Are the "Health Foods" You Eat Actually Healthy?
Photo by istock
As a dancer, you know that eating right gives you the energy you need to get from morning classes to the evening’s final curtain call. You’re pretty sure that your go-to snack of vitamin-enriched water and a protein bar has the nutrition your body requires. But did you know this snack is actually full of sugar and empty calories, which provide little nutritional value? Even worse, eating too many foods fortified with extra vitamins and minerals can lead to health problems, including muscle aches, constipation and bloating—the last things you want when you have to put on a leotard and tights!
With all the “healthy” fare out there, it can be difficult to make informed choices about the food you eat. Here are some common foods and drinks that promise nutrition, but may not deliver in all of the ways you’d expect. We’ve also included alternatives that offer similar benefits without the hidden drawbacks.
Why you think they’re healthy: According to nutrition recommendations, you need four to five servings of fruit per day, so you figure drinking fruit juice must be a great way to meet your daily requirement.
But really: Most fruit juices contain hardly any fruit. “That word ‘drink’ is the qualifier,” says Peggy Swistak, a consulting nutritionist at Pacific Northwest Ballet. “If the label says ‘juice drink,’ it usually means that only 10 percent of the drink is juice—the rest is mostly sugar and water.”
Instead: Look for labels that say “100-percent juice,” not “juice drink,” “juice beverage,” or “juice cocktail.” Or just eat the actual fruit: You’ll get more fiber, feel more full and consume fewer calories. (A glass of orange juice is about 110 calories, but a medium orange is only about 60 calories.)
Fat-Free Dairy Products
Why you think they’re healthy: Calcium is important for keeping your bones healthy, and if it’s low-fat, that’s a bonus.
But really: If you reach for fat-free milk to get your calcium fix, you’re probably not reaping the benefits you expect. Your body needs vitamin D to process calcium, and vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin. So make sure you have a little fat in your diet.
Instead: Choose low-fat yogurt and low-fat cheeses like mozzarella and provolone. Jan Hangen, a registered dietitian in the sports-medicine department at Children’s Hospital in Boston and a nutrition consultant at Boston Ballet, recommends drinking one-percent milk. “You get very few extra calories, but you get vitamin D and longer-lasting energy because the fat delays calorie absorption,” she says.
Why you think it’s healthy: Hydration is critical for regulating body temperature, lubricating joints and preventing cramps. If you have to hydrate all day long, why not choose water enriched with vitamins in order to reap the most benefits?
But really: One 20-ounce bottle can have as many as 150 calories. “I had one student who drank six VitaminWaters a day, but she was also trying to watch her weight,” says Swistak. “She was taking in 800 calories just from water!”
Instead: Calorie-free versions of these drinks are on store shelves, but plain water is still your best bet. Drinking too many fortified beverages can put you at risk for vitamin imbalances. According to Hangen, the risk is especially high if you also eat a lot of other fortified foods, such as cereal and protein bars. If you just love the taste, limit yourself to one bottle a day.
Why you think they’re healthy: A frozen meal is a quick way to get in a balanced dinner on a busy day.
But really: “Those meals are notorious for not having enough veggies,” says Swistak. Many frozen meals also contain high amounts of sodium, which can lead to blood pressure problems when you’re older. Even worse, frozen dinners tend to be high in fat for the small amount of food you get, while simultaneously not having enough calories for a full meal. Banquet’s Chicken Pot Pie, for instance, has 21 grams of fat and only 300 calories.
Instead: When shopping for your dinner, look for entrees with at least 500 calories. According to Swistak, dancers should aim to get 20- to 25-percent of their total daily calories from fat, so a 500-calorie meal should have about 13 grams of fat. There are numerous frozen dinners on the market, so be sure to read labels carefully. Lean Cuisine and Amy’s Kitchen have several options that meet Swistak’s requirement. Whatever you choose, spruce it up with a piece of fruit and a salad.
Why you think they’re healthy: Sometimes you don’t eat enough fruits and vegetables, so a nutrient powder dissolved in your water can supplement your diet.
But really: You could be damaging your body. “Fat-soluble vitamins, like A, D, E and K, are absorbed by and stored in your fat,” says Swistak. “If you keep taking all these supplements that have megadoses of vitamins, they end up stored in the fatty parts of your body, which can lead to muscle aches. Too much calcium and vitamin D can cause kidney stones and too much vitamin A can cause liver damage.” The nutrients you eat must be in balance with each other. For example, your zinc intake needs to be in ratio with the copper you ingest or you could develop heart problems. Eating a lot of fortified foods can skew these ratios.
Instead: Eat real food and take a once-a-day multivitamin like Centrum (check with your doctor first), which is formulated to have the correct ratios. “People can get it in their minds that if they eat fortified foods they’ll be healthier, and they do so instead of eating natural food,” says Swistak.
The foods above are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to hidden diet pitfalls, so remember to scan ingredient labels. Look for food that is, as Hangen says, “close to the tree and ground”—meaning there aren’t a lot of added chemicals. No matter which foods you love, be sure to choose fare that’s high in fiber and low in sugar. Above all, get your calories from the most nutritious sources, like fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins like fish and chicken.
