Frozen Assets: Winter's Healthiest Foods

VIDEO: UH Case Medical Centers Brenda Walsh says theres no substitute for produce.PlayABCNEWS.com
WATCH Are We Eating Enough Fruit and Veg?

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, R.D., 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.

Artichoke Hearts

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, R.D., "which keeps you full."

Artichoke and Pesto Pasta

In a skillet, saute three ounces shrimp and one cup frozen artichoke hearts for three minutes. Toss with cooked whole- grain pasta, 1/4 cup store-bought pesto, and 1/2 cup sliced sun-dried tomatoes.

***

More from Runner's World:

Best Foods For Top Performance

Weight Loss Myths Exposed

Fat Traps That Are Ruining Your Diet

8 New Rules For Healthy Eating

Blackberries

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 eight grams of fiber and a wealth of manganese, a mineral necessary for strong bones and healthy muscle connective tissue.

Blackberry Dressing

In a blender, whirl together 1/2 cup thawed blackberries, two tablespoons olive oil, one tablespoon balsamic vinegar, one teaspoon honey, and a handful of fresh mint. Drizzle over salad greens.

Brussels Sprouts

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.

Maple-Glazed Brussels Sprouts

Defrost and pat dry a bag of frozen Brussels sprouts. In a bowl, whisk together two tablespoons maple syrup, one tablespoon olive oil, two teaspoons grainy mustard, and salt. Slice sprouts in half, toss with maple mixture, and roast at 400°F for 20 minutes.

***

More from Runner's World:

Best Foods For Top Performance

Weight Loss Myths Exposed

Fat Traps That Are Ruining Your Diet

8 New Rules For Healthy Eating

Lima Beans

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 two cups of frozen lima beans until cooked. Mix with two tablespoons olive oil, 1/3 cup sliced olives, one diced red pepper, one ounce feta cheese, one tablespoon lemon zest, chopped parsley, salt, and pepper. Serve as a side dish or light lunch.

Mango Slices

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 two cups cubed chicken. Mix in one sliced red bell pepper, one cup frozen mango slices, two tablespoons soy sauce, one tablespoon chopped ginger, 1/2 teaspoon red chili flakes, and juice of one lime. Cook three minutes. Serve over brown rice.

Peach Slices

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 one cup frozen peaches, 1/2 cup orange juice, one teaspoon lemon zest, and 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon. Simmer five minutes. Add two teaspoons cornstarch and two tablespoons maple syrup. Simmer until slightly thickened. Serve over pancakes or pork loin.

***

More from Runner's World:

Best Foods For Top Performance

Weight Loss Myths Exposed

Fat Traps That Are Ruining Your Diet

8 New Rules For Healthy Eating

Spinach

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, saute one chopped onion for four minutes. Add four cups broth, one box frozen spinach, one chopped potato, one teaspoon cumin, and salt and pepper. Simmer till potato is tender. Puree in a blender. Add juice from one lemon and 1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt.

Winter Squash

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 puree to a food processor. Blend with 1/3 cup tahini, one tablespoon orange zest, two tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, one teaspoon cumin powder, 1/2 teaspoon paprika, two garlic cloves, and salt and pepper. Serve with vegetables or pita.

Eat Better

Boiling frozen vegetables causes vital nutrients to leach out into the cooking water. Steam, roast, saute, or microwave them instead.

***

More from Runner's World:

Best Foods For Top Performance

Weight Loss Myths Exposed

Fat Traps That Are Ruining Your Diet

8 New Rules For Healthy Eating

A Dry Approach

Extracting water from fruit concentrates nutrients and flavor for year-round eats

Dried blueberries

Rich in flavonoids, a class of antioxidants that may boost brain functioning. Add to pancakes, cereal, or ice cream for a treat.

Dried tart cherries

Contain anythocyanins, antioxidants that may limit inflammation. Toss into salads or oatmeal, or mix into rice pilafs.

Dried currants

Good source of potassium to fend off muscle cramps and keep blood pressure in check. Mix into chicken and tuna salads, oatmeal, or Greek yogurt.

Dried dates

High fiber quells hunger and reduces overeating. Chop and add to baked goods or energy bars.

Dried figs

Provide more calcium than many other fruits. Add to salads, stews, baked beans, and roasted vegetable medleys.

***

More from Runner's World:

Best Foods For Top Performance

Weight Loss Myths Exposed

Fat Traps That Are Ruining Your Diet

8 New Rules For Healthy Eating