Super Foods

We are familiar with foods like blueberries, spinach and broccoli, and they are loaded with nutrients. There are other foods that you may not be familiar with that are as good for you, or even better for you.

“Sea Vegetables”

Better know as seaweed, sea vegetables are among the most nutrient rich foods on the planet. Many Americans are now familiar with:

• Nori (used to prepare sushi rolls);

• Wakame (added to miso soup);

• Arame which is high in calcium, iodine, and iron. It helps to strengthen bones and teeth, lower blood pressure, and is beneficial for the thyroid;

• Quinoa has more protein and iron, and fewer carbohydrates than any other grain. It is rich in lysine, an amino acid that aids in tissue growth and repair. Quinoa is also rich in magnesium, a mineral that reduces the risk for heart attack and stroke.

Raspberries

USDA research shows that eating just 1 cup of raspberries daily can double the average person’s intake of anthocyanins (plant compounds). Once absorbed by brain cells, these plant pigments mop up nerve damaging free radicals and improve cellular function, explains James A. Joseph, PhD, a behavioral neuroscientist and research physiologist at Tufts University in Boston. In fact, the USDA team observed that study subjects who ate anthocyanin-rich food like raspberries experienced a 100% improvement in short term memory within eight weeks.

For even better results, sprinkle the raspberries with a little flaxseed. Anthocyanins often slip through the digestive tract before the body can absorb them. But flaxseed’s phytic acid slows anthocyanins, keeping them in the body for six hours after consumption. In a Japanese study, this delay significantly increased absorption. The beneficial dose: 1 tablespoon of ground flaxseed per cup of raspberries.

Coleslaw

Enjoying 1 cup of coleslaw twice weekly reduces the risk of developing cataracts and other vision problems by 52%, according to Harvard University research. The credit likely goes to cabbage’s antioxidants: indole-3-carbinol, sulforaphane, and vitamin E. “This trio of antioxidants appears to work synergistically to nourish and repair ocular tissue before serious problems can occur,” notes Steven G. Pratt, M.D., as assistant clinical professor of ophthalmology at the University of California, San Diego.

To increase the results even more, toss in some sesame seeds. Vitamin E breaks down easily in the body, which can hinder the effectiveness of all three vision friendly compounds. Add 2 tablespoons of sesame seeds to each cup of coleslaw. The seeds’ sesamol and sesamin have been shown to block the decomposition of vitamin E in the body, raising the internal levels by 19 percent.

Spinach

Popeye knew what he was talking about! Spinach is a top source of lipoic acid, an antioxidant that jump-starts production of appetite-taming leptin within the body’s fat cells. Plus, researchers at Duke University in North Carolina, found that lipoic acid absorbs into cells’ energy-producing mitochondria, where it helps convert blood sugar into fuel. Eating just 3 cups of spinach weekly can help you to shed up to 5% of your extra weight, while nearly doubling your energy!

Topping your spinach off with walnuts enhances the absorption of lipoic acid by 430 percent, according to one study. “Lipoic acid functions optimally when it ‘piggybacks’ into the body on healthy oils such as those found in nuts,” explains Dr. Pratt. For best results, sprinkle 1 oz of walnuts (a small handful) on your next spinach salad.

Mushrooms

One of my favorites! Mushrooms have some unexpected benefits. Penn State scientists recently discovered that mushrooms are as rich in antioxidants as many colorful veggies. One of the most powerful is L-ergothioneine (don’t you just love some of these names!!). This compound defends against, and may even reverse, some signs of UV damage to the skin such as wrinkling and discoloration, according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. The proven dose: 2/3 cup of mushrooms a day.

For even better results, add a pat of butter. Butter can triple the body’s absorption of L-ergothioneine (without causing weight gain, thanks to its blood sugar balancing abilities), say experts at Manchester Memorial Hospital in Connecticut. Butter’s fats bind to plant chemicals, helping them to be shuttled through the digestive tract lining more easily. An even better oil choice may be omega-3 fatty oils from cold water fish like salmon.

Oatmeal + Strawberries

This combination can help to lower the likelihood of stroke or heart attack. Oats are rich in antioxidants called phenols, which keep free radicals from damaging LDL cholesterol. That’s good news, because the more stable LDL cholesterol is, the less likely it is that it will stick to artery walls and cause a stroke or heart attack. Researchers at Tufts University found that these phenols work even harder in the presence of vitamin C, making LDL twice as secure as when the oat phenols are consumed alone.

Have a bowl of high-fiber oatmeal topped with a few strawberries. Or, instead of the berries, pour a glass of orange juice to get the same benefits.

