The idea that ‘opposites attract’ always came with too much talk about molecules for my interests, or too packaged within relationship advice. Either way it was a concept I avoided until I could apply it to the culinary world. The kitchen is my central processing unit of sorts, where things in life start to make sense to me. Hence, when I began experimenting with making my own salad dressings, marinades, and sauces, the notion of ‘opposites’ was a lesson in science and relationships all in one.
Like any healthy relationship it takes the right elements in the right environment, a bit of coaxing, and some individuality to make everything come together. The system in my book, The Athlete’s Plate: Real Food for High Performance, stresses having lots of components in your pantry to choose from. I introduced the approach in my first column on whole grains, but it’s something worth repeating because it’s one of the core elements in eating well as an athlete.
For athletes, fats help prevent inflammation and support the immune and cardiovascular systems.
Many athletes shy away from oil because they are afraid of fat, but it is a very important element for overall health and with quality choices should be a regular part of one’s diet. When most people think of oil and vinegar the standard olive and balsamic usually come to mind. There are a myriad of oils and vinegars, however, that will add creativity to your concoctions, and diversity of flavor to boot.
In the hierarchy of the aerobic diet (50 to 55 percent carbs, 20 to 25 percent fat, and 10 to 15 percent protein), fats come second. An often overlooked part of this group are the fats known as Omega 3’s and 6’s. In fact, they are know as essential fatty acids because the body cannot produce them and so they need to come from our food. For athletes, these fats help prevent inflammation, as well as support the immune and cardiovascular systems. Fats also help with the absorption of certain fat-soluble nutrients. This means that without their presence the body would not be able to absorb vitamins like as A (for eyes, bone growth, and lungs) D (increases absorption of calcium), K (helps with blood clotting, and E (an antioxidant that protects red blood cells). Some fats (like coconut oil) are made up of medium-chain triglycerides. These not only help burn fat by raising the metabolism, but also resemble carbohydrates and can be an immediate source of energy.
For this month’s pantry, I will list the oils that I keep in my pantry, along with some of their benefits. When purchasing oils it is important to buy only those that have been expeller or cold pressed, as well as raw and extra virgin. Anything else has most likely been heat treated, and is subject to rancidity and loss of nutrients.
Now over to vinegar, which has been used as a healing tonic since before Hippocrates, the father of medicine promoted its benefits for health and energy. Traditionally, vinegar is made using a fermentation process that not only enhances the nutrients of the product the vinegar is made from (i.e. apples, grapes, brown rice), but also creates new enzymes and amino acids that support the body. Hence, it is really important to buy raw, unpasteurized vinegars that retain all of their properties. The saying “an apple a day keeps the doctor away” came from using apple cider vinegar regularly to help detoxify the blood and organs. It also contains an abundance of minerals and nutrients such as potassium, iron, sodium, calcium, magnesium, phosphorous, silicon, fluorine, chlorine, and many other trace elements that support an athletes body.
Vinegar also helps with oxidative stress by helping to destroy its by-product, free radicals. I have found that apple cider vinegar also helps with fatigue, and so I include it in my personal sports drink formula. Vinegars can be made with anything that has sugar in it, but specialty vinegars require a bit more thought than the few simple ones in this list. However, as your creativity and culinary skills expand, so should your pantry of vinegars.
Be sure to check out my recipe for Sesame Dressing.
Oilve: Rich in oleic acid
Flax Seed: Good source of Omega 3, alpha-linolenic acid, fiber, potassium, and magnesium
Hemp Seed: Has all the essential amino acids and essential fatty acids as well as rare protein, globule edestins.
Almond Oil: Source of Vitamin E
Pumpkin Oil: Magnesium and Potassium
Walnut Oil: High in Omega 3’s
Coconut Oil: Source of MCT’s
Avocado Oil: Vitamins A, B1, B2, D and E, essential fatty acids
Toasted Sesame Oil: Lowers blood pressure and sodium in the blood
Sesame Oil: Source of Vitamins A, B, and E. High in linoleic acid (an EFA)
Fermented Fish Oil: Antioxidant, EPA, and DHA
Fruit Vinegars: Mango, Peach, Raspberry, Papaya