western diet that most people eat in the modern world, you will surely develop heart disease and may die from it.



Fighting heart disease: Superior nutrition versus drugs and surgery

In 2015, I published a scientific article in the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine demonstrating, with survey data and case histories, the dramatic weight loss and cardiovascular benefits possible with a Nutritarian diet. Respondents who started out obese lost an average of over 50 pounds two years after the switch to a Nutritarian diet. After one year, in those who started out with hypertension, there was a 26 mm Hg average reduction in systolic blood pressure. In respondents who were not taking cholesterol-lowering medication, there was an average 42 mg/dl decrease in LDL cholesterol, and an average decrease in triglycerides of 79.5 mg/dl.10

The surgical interventions commonly used to treat heart disease, such as angioplasty and bypass surgery are futile. The COURAGE trial and additional studies conducted since have documented that patients undergoing those invasive procedures do not live longer or have fewer heart attacks compared to those receiving medical therapy  with modest lifestyle changes.11-12 Surgical interventions are not long-term solutions to heart disease; they merely treat a small portion of a blood vessel, while cardiovascular disease continues to progress throughout the vasculature.

Drugs that treat hypertension and elevated cholesterol carry serious risks and do not stop heart disease from progressing. Cholesterol-lowering statin drugs are known to increase the risk of diabetes, impaired muscle function, cataracts, liver dysfunction and kidney injury. 13 Each different class of blood pressure-lowering medications is associated with its own risks and side effects. ACE inhibitors commonly cause a persistent cough; diuretics are linked to increased risk of diabetes; beta blockers are associated with increased likelihood of stroke; calcium channel blockers may increase risk of heart attack and breast cancer; and ARBs are associated with increased risk of lung cancer.14-20

The risk associated with these treatments is unacceptable when there is a safe, effective alternative —smart nutrition and exercise – that can actually reverse heart disease and obliterate the need for risky and even futile medical care. Atherosclerotic plaque can be reversed, and cholesterol lowered without drugs or surgery.

Rainbow heart of fruits and vegetables

Success stories (two of numerous)

Ronnie weighed over 300 pounds when he wound up needing emergency quadruple bypass surgery.  Three years later, he was back for an angioplasty and three stents, but his chest pain returned within one month of the surgery. Working with Dr. Fuhrman in the Ask the Doctor Community, Ronnie lost 140 pounds and went off all medications. He runs and plays sports and has served as an inspiration to family members who have also lost weight and begun to live healthier lives. Read his story.

Julia had three heart attacks within three months. After her fifth angioplasty, she still had constant chest pain. She was on 10 different daily medications, suffered migraines, and, at the age of 60, could not walk even one block. Today, Julia has lost 105 pounds, and now enjoys every day pleasures like exercise, gardening, and playing with her grandchildren. She went from a “cardiac cripple” to a healthy, happy woman. Read her story.

Like Ronnie and Julia, over the last 20 years hundreds of my other patients with advanced heart disease have demonstrated that dramatic reversal of advanced disease can even occur in a relatively short time.

Following the lenient recommendations of the American Heart Association and wearing a red dress pin do not form an effective strategy for protecting you or your loved ones against heart disease. Also, drugs and surgery do not cure heart disease. A health-promoting, nutrient-dense (Nutritarian) diet, that I have designed and advanced over the years (coupled with exercise) is dramatically effective and protective for preventing and reversing  high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes — as well as heart disease — because it removes the primary dietary cause of heart disease, while providing the most protective and life-span promoting diet-style. For more information, check out my book, The End of Heart Disease.

Everyone needs to know that heart disease can be avoided; and those who already have heart disease deserve to know that they can reverse their disease. Conventional medical care does NOT protect against heart disease-related death. Only a Nutritarian diet can offer dramatic lifespan-enhancing benefits against both cardiovascular disease and cancer.

Originally printed on DrFuhrman.com. Reprinted with permission.


Joel Fuhrman, M.D. is a board-certified family physician, six-time New York Times bestselling author and internationally recognized expert on nutrition and natural healing, who specializes in preventing and reversing disease through nutritional methods. Dr. Fuhrman coined the term “Nutritarian” to describe his longevity-promoting, nutrient-dense, plant-rich eating style.

