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Eating for Yoga: Foods to Support Joints, Speed Recovery
by Jennifer Grossman

Yoga’s power to transform the body – and one’s life – is what draws many to the practice. Any process of rebuilding requires raw materials, and in the case of the body, that means the proper foods.

Just as you wouldn’t build an ashram out of random trash, attention to nutrient function – not just taste or whim – should inform your approach to rebuilding the temple of your body. That’s because the kinds of food you choose can greatly affect energy levels and recovery time, as well as the health of the muscles, joints and bones you are reconditioning.

Based on research and many years of my own yoga practice, here is a list of top food sources of those compounds that can help speed healing, ease soreness, promote joint health and otherwise support your body as it reaps the benefits of yoga.

Support Healthy Joints:

Broccoli: Cruciferous veggies contain sulphoraphane, a compound which triggers your body's own antioxidant defenses. New research suggests this process may block the COX-2 enzymes that trigger inflammation. Broccoli sprouts are one of the most potent sources of these indirect antioxidants, which you’ll also find in cabbage, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts.

Cherries: A top source of anthocyanins that may reduce inflammation and possibly lower blood levels of uric acid (which can accumulate in joints, causing the pain associated with gout).

Pineapple: The only natural source of bromelain – a proteolytic enzyme that acts as a “clean-up crew,” digesting dead protein cells in case of injury or run-of-the-mill micro-tears that are part of the muscle-building process. Research suggests the bromelain in pineapple can also help reduce inflammation and relieve muscle soreness. Fresh or frozen pineapple has as much, if not more, bromelain activity than supplements. Pineapples also provide an excellent source of vitamin C (helps promote collagen formation and improve iron absorption) and manganese (supports metabolism and bone density).

Spring Back From Sprains:

Red Bell Pepper: Just one contains over 470% of your daily vitamin C needs (yellow contains 450% and green 190%). Vitamin C can help speed recovery from minor sprains by spurring collagen synthesis. According to a Boston University study, people getting under 150 mg daily of vitamin C had faster cartilage breakdown. Other top sources of C: citrus fruit, pineapple, kiwi, cantaloupe, papaya, strawberries, tomato, kale, collard greens and sweet potato.

Black Cod: Move over salmon! Black cod has even higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids, which may help reduce inflammation. Flounder, halibut and sardines also contain this healthy fat, as do flaxseed oil, walnuts, tofu and leafy green vegetables.
Build a Better Backbone:

Kale: There’s more to strengthening your spine than “cobra” and “camel.” Kale is one of the healthier sources of calcium, which helps hold the line against bone loss. A serving of kale (1 cup cooked) also provides nearly 1,000% of adequate intake for vitamin K – which enhances mineral binding capacity of bone proteins.

Button Mushrooms: An unexpected source of vitamin D, adequate levels of which help support joint health. The mechanism may be greater absorption of calcium. Sunshine enables your body to produce vitamin D, while other top sources include oysters, sardines and fortified non-fat dairy.

Minimizing Muscle Pain:

Bananas: You know the complex carbohydrates in bananas are a healthy source of lasting energy, but what if that energy inspires you to overdo it? Potassium can also help you avoid muscle cramps, as it’s one of the electrolytes that allows muscles to contract and relax (calcium, magnesium and phosphorus are the others). Potatoes, broccoli and kiwi are other healthy potassium sources.

White Beans: In addition to supplying nearly half of your potassium needs for the day, white beans are a healthy vegetable source of protein, important in rebuilding muscle as well as supporting the collagen synthesis involved in healing.

Oats: Contain zinc (supports cell repair), manganese (for collagen formation), copper (required for cross-linking collagen) and protein (to relieve soreness).

Tea: Green and black tea contain flavonoids - antioxidant compounds that may block the production of prostaglandins, which cause inflammation and pain.

There’s only one thing that rivals the importance of choosing the right foods for providing a proper foundation for your practice – and that’s avoiding the wrong foods. Yes, I know, we’ve all heard the cliché before: “All foods can fit into a healthful eating style.” I beg to disagree.

It matters what you pour down your gullet. If it didn’t, there wouldn’t be any need for warning labels on bottles of Drano©. If you accept the premise that ingesting synthetically derived chemicals meant to unclog drains can kill you immediately, why balk at the notion that ingesting synthetically derived chemicals that clog your arteries can kill you eventually?

While I’m all for the yogic values of non-judgment and moderation, here’s a little dietary tough love that will have your body loving you back. Pass up the pork rinds. Limit the red meat. Diets high in animal fats are linked to an increased risk of colorectal cancer and as much as a 33% greater risk of breast cancer. Plus, all that artery clogging saturated fat won’t help your circulation when demanding postures require optimum blood flow.

The same goes for high sodium dinners and trans fat filled treats. By increasing blood pressure and decreasing HDL (good cholesterol) they both undermine two of the gifts of regular exercise like yoga (lower blood pressure and higher HDL).

Finally, remember that a healthy human body is over 70% water, so limit caffeinated drinks that can increase dehydration, while always keeping that water bottle near by.

So, rebuild your body and reach your full potential by eating the right balance of healthy yoga-foods. With proper diet and diligent practice, your muscles, joints, bones – and taste buds – will soon be saying “namaste.”

Jennifer Grossman is the Vice President – Director at the Dole Nutrition Institute. A strong advocate of incorporating more fruits and vegetables into the American diet, Jennifer has been a frequent television commentator and her opinion editorials have appeared in thousands of publications around the country including the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and the Los Angeles Times.