Go to dancespirit.com/ to learn about three more foods that aren’t as healthy as they seem.
Taja Riley's bold, full-out presence and unique ability to mix hard-hitting hip hop with smooth, sensual choreography paved the way for her success in the commercial industry. She's danced with music icons like Chris Brown, Janet Jackson, Ne-Yo, Kanye West, 50 Cent, Pitbull, and Bruno Mars, and has assisted with choreography for Britney Spears' Femme Fatale tour, Demi Lovato's Skyscraper tour, and Beyoncé's Mrs. Carter tour. She also appeared in Beyoncé's groundbreaking visual album Lemonade. Raised in Virginia Beach, VA, Riley grew up training at Denise Wall's Dance Energy. Currently, she's on faculty at New York City Dance Alliance, where you can catch her touring the convention circuit. —Courtney Bowers
P!nk, known for her high-flying, acrobatic awards show sets, has literally raised the bar for pop stars everywhere. For her performance at last night's American Music Awards, P!nk decided to break out some flips and tricks ON THE SIDE OF A BUILDING. WHILE FLAWLESSLY SINGING HER FACE OFF. You know, just casually, like you do when you're a full-on goddess.
When you think of a dancer, a double leg amputee may not be the first thing that comes to mind. But Eric Graise, who's one of the stars of the upcoming "Step Up: High Water" YouTube Red series, hopes to change that. Graise, whose legs were amputated as a child due to missing fibula bones, will play a character named King in the new dance series, set to debut early next year.
We all suffer from Nutcracker fatigue sometimes. After a zillion performances, it's hard not to. But there's nothing to restore your little-kid sense of Nutcracker wonder like a look at the sheer scale of a world-class Nut.
New York City Ballet's iconic production of George Balanchine's The Nutcracker opens on Friday, and for the past week, the company has been Tweeting out some seriously eye-popping #NutcrackerNumbers. The stats cover everything from the number of jingle bells used on each Candy Cane costume (that'd be 144) to the watts of light used in the show's grand finale (ONE. MILLION. WATTS.).
Oh hey there, Hallmark Channel! The producer of all those sweet, homey movies best watched in your PJs with your mom has a super dance-y film on its holiday lineup this season: A Nutcracker Christmas. And the casting is—to use a very Hallmark-y pun—perfectly on pointe.
A Nutcracker Christmas tells the story of a talented professional dancer, Lilly, whose supportive sister dies just as Lilly is about to perform the role of Clara in The Nutcracker with New York City Ballet. (Nit-picky fact-checking: In New York City Ballet's Nutcracker, she's known as Marie and danced by a child, but OK.) Lilly's boyfriend and dance partner, Mark, keeps her from performing in the show, which makes Lilly declare she'll never dance again. Fast-forward a couple of decades, and Lilly's niece, Sadie, is about to dance Clara in a different company's Nutcracker—a company run by, of all people, Mark. And tons of drama ensues.
Yes, it's a whole lot of plot to wrap your head around. But the real story here is that Sadie is played by none other than the phenomenal Sophia Lucia, and the ever-dashing Sascha Radetsky is also involved in the project. (Radetsky's exact role is unclear from the press material, but he seems like a pretty natural fit for Mark, no?) The odds seem good that we'll get the gift of some very high-quality dancing. Merry Christmas to us!
Sophia Lucia showing off those banana feet (via @sophialucia5678)
You can catch A Nutcracker Christmas on December 10 at 8 pm. Get your slippers and hot cocoa ready.
Consistent turns are a must for aspiring professional dancers, but pretty much everyone struggles with pirouettes at some point. Luckily, since we're all beholden to the same rules of physics, there are concrete steps every dancer can take to reach his or her top turning potential. “Three is the new two when it comes to pirouettes, but the secret to turning is technique, not magic," says Bojan Spassoff, president and director of The Rock School for Dance Education in Philadelphia.
Falling out of your doubles? Aspiring to go revolution for revolution with your class's star turner? No matter where you lie on the turning spectrum, our 360-degree guide to pirouettes will help you improve.
One of the most beautiful things social media has brought us is the ability to feel like we're up close and personal behind-the-scenes with all our favorite dancers. And one of our favorite stars to Insta-stalk are actually two casts of 36 scintillatingly synchronized precision dancers. I'm talking, of course, about my mild obsession with the legendary Radio City Rockettes.
Have we mentioned lately how much we love dance dads? Especially ones who show up to their daughter's ballet class sporting a tutu, like Thanh Tran.
You've seen it a million times: A glamorous, toned dancer posts a perfectly styled shot of her colorful smoothie bowl. The caption gushes about how great you'll feel if you eat "clean"—but what does that actually mean? DS asked registered dietitian/nutritionist Rachel Fine and holistic health coach (and founder of The Whole Dancer) Jess Spinner for all of the dirt.
In our "Dear Katie" series, former NYCB soloist Kathryn Morgan answers your pressing dance questions. Have something you want to ask Katie? Email email@example.com a chance to be featured!
I'm being bullied by one of the girls at my studio, and it's awful. I've talked to my dance teacher and confronted the bully directly, but it hasn't made a difference. What should I do?