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Tuna or salmon? Spinach or kale? We pit food rivals against one another and let them duke it out to see which edible packs a more powerful nutritional punch. The prize? Champions win premium real estate in your shopping cart. Let’s get ready to rumble!
Frozen Blueberries vs. Fresh Blueberries
The shipping necessary to stock fresh, cultivated berries ups the price and lowers the shelf life. On the flip side, frozen blueberries are typically the wild variety, which have higher levels of disease-fighting antioxidants than their plumper, farm-grown counterparts. “Frozen fruit is picked at peak ripeness and frozen very soon afterwards. This process locks in nutrients, antioxidants and flavor,” says Rebecca Scritchfield, RD, a marathoner and dietitian based in Washington, D.C.
The Champ: Frozen Blueberries
Sneak more in: Toss berries straight from the freezer into smoothies, oatmeal and baked-good batters.
Kale vs. Spinach
Kale’s nutritional power would have Popeye dropping anchor. This leafy green contains 60 percent more beta-carotene, an antioxidant that can bolster your immune system, as well as eye and bone health. Other perks include 25 percent more vitamin C and more than double the amount of vitamin K, which has been proven to help prevent diabetes. Kale also boasts three times more lutein and zeaxanthin, two antioxidants that work together to protect eye health.
The Champ: Kale
Sneak more in: Gently sauté chopped kale leaves in a skillet with garlic, sesame oil and a touch of salt.
Canned Tuna vs. Canned Salmon
Sorry, Charlie. When it comes to canned fish, salmon reigns supreme. Ounce for ounce, salmon has higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids, which may help reduce the inflammation your body creates during exercise. Salmon also gets brownie points for containing more vitamin D, which Scritchfield says is, “Important for bone health and may help to prevent cancer.” If you consume salmon’s soft bones, you’ll also get a higher dose of calcium.
The Champ: Canned Salmon
Sneak more in: Use protein-rich canned salmon in lieu of beef when making burgers and meatloaf.
Traditional Yogurt vs. Greek Yogurt
Greek yogurt has gained a loyal following due to its creamy texture and tangy taste, but the big bonus comes in the form of protein. It contains twice as much as traditional yogurt. Tara Gidus, RD, marathoner and author of Pregnancy Cooking & Nutrition For Dummies, says, “The extra protein can help with muscle recovery during training and makes it more satisfying.” Each tasty spoonful also serves up probiotics, which improve digestive and immune health.
The Champ: Greek Yogurt
Sneak more in: Use it as a replacement for sour cream or mayo in cold salads. When baking, swap half the oil or butter for yogurt.
Peanut Butter vs. Almond Butter
Although almost identical in calories, almond butter has less saturated fat but twice the amount of heart-healthy monounsaturated fat as peanut butter. “Monounsaturated fat reduces inflammation and also helps lower LDL (bad) cholesterol and raise HDL (good) cholesterol,” notes Gidus. Almond butter also bests its peanut counterpart for containing bone-building calcium, magnesium and phosphorus, as well as three times the antioxidant vitamin E.
The Champ: Almond Butter
Sneak more in: For a healthy snack, slice apples and dip into almond butter or mix a spoonful into your post-run shake to make a banana-nut smoothie.
Goat’s Milk vs. Cow’s Milk
When Spanish researchers compared cow’s and goat’s milk, they found that the two had equal amounts of essential amino acids needed for muscle-building, but the latter contained more omega-3 fatty acids as well as the bone-building trio calcium, phosphorus and magnesium. For those who have trouble digesting cow’s milk, goat’s milk may be used as an alternative since its protein contains less lactose.
The Champ: Goat’s Milk
Sneak more in: Use goat’s milk as you would the bovine version in cereal, smoothies and coffee.
Whole Wheat Bread vs. Rye Bread
While many equate whole wheat with healthy, rye bread has nearly twice the fiber per slice. “Women want to keep fiber intake high to maintain a healthy digestive tract, control weight and assist with proper blood sugar,” says Gidus. Fiber also may help remove toxins from the body and lower cancer risk. To avoid investing in a dark-colored imposter, look for true rye bread, which will list “whole rye flour” or “rye meal” as the first ingredient.
The Champ: Rye Bread
Sneak more in: Use rye bread to make sandwiches and morning toast.
Chicken Breast vs. Turkey Breast
Gram for gram, turkey has more muscle-friendly protein, energy-boosting iron and the ultra-important antioxidant selenium. This poultry powerhouse also contains additional zinc. “It’s estimated that 50 percent of female distance runners don’t get the recommended levels of zinc, which can make a person more prone to illness and therefore impede training and performance,” says Scritchfield. Just make sure you enjoy your gobbler sans the fat-laden skin.
The Champ: Turkey Breast
Sneak more in: Power up salads with diced turkey breast or use the ground variety in stuffed peppers, tacos and meatballs.
Green Bell Pepper vs. Red Bell Pepper
This one is no contest. As star among its brethren, red bell peppers, which are simply green peppers that have ripened, have significantly more immune-system-boosting beta-carotene and vitamin C. Stritchfield says, “Vitamin C helps the body protect itself from cell-damaging free radicals.” Harvard scientists have also found that higher intakes of vitamin C reduce the risk of upper respiratory tract infections in women.
The Champ: Red Bell Pepper
Sneak more in: Add sliced red bell peppers to tacos, salads, sandwiches and slaws.
Popcorn Kernels vs. Microwave Popcorn
Popcorn has a bad rap due to the butter-laden movie theater version, but when properly prepared, it makes for a healthy, low-calorie snack. Popped kernels have an antioxidant capacity on par with most fruits and vegetables, and they’re packed with fiber. Stick to loose kernels found in jars or bulk bins. The bagged version is not only pricier, but the industrial chemicals used to line some microwavable pouches may contain carcinogens, according to Canadian researchers.
The Champ: Popcorn Kernels
Sneak more in: Jazz up kernels with creative toppings such as smoked salt, cayenne pepper, curry powder, shaved Parmesan cheese or grated dark chocolate.
Brown Rice vs. Quinoa
Quinoa may be the best whole grain a runner can put on her dinner plate. Compared to brown rice, a cup of cooked quinoa contains more protein, fiber, iron, potassium, zinc and folate. Scritchfield says, “Folate is required for the body to make red blood cells, which carry oxygen to your muscles.” Quinoa also contains a full complement of essential amino acids, making it a valuable protein source during training.
The Champ: Quinoa
Sneak more in: To cook quinoa, place 1 cup of the grain in a saucepan along with 1-cup water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer covered until all the water has absorbed (10 to 15 minutes). Use as a side dish or incorporate into pilafs and stir-frys.