Flexibility is important for expanding your yoga practice, but it is also necessary for simple tasks, such as bending over to pick something up off the floor. Many people are looking for ways to increase flexibility in order to achieve their exercise and daily life goals. While there is not a magical food you can eat to make you more flexible overnight, there are foods that support the health and flexibility of your tendons, joints, muscles and bones. Incorporating these foods into your diet every day will build key nutrient levels needed to achieve a full range of motion.
In order for our bodies to be flexible, we must have strength and elasticity in our connective tissues, including tendons, ligaments, skin, cartilage and bone. These tissues are composed of collagen, the main protein responsible for the structure of all animal bodies and an important contributor towards muscle strength. It is collagen that allows for the elasticity of these tissues, the key to a flexible body. As you can imagine, it takes an abundant amount of collagen to support the health of all connective tissues throughout the entire body.
Collagen, like all protein, is made up of a string of connected amino acids, with two in particular that are vital for collagen production. About 33 percent of collagen is made up of glycine and 17 percent proline; if you don’t have enough of these amino acids, then your cells are not able to produce collagen.
Luckily, collagen is not a finite resource in the body. The amino acids that make up collagen can be acquired from a variety of healthy foods and also supplemental sources. However, the modern American diet is often unbalanced in the types and quantities of certain amino acids we need to produce collagen. Try adding some of the following foods into your diet to obtain the amino acids you need to support your flexibility.
Get Your Glycine On
While there is no recommended daily intake for glycine, or for any other individual amino acid, seaweed and spinach are two excellent vegetarian sources. A 200-calorie serving of these vegetables contains significant amounts comparable to supplemental doses. Glycine can also be obtained from asparagus, sunflower seeds, kale, cauliflower, cabbage, pumpkin, bananas, kiwis and cucumbers.
Cabbage is the best vegetarian source, along with bamboo shoots. Sunflower seeds, tamari (soy sauce), seaweed, asparagus, spinach and brown mushrooms are also great sources. All of these foods provide supplement-comparable doses from one, 200-calorie serving.
Vying for Vitamin C
Another crucial nutrient for the production of collagen is vitamin C. In fact, collagen cannot be made without it. The body requires copious amounts of vitamin C in order to make collagen for our connective tissues and for practically every other structure of the body.
There are many excellent sources of vitamin C, primarily fruits and vegetables. The richest common food source of vitamin C is the papaya, which carries a whopping 224 percent of the daily recommended intake (DRI) per serving. Bell peppers come in second, carrying 157 percent DRI. Other vitamin C-rich produce include:
– Broccoli, 135 percent DRI
– Brussels sprouts, 129 percent DRI
– Strawberries, 113 percent DRI
– Pineapple, 105 percent DRI
– Oranges, 93 percent DRI
– Kiwi, 85 percent DRI
That gives you eight delicious choices of fruits and vegetables that will give you 80 percent or more of your daily vitamin C requirement from one serving.
In order to obtain the maximum amount of vitamin C from fruits and vegetables, it is important to choose organic produce instead of conventionally grown. Research shows that organic produce often contains a higher vitamin C content. In fact, a 2002 study at Truman State University in Missouri found organic oranges contained up to 30 percent more vitamin C than their conventional counterparts, despite the organic oranges being smaller in size. More recent studies confirm these findings with other types of fruits and vegetables. The Organic Trade Association has a long list of these findings available online; just search for the article “Nutritional Considerations” and you’ll quickly see that an investment in organic food can be an investment in your flexibility and your long-term health.
It is important to note that collagen is constantly degraded by the normal day-to-day use of our body and the stress it causes on our tissues. Therefore, collagen must be continuously replaced in order to maintain flexibility.
Try incorporating as many of these collagen-building foods into your diet as possible to ensure your body has the building blocks needed for optimal collagen production and reaps the benefits of healthy, elastic connective tissues, joints, bones, muscles and even skin. Start by trying this easy recipe that features the best vegetarian sources of vitamin C, as well as glycine and proline-rich foods, in one delicious treat!
Tropical Treat Yogurt Bowl
6 oz yogurt (dairy or non-dairy ) — I recommend Maple Hill Creamery’s organic, full-fat, plain yogurt from 100% grass-fed cows. Using dairy yogurt adds over 1000 mg of proline to the recipe.
Diced papaya, strawberries, pineapple and orange — Chop up all fruits in advance and store the mixture in the fridge, ready to go to make yogurt bowls on the fly. Using one serving of each fruit gives you an average of 134 percent of the RDI of vitamin C per serving and will get four servings out of your fruit mixture. For serving information, check out whfoods.com or nutritiondata.self.com.
Top with 1/4 cup sunflower seeds (430 mg glycine, 340 mg proline) and
1/8 cup shredded coconut. Enjoy!
Amy Lucariello, certified nutrition therapy practitioner (NTP) and new store marketing coordinator for Natural Grocers, has a passion for holistic health and wellness. She has worked for Natural Grocers for five years. In her current role, she is responsible for promoting new store openings through various marketing initiatives including coordinating nutrition-focused events, cooking demos and performing media outreach. Amy holds a degree in biology from the University of Colorado and completed the Certified Nutrition Therapy Practitioner Program at Nutrition Therapy Institute in Denver.