Holidays. Holy Days. Work-free days.
We. All. Love. Them.
But do our bellies? :)
I find that often during holiday celebrations - whether it be a Memorial Day cookout, a birthday party, or the new year - healthy food and celebration don't always go hand-in-hand. For some odd reason.
While I maintain that we all owe it to our bodies to eat as healthfully and cleanly as possible - most of the time - I also choose to not be the person who refuses a piece of birthday cake or a slice of pizza (or three) or a (grossly) over-sweetened celebratory drink just because it's unhealthy. After all, we always have tomorrow to make up for it, right? ;)
So, what do we do when tomorrow strikes?
After a day of (or weekend of) celebrations, I generally turn to three main foods to help my body "recover" from whatever I ate, or overate, the day before:
1. Greens (read: [Dark] Green, Usually Leafy, Vegetables)
I'll start by saying that, as a general rule of thumb, I try to eat at least one half cup of dark-green leafy vegetables on a daily basis. As you might have guessed by now, I am not perfect, nor do I strive to be; so, this is merely something I aim to do, while knowing full well that some days I simply will not eat dark-green leafy vegetables whether by choice or by circumstance.
But back to our holiday weekend: why dark-green leafies? Well, some may argue over the significance of what we call the micronutrients (aka vitamins and minerals), but I will argue that they are, literally, vitally significant. Here are two websites hosted by medical doctors with further readings on the myriad roles that the various micronutrients play in our bodies: World's Healthiest Foods and Joel Fuhrman.
If you've just returned from your enlightenment journey on these two sights (hehe), then you have probably just learned that dark-green leafy vegetables tend to reign supreme in what we call "nutrient density". Nutrient density means simply that per quantity of food, you are receiving the greatest numerical value in various (micro)nutrients.
After a weekend of eating unhealthy foods (in nutrition we call these "empty calories" because the foods provide calories, but very small, if any, amounts of micronutrients) - pizza, BBQ wings, chips, ice cream, cake, hot dogs, soda, you get the picture - our bodies are asking for some good nutrition. In my opinion, what easier way to provide a mega-dose of nutrients than to eat a heaping pile of kale (or several)!?
To kick-start your next leafy green adventure, follow this link to my go-to leafy green recipe.
2. Citrus Fruits
Who doesn't love a giant burst of citrus?? The main reason I reach for a citrus pick-me-up after a weekend of poor food choices is because of the Vitamin C and the known anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidative properties of citrus fruits. While citrus fruits are a super source of Vitamin C, know that you also get lots of Vitamin C from various veggies (broccoli, tomatoes, kale, to name a few). So in addition to the C, I reach for the citrus for the yet-to-be-fully-illuminated anti-oxidative synergistic effect of these fruits.
The reason for wanting anti-oxidative capacity in my foods is because junk foods are pro-oxidative. Junk food - in a variety of ways - causes the process of oxidation to take place in your body cells. Oxidation lays the foundation for so many common diseases, including but not limited to: cancers; cardiovascular diseases; autoimmunity disorders; neurodegenerative diseases; and diabetes. I don't love to speak in absolutes, but as far as we know, the only way to stop oxidation is to...stop it. Hence, anti-oxidant-rich foods like citrus fruits.
As an important side note: fruits and veggies, generally speaking, are your best sources of anti-oxidant minerals and molecules.
My favorites are grapefruit, lemon, and lime. In the morning I'll simply squeeze a whole lemon or lime into a 16-ounce glass of water and drink the whole thing! I love to eat grapefruits and oranges by the slice. My mom loves mangos, pineapples, and kiwis! What's your favorite??
3. Water and Electrolytes
Continuing on this micronutrient kick, after a long weekend out, most of us are likely a little low in water and electrolytes.
Electrolytes are a subcategory of micronutrients; they are: calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, potassium, sodium, and chloride. Together (and with water!), these six minerals act to produce an electrical current throughout your body. This current helps to power our beating heart, our working and recovering muscles, and our nervous system (hello, brain!). While not every holiday weekend will result in electrolyte deficiency, you may want to pay attention to how you feel in the following circumstances: high temperatures; high humidity; high wind; intense physical exertion; and more than moderate alcohol consumption.
Signs and symptoms of moderate to severe electrolyte imbalance include: dizziness; numbness; twitching; confusion; blood pressure changes; irregular heartbeat; weakness or fatigue; and muscle spasms.
I have long been a strong supporter of the brand Nuun to supply electrolytes to my working muscles during long-distance running. I still love their products - especially because they feel so clean in my body, they taste great, and they have zero to minimal amounts of sugar - but recently have also been into the simplicity of putting sea salt into my water to get electrolytes. I use just a pinch or two of sea salt in about 16 ounces of water (I know the ratio is right for what my body needs if I can just taste the salt).
A note on sea salt: I do mean to use Sea Salt (or Celtic Salt or Himalayan Salt) as opposed to table salt because sea salt is much less processed than table salt. Naturally-occurring salts will contain all of the electrolytes plus other minerals! Table salt has been processed down to contain a 50:50 ratio of only sodium and chloride. Thus, when you use natural salts as opposed to table salt, you consume much less total sodium, and a much greater variety of minerals that you body needs anyways!
Bonus Feature on Nuun: Another reason for why I love this company is because they offer a few flavors of electrolyte replacement that also contain B vitamins. If your holiday weekend involved more than moderate alcohol consumption and/or intense physical exertion, you may strongly consider re-hydrating yourself with these electrolyes + B vitamins. While I do not promote heavy alcohol consumption, nor does Nuun, I am simply offering the information that your body uses B vitamins to produce energy and to metabolize alcohol. So, if you climbed 6000' yesterday in high heat, or drank one too many beers, you may want supplemental B vitamins.
Last note on electrolytes: if you eat a well-balanced diet that includes the daily-dose of at least 1/2 cup of dark green leafy veggies plus around two additional cups of fresh or lightly-cooked veggies, and you drink enough water for your body, and you eat 1-2-3 fruits per day, you are likely not in need of electrolyte replacement on a daily basis. I am only making this electrolyte replacement recommendation in the physical and environmental situations listed at the beginning of this section.
If you have any questions on your specific electrolyte needs, or comments on any of the above, please share below. Someone else may be wondering the same thing! :)