What I want to do today is use the Superfood lists as a jumping off point of discussion on the latest in food and nutrition. The pendulum seems to swing constantly on this topic but the one thing that has stayed the course is the recommendation to eat fruits and vegetables. Our grandmothers told us to and scientists and researchers are constantly coming up with more reasons why we should do fill our daily diet with these powerhouses.
We have a tendency to overcomplicate. Here are some very simple words of wisdom.
So if you don’t remember anything else..
Have your plate/meal/snack be at least 50% fruit or vegetable.
Try to eat at least 7 different ( naturally ) colored foods every day.
And while we are talking about super- watch out for supersizing (more about that later).
Eat local produced foods and shop farmers markets when you can. The foods will be fresher and likely more nutritious plus you will be helping the local economy and saving the planet.
Okay- lets get down to some specifics and go through the lists. I also want to talk about the big divide- the canyon between what we want to/know we should do and what we actually do. This is where I can help you individually to see how you can make this happen in your lives. It is sometimes a minefield out there in the real eating world. So what strategies can you use to successfully negotiate it?
A search on Google generated 1,000,000 hits on the topic of superfoods!
Cranberries, blueberries, blackberries These are jam-packed with antioxidants called anthocyanins and polyphenols, which also have anti-inflammatory qualities. Try to work in a cup of berries a day. New on the frontier are black currants- supposedly have 2x the antioxidant capacity of blueberries, 4x Vit C of oranges and more potassium than bananas. They have been off the radar because they were banned in the US to protect the lumber industry. It was thought that white pine blister rust was spread by currants. This was lifted in 1960’s but some states neglected to change their legislation. Currently, Maple Lane Farms in Preston CT is the largest producer. Zante currants from Greece are actually mini raisins and are not the same thing. This discovery about black currants reinforces the theory that the darker the color the better.
Other berries worth mentioning are Acai which come from Brazil, Goji berries from Asia. Also include pomegranates- although not technically a berry. A recent article I just read lauded its anti gingivitis properties so now you can get toothpaste made with pomegranate extract.
Another piece of information which I just picked up and I know will be met with great enthusiasm is that alcohol can enhance the antioxidant capacity of fruits –this was recently reported in the Journal ofthe Science of Food and Agriculture. So that berry daquiri might be a good thing. But as in all matters it is good not to overdo this.
Leafy greens (such as kale or spinach) They're full of lutein, another super-antioxidant; it's been proven to protect against macular degeneration of the optic nerves, thus protecting eyesight. Scientists recommend eating a cup of cooked kale or one to two cups of raw spinach each day. The leafy greens are fabulous not only for their antioxidant content but they are extremely low in kcals. Eating a big raw leafy salad takes quite a lot of work and time and can help us from getting in too many cals before we get that message from our stomach to our brains to say stop. Most of us probably have some volunteer greens( also know as weeds) growing in our gardens- dandelion greens, purslane ( a fleshy green), minors lettuce. In Eurpoe it has been the tradition after the winter to go collecting those new shoots of spring to help detoxify after the winter. I must say when I eat bitter green like arugula, I feel like I am getting a good detox.
Broccoli - The best food on the planet to prevent cancer. Actually broccoli sprouts are thought to have amazing anti cancer properties
Almonds and walnuts These nuts are a fantastic source of omega-6 fatty acids, as well as phytosterols (plant sterols) and vitamin E (tocopherols). People who regularly consume nuts tend to have both a lowered risk of Parkinson's and lower cholesterol. Try to eat a quarter cup of these nuts a day whenever you can.
Actually I value nuts for their monounsaturated fats(almonds, cashews, macnuts) and omega 3 fatty acids( walnuts). Another good source of omega 3’s is pumpkin seeds. I prefer to buy nuts raw to ensure freshness. You can lightly roast them right before cooking. But keep those portion sizes small as they are high in calories.
Flaxseed It contains fiber and omega-3 fatty acids that help to clear plaque and bad fats from the cardiovascular system. The fiber also protects against colon cancer. For best results, buy flaxseed ground (or grind it yourself) and throw one teaspoon to one tablespoon a day into everything from meat loaf to muffins. Flaxseeds also contain phytoestrogens which can be very helpful for those whose natural supply is diminishing. No, it is not a problem for men to use it.
Beans A great low-fat, low-calorie source of protein and an easy way to help control your weight and your blood sugar. They are a very underated food. Canned beans are very easy to use- just rinse them well. Add to soups, salads, any entree.
Oats A sure-fire way to lower your cholesterol. Again it is that soluble fiber acting as the garbage collection system of the body. Barley has a similar effect.