Potatoes

One average potato has nearly half of the daily minimum requirement of vitamin C and 20% of the daily value of vitamin B6. It has more potassium than a banana (almost 1 gr), and possesses cancer fighting phenols that rival those found in broccoli and spinach. Recent studies have also identified numerous phenols and flavonoids in the skin and flesh of potatoes that help protect against lung problems, heart disease, and some cancers.

Potatoes are good for you in moderation. The type you get at the fast food places are not. Baked potatoes are the best, or boiled and mashed.

Cubing or shredding potatoes before boiling them significantly reduces the levels of beneficial potassium. The body uses potassium to regulate heartbeat, conduct nerve impulses and contract muscles. Boil unpeeled potatoes whole to be sure that they retain the maximum amount of potassium. Then remove the skin if desired. If you have been advised by your nutritionist, or nutritional doctor to limit potassium, cubing or shredding the potatoes before cooking will cut down the amount substantially.

Some side notes: Some varieties of potatoes have more starch than others. Russets for example, rank high in starch, and red skinned potatoes have much less.

Baked Potato + Spinach

This combination is an incredible iron absorption booster. Iron is responsible for transporting oxygen in the blood. Low iron levels can lead to anemia, resulting in fatigue, weakness, and dizziness. The body absorbs as little as 2% of iron from plant foods, compared with up to 25% from meat sources. But, eating plant-based iron sources, such as spinach, with vitamin C (a potato contains nearly half of your Daily Value) triggers a chemical reaction that brings those levels nearly in line with the amount absorbed from meat sources.

Have a baked potato and a spinach salad with dinner. Or, stir-fry red and green bell peppers (one cup provides about 200% of your Daily Value of vitamin C) with tofu, edamame, and kale, all of which are good sources of iron.

Red Peppers + Feta Cheese

It’s making me hungry writing this section on healing foods! This combination helps to cut heart disease risk. Vividly colored vegetables such as carrots, tomatoes, and red peppers are rich in carotenoids, powerful plant pigments that reduce the risk of heart disease. Add a bit of fat, like feta cheese, and your vegetables get even better, says Steven Schwartz, PhD., a professor of food science at Ohio State University. “Fat helps carotenoids become more soluble so they can be better absorbed in the intestine and passed into the bloodstream,” he says. Dr. Schwartz and his colleagues found that people who ate a salad topped with avocado absorbed up to 5 times more carotenoids than eating the salad with nonfat dressing.

Beef + Rosemary

This combination can help to reduce the compounds in grilled meat that may cause cancer. Researchers at Kansas State University found that the antioxidants in rosemary inhibit the formation of carcinogenic compounds called heterocyclic amines (HCAs) that form when meat, fish, or poultry are cooked at high temperatures. The herb can reduce the level of the potentially harmful substances by more than half.

Add rosemary to dry rubs or marinades, or mix into hamburger meat. Basil, oregano, sage, and mint can also protect against HCAs.

Broccoli + Fish

Broccoli and fish can help to fight cancer. Fish contains a high amount of selenium, a mineral that raises levels of a cancer-fighting enzyme, and broccoli has sulforaphane, a chemical that boosts the same enzyme. When scientists combined the two nutrients, they discovered that the pairing increased the levels of the cancer fighting compounds by 13%.

Artichokes

Artichokes are rich in cyanarin, a compound that helps shore up the liver’s detox pathways. They are also very low in calories, about 60 in a medium artichoke. They are lso loaded with cleansing fiber.

Seafood

Research on the omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids has spotlighted the unique effects of different types of fat on blood cholesterol and heart disease. Inuit peoples of Alaska and Greenland enjoy relative freedom from heart disease despite high-energy, high fat, and high cholesterol diets. Why? Their foods derive primarily from fish and other marine animals and are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, particularly EPA and DHA. Further research shows that people who eat some fish each week can lower their blood cholesterol and their risk of heart attack or stroke.

A diet low in both fat and saturated fat combined with regular fish consumption, produces an optimal lipid profile. In addition to improving blood lipids, fish oils prevent blood clots and may also lower blood pressure, especially in people with hypertension or atherosclerosis.

Data from Japan confirms that a diet low in fat and high in fish benefits health. The Japanese diet today has become westernized with few Japanese people eating the large quantities of rice and fish their ancestors ate. The Japanese are still number 1 in the world in life expectancy. The United States, believe it or not, is number 38! Our neighbor, Canada is number 11. As is often the case, when a western diet is introduced into any culture, the negative health consequences, like cardiovascular disease and cancer are not far behind.

We Need a Better Balance

In general, we do not get enough omega-3 in our diet. There should ideally be a 1:1 balance between omega-3s and omega-6s, which come primarily from plant and meat sources. The average ratio in the United States is a whopping 45:1 (45 being the omega-6)!

Some good sources for omega-3s:

• Mackerel;

• Salmon;

• Bluefish;

• Mullet;

• Herring;

• Sardines.

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