References

  1.  Xu J, Murphy SL, Kochanek KD, et al: Deaths: Final Data for 2013. Natl Vital Stat Rep 2016;64:1-119.
  2. Heidenreich PA, Trogdon JG, Khavjou OA, et al: Forecasting the Future of Cardiovascular Disease in the United States: A Policy Statement From the American Heart Association. Circulation 2011.
  3. Mozaffarian D, Benjamin EJ, Go AS, et al: Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics-2016 Update: A Report From the American Heart Association. Circulation 2016;133:e38-e360.
  4. American Diabetes Association: Diabetes statistics [http://www.diabetes.org/diabetes-basics/statistics/]
  5. Ogden CL, Carroll MD, Kit BK, et al: Prevalence of childhood and adult obesity in the United States, 2011-2012. JAMA 2014;311:806-814.
  6. Ornish D, Brown SE, Scherwitz LW, et al: Can lifestyle changes reverse coronary heart disease? The Lifestyle Heart Trial. Lancet 1990;336:129-133.
  7. Ornish D, Scherwitz LW, Billings JH, et al: Intensive lifestyle changes for reversal of coronary heart disease. JAMA 1998;280:2001-2007.
  8. Esselstyn CB, Jr.: Updating a 12-year experience with arrest and reversal therapy for coronary heart disease (an overdue requiem for palliative cardiology). Am J Cardiol 1999;84:339-341, A338.
  9. Esselstyn CB, Jr., Ellis SG, Medendorp SV, et al: A strategy to arrest and reverse coronary artery disease: a 5-year longitudinal study of a single physician’s practice. J Fam Pract 1995;41:560-568.
  10. Fuhrman J, Singer M: Improved Cardiovascular Parameter With a Nutrient-Dense, Plant-Rich Diet-Style: A Patient Survey With Illustrative Cases. Am J Lifestyle Med 2015.
  11. Boden WE, O’Rourke RA, Teo KK, et al: Optimal medical therapy with or without PCI for stable coronary disease. N Engl J Med 2007;356:1503-1516.
  12. Trikalinos TA, Alsheikh-Ali AA, Tatsioni A, et al: Percutaneous coronary interventions for non-acute coronary artery disease: a quantitative 20-year synopsis and a network meta-analysis. Lancet 2009;373:911-918.
  13. Hippisley-Cox J, Coupland C: Unintended effects of statins in men and women in England and Wales: population based cohort study using the QResearch database. BMJ 2010;340:c2197.
  14. Simon SR, Black HR, Moser M, et al: Cough and ACE inhibitors. Arch Intern Med 1992;152:1698-1700.
  15. Bangalore S, Messerli FH, Kostis JB, et al: Cardiovascular protection using beta-blockers: a critical review of the evidence. J Am Coll Cardiol 2007;50:563-572.
  16. Gupta AK, Dahlof B, Dobson J, et al: Determinants of new-onset diabetes among 19,257 hypertensive patients randomized in the Anglo-Scandinavian Cardiac Outcomes Trial–Blood Pressure Lowering Arm and the relative influence of antihypertensive medication. Diabetes Care 2008;31:982-988.
  17. Wassertheil-Smoller S, Psaty B, Greenland P, et al: Association between cardiovascular outcomes and antihypertensive drug treatment in older women. JAMA 2004;292:2849-2859.
  18. Group PS, Devereaux PJ, Yang H, et al: Effects of extended-release metoprolol succinate in patients undergoing non-cardiac surgery (POISE trial): a randomised controlled trial. Lancet 2008;371:1839-1847.
  19. Li CI, Daling JR, Tang MT, et al: Use of Antihypertensive Medications and Breast Cancer Risk Among Women Aged 55 to 74 Years. JAMA Intern Med 2013.
  20. Sipahi I, Debanne SM, Rowland DY, et al: Angiotensin-receptor blockade and risk of cancer: meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials. Lancet Oncol 2010;11:627-636.
vegan plate

Can Vegan Athletes Become Elite Athletes?

Fact or Fiction: The vegan diet is unlikely to support optimal performance in athletes? 

