Recipe: Sunflower Granola Nuggets

Regardless of your activity level this off-season, it’s likely that you’ve experienced a runny nose, stuffy head, sore throat or achy bones. Despite your fitness giving you extra protection from illness, there are no guarantees when it comes to preventing the common cold. Many of us take daily supplements to protect ourselves from exercise-induced and daily stressors. The immune system is extremely tough. While you may not fully grasp the complexity of the immune system, key components such as bone marrow, the lymph system, the spleen, thymus, white blood cells and antibodies all play a significant role in your individual immune response. Thus, if you do not take good care of your body, your body will not take good care of you.

Although it’s safe to say that your dietary choices do not act alone when preventing disease and illness, what you choose to eat (or not to eat) is part of the equation in keeping your body in optimal health. Vitamin C tops the immune-boosting list thanks to its ability to increase the production of infection-fighting white blood cells and antibodies. Vitamin E, however, is starting to receive the attention it deserves due to its role in producing natural killer B-cells which then produce antibodies to destroy bacteria. Important for aging, vitamin E is well-known for its role in skin protection but it also acts as an anticoagulant to inhibit blood platelets from clotting abnormally. It’s also been found to play a role in cardiovascular health.

As you think about your goals for 2013, never forget the many nutrients found in real food

Αlpha-tocopherol (a form of vitamin E) is known for its high bioavailability and has been shown to help protect membranes from lipid radicals produced in the lipid peroxidation chain reaction. In other words, as free radicals (unpaired electrons) damage cells by oxidizing DNA or proteins, a diet rich in lipid soluble antioxidants may protect cell membranes. In layman’s terms – eat your fruits and veggies to reduce oxidative stress. Vitamin E is a fat soluble vitamin so to not miss out on the absorption of specific vitamins, be sure to combine your veggies with a little oil.

Research is inconclusive as to whether athletes require antioxidant supplementation to reduce exercise-induced stress. Because the action of one antioxidant (like vitamin E) may depend on the proper workings of an organ or members of another vitamin or mineral, it is the synergy of nutrients within the body that act together to protect you from training stress. There is no one time that an athlete should prioritize eating antioxidants for there are countless beneficial nutrients found in real food, and which impact your overall health and metabolism.

To maximize your immune system health, give some thought to adding the following foods to your diet. As you think about your goals for 2013, never forget the many nutrients found in real food that may help fuel your active lifestyle and reduce your risk from illness, infection or disease.

Most common vitamin E foods: 

Vegetable oils – wheat germ, sunflower, safflower, corn, soybean, olive
Nuts – almonds, peanuts, hazelnuts/filberts
Seeds – sunflower
Vegetables – swiss chard, turnip greens, mustard greens, collard greens, spinach, broccoli, bell peppers, asparagus
Fortified foods – breakfast cereals, fruit juices, margarine, spreads

Selected sources of vitamin E: 

Wheat germ oil: 1 tbsp = 20.3mg
Sunflower seeds: 1 tbsp (dry roasted) = 7.4mg
Almonds: 1 ounce (dry roasted) = 6.8mg
Sunflower oil: 1 tbsp = 5.6mg
Peanut butter: 2 tbsp = 2.9mg
Peanuts: 1 ounce (dry roasted) = 2.2 mg

Recommend Dietary Allowance (RDA) for vitamin E:

15mg (or 22.5 IU) – males and females 14-plus years of age.

Recipe: Sunflower Granola Nuggets

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Marni Sumbal, MS, RD, CISSN is a Registered Dietitian with a Masters in Exercise Physiology. She is the owner of Trimarni Coaching and Nutrition  and is a USAT Level-1 coach. Marni is a two-time Ironman World Championship finisher, and enjoys spending time in her kitchen coming up with vegetarian creations. If you can’t find her writing this monthly column, cooking or training, she is likely outside running with her furry best friend, Campy.