In my last post, I wrote about the special challenges that face dancers who are at-risk for eating disorders. As promised, here I will tell you about how former professional ballet dancer and current chef Andrea Bergquist-Zamir returned to her former company, Dance Theatre of Harlem, and led a workshop on cooking natural, high-energy and healthy foods that help maintain weight without breaking a professional dancer’s budget.

Having been one herself, she notes, “Dancers don’t know how to cook.” The first time her Dance Theatre of Harlem roommate cooked her dinner, she recalls, she invited Berguist-Zamir to share a spaghetti dinner. ‘To me that means pasta and tomato and meatballs, but for her it was boiled pasta with nothing on it. That was ‘cooking.'”

While many professional dancers can eat normally and maintain their weight, Bergquist-Zamir notes that there are also many who adopt unusual and restricted diets, “whether it’s eating green apples all day, only steamed vegetables or rice cakes. We were big fans of rice cakes with raisins on top as a filler.” Though there is a “general desire to be healthy,” she adds, many dancers just don’t know how to eat a balanced diet.

Budget is a factor, too. She compares the young dancers she taught to some of the clients she sees who shop at the grocery store-style food pantry where she now teaches professional chef training classes, West Side Campaign Against Hunger: Some may feel “they don’t have enough money to eat well because even at the semi-professional level, some weeks you get paid and some weeks you don’t. It’s a lot cheaper to buy a slice of pizza than some fruit salad. If dancers knew how easy it was to make cheap, easy meals that give you energy,” Bergquist-Zamir points out, “they wouldn’t have to do that.”

Bergquist-Zamir taught her students how to make homemade muesli or granola for breakfast, a quinoa salad that could serve as a high-protein lunch or dinner, and for dinner, poached fish, brown rice and kale or other vegetables high in vitamins and minerals. “They loved it,” she recalls of the students’ reaction to the workshops. “They were really excited about learning how to cook.”

Whether you are a dancer, an athlete in a “thinness-demand sport” like gymnastics, diving or figure skating, or just someone who wants to eat a healthy, balanced diet, you’ll want to check out Bergquist-Zamir’s guide to nutritious foods and her recipe for quinoa salad.

Andrea Bergquist-Zamir’s Nutrition Workshop Basics

1. Whole Grains- Rich in antioxidants, folate, vitamins B6 and E, magnesium, and a host of other vitamins and minerals

Brown rice, wild rice, whole wheat pasta, quinoa, barley, whole wheat couscous, bulgur, whole grain breads and cereals, and oats (oatmeal).

2. Vegetables- source of fiber, antioxidants, folate, iron, calcium, potassium, and vitamins A, B, C, E, and K,

Choose seasonal vegetables to obtain optimum nutrient content and flavor, such as asparagus and artichokes in the spring, tomatoes and corn in the summer, butternut squash and kale in the fall, and potatoes and turnips in the winter

3. Fruits- rich in antioxidants, potassium, magnesium, iron, folate, vitamins A and C, and fiber, among other nutrients

Seasonal fruits have the greatest nutrient value and flavor: strawberries and rhubarb in the spring, peaches and blueberries in the summer, apples and pears in the fall, and oranges and grapefruit in the winter.

4. Milk & Dairy– Yogurt, milk, and cheese are all good sources of calcium, protein, vitamin D, and riboflavin (vitamin B2) Choose nonfat or low-fat dairy products over their whole-fat counterparts.

5. Protein-Fish, seafood, eggs, poultry, and lean meat are all great sources of protein. Plant-based sources include nuts and seeds, beans and legumes, tofu and edamame, and grains such as quinoa and millet.

6. Fats-Healthy fat options include olive oil, canola and grape seed oil, avocado, nuts, flaxseed, and cold-water fatty fish like wild salmon and sardines

Andrea’s Quinoa Salad

2 cups water

1 cup quinoa

1/4 cup olive oil

1/4 cup lemon juice

Zest of one lemon

1 apple cored and diced

¼ cup dry cranberries

Spinach (Arugula or any leafy green) to taste

1 cup fresh parsley, chopped

¼ cup toasted almonds

Sea salt to taste, fresh ground pepper

In a saucepan bring water to a boil.

Add quinoa and a pinch of salt.

Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for 15 minutes.

Allow to cool to room temperature; fluff with a fork.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl, combine the remaining ingredients add cooled quinoa

What is quinoa?

While quinoa is usually considered to be a whole grain, it is actually a seed, but can be prepared like whole grains such as rice or barley. It takes less time to cook than other whole grains – just 10 to 15 minutes. Of all the whole grains, quinoa has the highest protein content, so it’s perfect for vegetarians and vegans. Quinoa provides all 9 essential amino acids, making it a complete protein. Quinoa is a gluten-free and cholesterol-free whole grain. Quinoa is especially well-endowed with the amino acid lysine, which is essential for tissue growth and repair.

Quinoa is a very good source of dietary fiber, manganese, magnesium, iron, copper and phosphorous.


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