Fiction! No evidence suggests a nutritionally balanced vegan diet impairs athletic performance (1,2). Google vegan athletes; you’ll find an impressive list of Olympians and elite athletes from many sports (football, basketball, tennis, rowing, etc.). That said, vegans (and vegetarians) could choose a diet that helps them be powerful athletes, but do they?

Some vegans eat too many salads, sweet potatoes & berries (or chips and candy), but not enough beans, nuts, and seeds. They eliminate animal protein but fail to replace it with enough plant protein. Weight-conscious vegan athletes who restrict calories often reduce their intake of protein and other nutrients. Hence, dieting vegan athletes need to be extra vigilant to consume a menu supportive of their needs.

Two keys to thriving on a balanced vegan (and vegetarian) sports diet are to consume:

  1. adequate vitamins and minerals (in particular iron, zinc, calcium, iodine, vitamins D and B-12) as well as omega-3 fats, and
  2. adequate protein from a variety of plant foods that offer a variety of amino acids (the building blocks of protein).

The amino acid leucine is of particular importance for athletes. Leucine is an essential amino acid your body cannot make, so you need to get it from food. Leucine triggers muscles to grow. It also can help prevent the deterioration of muscle with age. When you lift weights, you stimulate the muscles to take up leucine (and other amino acids); this triggers muscular growth. Hence, leucine is a very important component of an athlete’s diet!

The richest sources of leucine are animal foods, such as eggs, milk, fish, and meats. When a meat-eating athlete swaps beef for beans and other plant-proteins (hummus, quinoa, nuts, tofu, etc.), the swap commonly reduces leucine intake by about 50%. Hence, vegan athletes need to pay attention to getting enough high-quality plant-proteins that offer the optimal amount of leucine (about 2.5 grams per meal or snack). That means, vegans want to consistently enjoy soy, beans, legumes, seeds and/or nuts regularly at every meal and snack. Don’t have just oatmeal for breakfast; add soy milk and walnuts.  Don’t snack on just an apple; slather apple slices with peanut butter. Enjoy it with a swig of soy or pea milk instead of almond milk.

This table compares the leucine content of plant and animal foods. Note that when you swap animal-based protein for plant-based protein (such as trade eggs for peanut butter, or dairy milk for soy milk), you’ll likely need to eat more calories of plant-foods to get the same amount of leucine as in animal foods:

Animal food Leucine

(g)

Calories Plant food (swap) Leucine

(g)

Calories
Eggs, 2 large 1.1 155 Peanut butter, 2 Tb 0.5 190
Milk, 8 oz 1.0 120 Soy milk, lowfat 0.5 105
Tuna, 5-oz can 2.3 120 Black beans, 1/2 c 0.7 110
Chicken, 3 oz cooked 2.1 150 Tofu, extra firm, 6 oz 1.4 140
Cheese, 1 oz 0.6 115 Almonds, 3/4 oz. 0.3 120
Beef, 5 oz ckd 3.8 265 Lentils, 1 cup 1.3 225

 How much protein and leucine do you need?

A 150-pound vegan athlete who seriously wants to build muscle should plan to eat about 20 grams of protein with 2.5 grams leucine every 3-4 hours during the day. (If you weigh more or less than 150 pounds, adjust that target accordingly.)  Here’s a sample 1,800-calorie vegan diet (read that, weight reduction diet for most athletes, both male and female) that offers adequate protein at every meal —but not always 2.5 grams leucine. To be a dieting vegan athlete requires some menu planning. Some dieters choose to be “mostly vegan.” This flexibility allows for leucine-rich milk, eggs & fish.

