5 Alternatives for Common Health Foods

If it ain't broke, don't fix it. That's the motto many runners follow when it comes to their diets — and for good reason, since the wrong preworkout meal can turn a long run into one long pit stop. But eating the same foods day in and day out — even healthy standbys like peanut butter or brown rice — isn't the best bet for your body or your taste buds.

"Runners should try new foods for the flavor and the nutrients," says Monique Ryan, R.D., author of Sports Nutrition for Endurance Athletes. Adding new foods to your diet re-energizes a bored palate, she says, and also provides a variety of nutrients your body needs to ramp up health and running performance. These easy substitutions for tried-and-true staples will help you break out of a food rut while transforming your diet and your stride.

Old Standby: Salmon New Favorite: Barramundi

Prized for its buttery flavor, barramundi is an Australian fish now available in the United States. It packs more omega-3 fatty acids than many other white fish. "The omega-3 fats in fish reduce internal inflammation," says Ryan. A 2007 study in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that 1.9 grams of fish omega-3s a day reduced body fat and increased HDL, so-called "good cholesterol," when combined with exercise. Barramundi raised in the United States is free of antibiotics, mercury, and PCBs. It's also bred sustainably. That's why the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch Program puts barramundi on its best choice list.

Find It: At larger supermarket chains. Stick to U.S. farmed; some international farms release high rates of pollutants.

Eat It: Dust fillets with salt, pepper, cumin, and paprika. Saut? about two minutes per side. Finish with lemon juice.

Old Standby: Peanut Butter New Favorite: Almond Butter

Almond butter has about the same amount of total fat as peanut butter but almost twice the monounsaturated fat, which helps maintain healthy cholesterol levels, says Leslie Bonci, R.D., director of sports nutrition at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. A study in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition found that eating almond butter for four weeks reduced harmful LDL and raised HDL. Almond butter also packs more bone-building minerals like magnesium, calcium, and phosphorus, and more vitamin E, says Bonci. "Plus, it has a sweeter taste and doesn't seem as heavy as peanut butter."

Find It: Look for it in the peanut butter aisle at most supermarkets.

Eat It: Use equal parts almond butter, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and honey for dressing. Add to shakes or stir-frys.

Old Standby: Brown Rice New Favorite: Quinoa

Whole-grain quinoa (pronounced "keen-wa") makes most other grains look like nutritional lightweights. No grain has more protein (eight grams per cup cooked). It has hefty amounts of carbohydrates and more magnesium, folate, iron, and fiber (which is especially key for heart health) than humble brown rice. "Quinoa has a pleasant nutty flavor and is very versatile in the kitchen as a side or main dish," says Ryan. But here's the real kicker: Diminutive quinoa kernels cook up in half the time as brown rice. Serve it as a sidekick to barramundi and you have a perfect postrun recovery meal.
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