Oranges The most readily available source of vitamin C, which in turn lowers the rate of most causes of death in this country, for example, heart disease and cancer. Eat your oranges as fruit whenever possible vs juice. Or keep juice down to a max 4oz per day
Pumpkin Loaded with phytonutrients, which keep our skin young and help prevent damage from sunlight. Those deep colors are the winners- pumpkin is available in a variety of ways from the oldstyle canned- which has usually has no additives to cut up ready to cook to simple soups in a box ( Imagine brand is my favorite)
Wild salmon A guaranteed way to lower your risk for cardiac-related death. The benefit of salmon is the omega 3 fatty acids. It comes from the algae the fish eat- so if they are fed other types of things it will affect their nutritional content, besides the environmental issues. Sardines and herring are also good sources. Since we are on the topic of fish, ensure that you are conscious about the environmental impact- both for your health and the planet. Some types of fish are becoming very scarce due to overfishing. Fortunately there are some conscious chef’s out there who are tying to be aware of what they serve. Also contaminationis an issue- mercury being one. In general the bigger the fish the higher risk of contamination. I have heard that the selenium content can help to offset the mercury content. Check the Monterey Bay Aquarium website for a list of safe fish to consume.
Soy The only complete vegetarian source of protein. Soy is one of those foods that has been on the pendulum track. If you have estrogen sensitive breast cancer you might limit your intake but otherwise eat soy in its more natural/traditional forms like tofu, tempeh, soymilk, edamame, miso. Avoid soy protein isolate added to foods.
Tea -- green or black: The easiest and cheapest no-calorie way to avoid heart disease and cancer. I am very much in favor of tea having a British colonial background. Green tea is still bandied around had having the capacity to raise metabolism, but not sure that it is super significant- you still need to eat right and exercise more! If you buy tea in a bottle- watch for sugar additives. I like to make my own iced by throwing my tea bags in a jar in the fridge then adding whatever flavor is handy- mint, lemon, orange, lilikoi, frozen berries…
Tomatoes One of the easiest ways for men to avoid prostate cancer is the consumption of tomatoes and tomato-based products. It is the lycopene. Don’t forget to use dried tomatoes- they are a very low cal low salt flavoring addition to anything savory or simply chopped on top of salads
Skinless turkey breast The leanest meat source of protein on the planet. If it is free range – all the better..
Yogurt A tasty, easy way to boost your immune system. Probiotics are going to be gaining more recognition of their benefits. Besides helping to regulate the digestive system, they are thought to boost immunity against cancer. They change the acidity of the colon so carcinogens are less likely to form. Sauerkraut, kim chee, miso and other fermented foods will have them too if they are not pasteurized. Look for Lactobacillus or bifida bacterium. The bacteria need to survive the acidity of the stomach to be useful and that is why yogurt and alkaline foods is helpful. A large number- 4-10 billion colony forming units is necessary. If you take these in supplement form, check Consumerlab.com for recommendations.
Spirulina (blue-green algae) Spirulina contains not only the antioxidant phytocyanin but also some protein, plus omega fatty acids. Once a mainstay food of the Aztecs, spirulina additionally works as an ibuprofenlike nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory. Personally I prefer my fish to eat the algae.
Other foods not on this list are chocolate or cocoa and wine. Dark choc (be wary of too much for obvious reasons) and wine both have antioxidants.
A word on portion size. The leader in current research is Dr Brain Wansink at Cornell Univ. He gathers his info by conducting very funny experiments on all kinds of unsuspecting folks. Some facts:-race, social class etc do not make a difference, once the food is placed in front of them. Also hunger does not seem to play a role. Plate sizes have increased by 36% in homes, recipe portions in the Joy of Cooking have grown by 42%, there is a 10 fold more large size boxes of foods in supermarkets. And restaurant foods portions have grown by 30-50% with the supersized plates 250% larger. Our ability to estimate portions is significantly diminished ( even among nutrition professionals) because we rely on consumption norms. (Some astounding information :the number of calories consumed at a tailgate party= 4800)
Be conscious is the best advice- use small plates and small bowls and use small serving bowls. Of course the types of foods you eat will make a difference which brings us back to the advice of the superfoods, which for the most part are low in calories. For more on this see his book- Mindless Eating.
So how are you going to put this into practice? Ask, observe those around you who seem to be successful- what do you do? A recent study implied obesity is contagious! We tend to do what those around us do.
Have social events be activity oriented and not only eating related.
You can positively affect yourself and others by taking the healthy road!