Sample 1,800 calorie Vegan Diet Leucine Protein Calories
B.     2 slices whole wheat toast 0.5 g 10. g 200
         2 tablespoons peanut butter 0.5 8 200
         1 cup soy milk 0.5 7 100
Sn: 1 medium apple trace 0.5 100
L:     Salad: greens plus vegetables 0.3 4 50
         1/2 cup chick peas 0.8 6 100
         1/4 cup sunflower seeds 0.9 12 350
         1 tablespoon oil 100
Sn:   1/3 cup hummus 0.2 3 100
         10 baby carrots trace 0.5 50
D:    1/3 cake tofu 1.1 12 100
         1 cup cooked brown rice 0.4 6 250
         2 cups broccoli

 

0.5 7 100
Total for the day: 10 76 1,800
 

Target for the day:

 

2.5 g /meal

 

65-108

 

1,800

Note: I have not included fake meats such as the Impossible Burger or Beyond Burger in this menu. Those are ultra-processed foods that have a questionable place in any diet. I have also not included almond milk (a poor source of protein) nor supplements with leucine. You want to choose whole foods; they come with a matrix of nutrients that boost protein synthesis and can better invest in your health, recovery and overall well being.


Nancy Clark MS RD counsels both casual & competitive athletes at her Boston-area office (617-795-1875). The new 2019 edition of her best selling Nancy Clark’s Sports Nutrition Guidebook is available at www.NancyClarkRD.com, as is info about her popular online workshop.

For additional information about a vegan sports diet:

1) Wirnitzer, K. et al. 2018. Health Status of Female and Male Vegetarian and Vegan Endurance Runners Compared to Omnivores—Results from the NURMI Study (Step 2).  Nutrients 11(1):29  doi: 10.3390/nu11010029 (Free access)

2) Rogerson, D. 2017. Vegan diets: Practical advice for athletes and exercisers. J Int Soc Sports Nutr 14: 36  doi: 10.1186/s12970-017-0192-9 (Free access)

cashewcheesecakes

The Naturopathic Chef: Cashew Cream Cheesecake

These vegan and gluten-free cheesecakes taste authentic and provide well-balanced nutrition. Protein from the Cashew Cream, and flavored with sweet summer fruit, this recipe will keep everyone’s blood sugar stable. Enjoy straight from the freezer or allow to thaw at room temp, for an extra creamy treat.

Crust

  • 1 cup packed pitted dates*
  • 1 cup raw walnuts, pecans, or almonds

Filling

  • 1 1/2 cups raw cashews, quick-soaked*
  • 1 large lemon, juiced (scant 1/4 cup)
  • 1/3 cup coconut oil, melted
  • 1/2 cup + 2 Tbls coconut milk (see instructions for note)
  • 1/3 cup natural sugar of your choice-agave, maple syrup, honey, coconut palm, fruit juice or fruit
  • 1/4 salt
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

Handy Hints

*If your dates are too dehydrated, soak them in warm water for 10 minutes then drain. Pat dry to prevent
the crust from getting soggy.

*To quick-soak cashews, pour boiling hot water over the cashews, soak for 1 hour uncovered, then drain and use as instructed.

Flavor Ideas

  • 2 Tbls salted natural peanut butter
  • Berries of your choice, blended and strained or decorate with whole berries
  • Caramel sauce

Alternative Crust

  • 3/4 c oats
  • 3/4 c raw almonds
  • 1/2 tsp Vanilla extract
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 2 Tbls coconut palm sugar
  • 4 Tbls coconut oil 2 Tbls Earth Balance Vegan Butter, melted

Everything gets blitzed in your food processor. Press into your pan and bake 15 minutes at 350. This crust can be served raw as well.

Preparation

Date/Nut Crust: Add dates to a food processor and blend until small bits remain and it forms into a ball. Remove and set aside. Next, add nuts and process into a meal. Then add dates back in and blend until a loose dough forms – it should stick together when you squeeze a bit between your fingers. If it’s too dry, add a few more dates through the spout while processing. If too wet, add more almond or walnut meal. (Optional: add a pinch of salt to taste.) Lightly grease a standard, 12 slot muffin tin. Make these in a mini muffin pan, for a popable snack.

To make removing the cheesecakes easier, cut strips of parchment paper and lay them in the slots. This creates little tabs that make it easier to pop out once frozen. Next, scoop a heaping tablespoon of crust into prepared pan and press with fingers or a small glass. The back of a spoon also works to compact your crust. Set in freezer to firm up. If using an alternative crust, bake and cool well before topping with cheesecake filling.

