Low-calorie, fiber-rich, and nutrient-dense, fruits and vegetables top every runner's ideal grocery list. But what should you buy at this time of year, when supermarkets are stocked with out-of-season green beans, tomatoes, and strawberries that are tough, mealy, or flavorless? Head to the freezer cases. Frozen produce is just as healthy, sometimes more nutritious, and often better tasting, says Rebecca Scritchfield, RD, a sports dietitian and ultramarathoner.
A few key tips to keep in mind: Choose frozen produce without sweeteners or sauces, which add fat, sugar, and sodium. Avoid bags with large icy chunks, which indicate they've thawed and been refrozen--this degrades the flavor and texture, says Scritchfield. And with a wide variety of options, think beyond tossing frozen strawberries in your postrun smoothie. Here are innovative ways to use frozen fruits and vegetables to boost flavor and nutrients in every winter meal.
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Frozen artichoke hearts have a mildly sweet flavor and provide six grams of fiber per half cup. A recent study in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition followed nearly 90,000 subjects for six and a half years and found those who ate the most fiber gained less weight than those who had a low-fiber diet. "Fiber can slow digestion," says sports dietitian and runner Cara Marrs, RD, "which keeps you full."
Artichoke and Pesto Pasta
In a skillet, sauté 3 ounces shrimp and 1 cup frozen artichoke hearts for 3 minutes. Toss with cooked whole-grain pasta, 1/4 cup store-bought pesto, and 1/2 cup sliced sun-dried tomatoes.
Meals prepared with frozen foods are fast, tasty, and healthier than you think
A 2010 Nutrition Journal study discovered blackberries have about twice as much antioxidant power--including potent anthocyanins--as blueberries, raspberries, and strawberries. "Anthocyanins may help reduce the damage to muscle cells brought on by training that can lead to muscle soreness," says Scritchfield. Each cup of frozen blackberries contains 8 grams of fiber and a wealth of manganese, a mineral necessary for strong bones and healthy muscle connective tissue.
In a blender, whirl together 1/2 cup thawed blackberries, 2 tablespoons olive oil, 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar, 1 teaspoon honey, and a handful of fresh mint. Drizzle over salad greens.
This cruciferous vegetable is chock-full of must-have nutrients for runners, including folate, vitamin C, fiber, and potassium. "Potassium works to maintain fluid balance in the body and help maintain proper contraction and relaxation of the muscles," Marrs says. Because we lose potassium through sweating, we need to continually replace it by eating potassium-rich foods.
Speed recovery and help fight off colds with winter veggies
Maple-glazed Brussels sprouts
Defrost and pat dry a bag of frozen Brussels sprouts. In a bowl, whisk together 2 tablespoons maple syrup, 1 tablespoon olive oil, 2 teaspoons grainy mustard, and salt. Slice sprouts in half, toss with maple mixture, and roast at 400°F for 20 minutes.
Lima beans, which are available fresh only a few weeks in summer, are rich in fiber and potassium, and they provide 12 grams of protein per cup. They also add a dose of iron to your diet. "That's important for runners," says Marrs, "because it helps transport oxygen to muscle cells to help generate energy."
Greek lima bean salad
Microwave 2 cups of frozen lima beans until cooked. Mix with 2 tablespoons olive oil, 1/3 cup sliced olives, one diced red pepper, 1 ounce feta cheese, 1 tablespoon lemon zest, chopped parsley, salt, and pepper. Serve as a side dish or light lunch.
Mango slices add tropical flare to your diet, and choosing frozen saves you the messy work of peeling and pitting. Mangoes are rich in vitamin C and vitamin B6, which your body needs to make hemoglobin. This compound carries oxygen through the body to keep energy levels up. Researchers at Texas A&M University recently found that antioxidants in mango have anticancer properties that inhibit tumor cell growth.
Ginger mango stir-fry
In a skillet, cook 2 cups cubed chicken. Mix in one sliced red bell pepper, 1 cup frozen mango slices, 2 tablespoons soy sauce, 1 tablespoon chopped ginger, 1/2 teaspoon red chili flakes, and juice of one lime. Cook 3 minutes. Serve over brown rice.
Just 10 slices of thawed frozen peaches provide more than double the daily quota for vitamin C, a powerful antioxidant. "Vitamin C is necessary for keeping cartilage healthy, which is key for runners," says Scritchfield. Studies suggest vitamin C also reduces oxidative stress associated with exercise while also lowering diabetes and asthma risk.
Cinnamon peach topping
In a saucepan, combine 1 cup frozen peaches, 1/2 cup orange juice, 1 teaspoon lemon zest, and 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon. Simmer 5 minutes. Add 2 teaspoons cornstarch and 2 tablespoons maple syrup. Simmer until slightly thickened. Serve over pancakes or pork loin.
One cup of frozen spinach is denser than a cup of fresh, which means the former contains more vitamin A, vitamin K, and folate. "Folate helps red blood cells carry oxygen to working muscles," says Scritchfield, "so not getting enough folate will make your runs seem more taxing." She adds that vitamin K helps bones retain calcium, keeping them strong.
Potato spinach soup
In a pot, sauté one chopped onion for 4 minutes. Add 4 cups broth, one box frozen spinach, one chopped potato, 1 teaspoon cumin, and salt and pepper. Simmer until potato is tender. Purée in a blender. Add juice from one lemon and 1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt.
Winter squash brims with beta-carotene. "The body converts beta-carotene to vitamin A," says Marrs, "which helps maintain immune cells that respond to cold and flu viruses." Winter squash also contains loads of carbohydrates, making it a great energy source, says Marrs.
Butternut squash hummus
Add one 10-ounce box of thawed squash purée to a food processor. Blend with 1/3 cup tahini, 1 tablespoon orange zest, 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, 1 teaspoon cumin powder, 1/2 teaspoon paprika, two garlic cloves, and salt and pepper. Serve with vegetables or pita.