Filling: Add all filling ingredients to a blender and mix until very smooth. For the coconut milk, scoop the “cream” off the top it provides a richer texture. But if yours is already all mixed together, just add it in as is. You don’t need a Vitamix for this recipe, just a quality blender. Taste and adjust flavorings as needed. If adding peanut butter, add to the blender and mix until thoroughly combined. If flavoring with berries or caramel, wait and swirl on top of plain cheesecakes.

Divide filling evenly among the muffin tins. Tap a few times to release any air bubbles, then cover with plastic wrap and freeze until hard – about 5 hours. Once set, remove by lifting the tabs or loosening them with a butter knife. Set them out for 10 minutes before serving to soften. They are good frozen as well. Store in freezer up to one week. This is a great do-ahead, for entertaining.

Phyto Facts

Cashews are a Drupe, just like the Coconut. Packed with minerals, particularly Magnesium and Manganese. These minerals are craving crushers! If you are having a craving for greasy foods, and/or sugar, it is generally due to a deficiency in these minerals. Grab 1/4 cup Cashews, and the craving will generally stop, unless it’s a “head” craving, (i.e., stress, fatigue, loneliness, and boredom).

Cashews are high in B vitamins, another stress manager. Cashews are a good source of Selenium, Copper, and Zinc, these minerals are antioxidant co-factors. This means they help the body produce very powerful antioxidants from the food we eat. Selenium is a co-factor for Glutathione; excellent for keeping our nervous system healthy. This helps prevent such diseases as Parkinsons and ALS, aka Lou Gehrig’s disease. Copper and Zinc are the co-factors to the production of Superoxide Dismutase, a powerful anti-aging antioxidant that also ensures proper growth and function of every bodily system. Cashews protect us from heart disease and with a small amount of Zeaxanthin, our eyes are less likely to develop macular degeneration. Who needs whipped cream, when you can have Cashew Cream!

 


Affectionately referred to as The Walking Encyclopedia of Human Wellness, Fitness Coach, Strength Competitor and Powerlifting pioneer, Tina “The Medicine Chef” Martini is an internationally recognized Naturopathic Chef and star of the cooking show, Tina’s Ageless Kitchen. Tina’s cooking and lifestyle show has reached millions of food and fitness lovers all over the globe. Over the last 30 years, Tina has assisted celebrities, gold-medal athletes and over-scheduled executives naturally achieve radiant health using The Pyramid of Power: balancing Healthy Nutrition and the healing power of food, with Active Fitness and Body Alignment techniques. Working with those who have late-stage cancer, advanced diabetes, cardiovascular and other illnesses, Tina’s clients are astounded at the ease and speed with which they are able to restore their radiant health. Tina believes that maintaining balance in our diet, physical activity, and in our work and spiritual life is the key to our good health, happiness and overall well being. Visit her website, themedicinechef.com

Carbs-Bread

Sports Nutrition: Carbs in the News

Too many of today’s athletes believe carbohydrates are “bad.” If that’s true, what does the latest sports nutrition research say? The following studies, presented at the American College of Sports Medicine’s 66th Annual Meeting (Orlando FL, May 2019) indicate sports scientists agree that carbohydrates (grains, fruits, veggies; sugars, starches) can be health- and performance-enhancing sport foods. As you may (or may not) know, ACSM is a professional organization for sport science researchers, exercise physiologists, dietitians, doctors, and health-care providers for athletes (www.ACSM.org).  Here are some answers to questions posed by ACSM researchers.

Does sugar cause diabetes?

No. The problem is less about sugar, and more about lack of exercise. Most fit people can enjoy a little sugar without fear of health issues. Muscles in fit bodies burn the sugar for fuel. In unfit bodies, the sugar accumulates in the blood. Fitness reduces the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.

In a 6-week training study to boost fitness, 35 middle-aged men with over-weight or obesity did either endurance cycling, weight lifting, or high-intensity interval training. Regardless of the kind of exercise, all types of training improved the bodies’ ability to utilize glucose with less insulin.

These subjects had blood glucose levels within the normal range at the start of the study; their glucose levels improved with exercise. While we need more research to fine-tune the types of exercise that best manage blood glucose, rest assured that living an active lifestyle is a promising way to reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes.

Can natural foods replace ultra-processed commercial sports drinks and foods?

Yes, standard (natural) foods can be fine alternatives to commercial sport fuels. Look no farther than bananas! In a study, trained cyclists who enjoyed bananas (for carbs) plus water (for fluid) during a 46 mile (75 km) bike ride performed just as well as those who consumed a sports drink with an equivalent amount of carbs plus water.

Natural foods offer far more than just fuel; they contain abundant bioactive compounds that have a positive impact on health and performance.  For example, after the ride with bananas, the cyclists had lower levels of oxylipins (bioactive compounds that increase with excessive inflammation) compared to the sports drink ride. Athletes who believe commercial sports foods and fuel are better than standard foods overlook the benefits from the plethora of bioactive compounds found in real foods.

Are potatoes—an easy-to-digest sports fuel—a viable alternative to commercial gels?

Yes. In a study, trained cyclists ate breakfast and soon thereafter competed in a 2-hour cycling challenge that was then followed by a time trial. For fuel, the subjects consumed either potato puree, gels, or water. The results suggest 1) both emptied similarly from the gut, and 2) potatoes are as good as gels for supporting endurance performance.

The cyclists completed the time trial in about 33 minutes when they ate the potato or the gel. This is six minutes faster than with plain water. Any fuel is better than no fuel!

Is fruit juice a healthful choice for athletes?

Yes, fruit juice can be an excellent source of carbohydrate to fuel muscles. Colorful juices (such as grape, cherry, blueberry, orange) also offer anti-inflammatory phytochemicals called polyphenols. In a study, subjects did muscle-damaging exercise and then consumed a post-exercise and a bedtime protein recovery drink that included either pomegranate juice, tart cherry juice, or just sugar. The protein-polyphenol beverages boosted muscle recovery better than the sugar beverage.

Does carbohydrate intake trigger intestinal distress for ultra-marathoners?

Not always. During a 37 mile (60-kilometer) ultra-marathon, 33 runners reported their food and fluid intake. They consumed between 150 to 360 calories (37-90 g carb) per hour, with an average of 240 calories (60 g) per hour. This meets the recommendation for carbohydrate intake during extended exercise (240-360 calories; 60-90 g carb/hour). The majority (73%) of runners reported some type of gut issues. Of those, 20% of the complaints were ranked serious. Interestingly, the GI complaints were not linked to carbohydrate intake or to gut damage. In fact, a higher carbohydrate intake potentially reduced the risk of gut injury. (More research is needed to confirm this.) Unfortunately, runners cannot avoid all factors (such as jostling, dehydration, and nerves) that can trigger intestinal problems.

We know that consuming carb during extended exercise enhances performance, but does it matter if endurance athletes consume a slow-digesting or a fast-digesting carbohydrate prior to extended exercise?

Likely not, but this can depend on how long you are exercising, and how often you want to consume carbohydrate. Well-trained runners consumed 200 calories of carbohydrate in UCAN (slow-digesting) vs. Cytocarb (fast-digesting) prior to a 3-hour moderate run during which they consumed just water. At the end of the run, they did an intense sprint to fatigue. The sprint times were similar, regardless of the type of pre-run fuel.

That said, the slow digesting carb provided a more stable and consistent fuel source that maintained blood glucose concentration during the long run. Hence, endurance athletes want to experiment with a variety of beverages to determine which ones settle best and help them feel good during extended exercise. A slow-digesting carb can help maintain stable blood glucose levels without consuming fuel during the run. Fast-digesting carbs need carbohydrate supplementation throughout the exercise to maintain normal blood glucose.

Concluding comments: These studies indicate carbohydrate can help athletes perform well. To be sure your muscles are fully fueled, include some starchy food (wholesome cereal, grain, bread, etc.) as the foundation of each meal. Consuming carbs from just fruit or veggies will likely leave you with inadequately replenished muscle glycogen. Think twice before choosing a chicken Caesar salad for your recovery meal.


Nancy Clark, MS, RD counsels both casual and competitive athletes at her office in Newton, MA (617-795-1875). Her newly updated Sports Nutrition Guidebook is now available in a new sixth edition. For more information, visit NancyClarkRD.com. For her popular online workshop, visit NutritionSportsExerciseCEUs.com.