With all the food diets flying around today – from Atkins to the Mediterranean Diet to the Paleo Diet -from Gluten Free to Dairy Free to Vegan to Vegetarian, it is really hard to figure out which way to go, what your reasons are, and whether you really can give everything up.
How about a list of foods that are just good for you, the reasons they are good for you, and you can try to incorporate them more into your diet in order to improve your healthy and well-being? That way you can adjust your own diet without any extremes, and be healthier just by finding ways to incorporate these foods into your diet!
1. Leafy Greens
Now when I say Leafy Greens, I am actually not referring to lettuce – a common leafy green at many American restaurants. According to Audrey Cross, PhD, professor of public health at Columbia University in New York City, and author of the nation’s first dietary guide under President Jimmy Carter, iceberg lettuce, on the other hand, contains almost no nutrients and precious little fiber! What you should be incorporating more of into your diet are Kale (ranked highest in antioxidants in a Human Nutrition Research Center study), Swiss Chard, bok choy, mustard greens, and spinach. Spinach contains lutein and zeaxanthin, which are two immune boosting antioxidants that are crucial for eye health. It has been found that among cancer-fighter fruits and vegetables, spinach is among the most effective! If you are not a fan of the flavor, you can add it to any smoothie you are making (we promise you won’t feel it! But it’ll boost the healthiness of your smoothie!). Kale is one of the vegetable world’s top sources of vitamin A, which promotes eye and skin health and may help strengthen the immune system. It is an excellent source of fiber and a 1-cup serving has almost as much vitamin C as an orange. A great way to prepare it is to saute it in a pan with some onion or garlic (or both!). It may need some more cook ing to soften it. Add some olive oil, sesame seeds, and salt to really give it a delicious punch.
Some people consider this to be a part of the Leafy Greens group mentioned above, but broccoli is so healthy, we needed to give it special attention. Did you know that one medium stalk of broccoli contains more than 100 percent of your daily vitamin K and vitamin C requirements? Those are two vital bone-building nutrients! That same amount also helps reduce your risk of numerous cancers. A great way to prepare broccoli is by zapping it in the microwave. It preserves 90% of the broccoli’s vitamin C, whereas when boiled or steamed, broccoli retains only 66% of its nutrients.
This oily fish, along with others such as tuna or sardines, is filled with omega-3 fatty acids which can boost your skin’s defenses against UV damage! The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition published the results of a research earlier this year where it was found that a bit more than 5 ounces of omega-3-rich fish each week reduced the development of precanceroous skin lesions by almost 30%! Scientists believe that omega-3s play a shield, protecting cell walls from free radical damage. Omega-3 fatty acids have also been associated with reducing the risk of depression, heart disease, and cancer, and a 3 ounce serving of salmon constans approximately half of your daily dose o niacin, which can protect against Alzheimer’s disease and memory loss.
Just a heads up though: when purchasing salmon, choose wild over farm-raised which has 16 times the amount of toxic polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) as wild salmon.
Oatmeal is not just a warm and delicious breakfast food – it has a lot of health benefits! It has 4 grams of fiber in every cup and research shows that increasing your intake of this soluble fiber by 5 to 10 grams a day can result in a 5% drop in your LDL “bad” cholesterol! In addition, eating a breakfast made of “slow-release” carbohydrates, such as oatmeal, three hours before working out can help you burn more fat, according to a study published in the Journal of Nutrition. This is beca
use “slow-release” carbs do not spike your blood sugar as high as refined carbohydrates (like white bread) do. Due to the fact that the insulin levels don’t spike as high, and because insulin plays a role in telling your body to store fat, having lower levels of insulin can help you burn fat!
Many nutritionists recommend eating slow-cooking oats rather than the more processed instant oats. You can prepare it with milk or water, and add some brown sugar to it, or maple syrup. Blueberries are a great addition to this breakfast because, even when frozen, those little super fruits contain twice as many antioxidants as many people get in an entire day (according to a study done at Tufts University). Oatmeal can also be put in hamburgers, meatload, casseroles, and desserts!
New scientific discovery may change the way you feel about your Vitamin C intake! A research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition links consumption of vitamin-C rich foods with youthful skin. A higher intake of vitamin C from your diet is linked to a decreased risk of having wrinkled skin and age related skin dryness in middle-aged women. This may be related, also to the antioxidants that are also found in vitamic C rich foods, and antioxidants are found to help protect against UV rays, and help keep skin firm due to collagen synthesis. This means that eating tomatoes – which are super rich in vitamin C – as well as lemons, strawberries, orangies, and broccoli, can give you smoother and healthier looking skin! Vitamin C has also been found to help increase HDL “good” cholesterol and strengthen bones! Citrus flavonoids, found in tomatoes, lemons, and other citrus-y foods, can help inhibit the development of cancer cells and act as anti-inflammatory!
While potatoes are starchy, and not normally associated with healthy foods, and while they are not “super fruits” or “filled with antioxidants” does not mean you shouldn’t eat them and that they do not hold nutritional value! Did you know there are over 3000 types of potatoes?? Some have more nutritional value than others. For example, one red potato contains 66 micrograms of cell-building folate, which is the same amount found in one cup of broccoli or spinach!! And the sweet potato, which is right there in the same family, has approximately 8 times more immune-boosting and cancer-fighting vitamin A than is recommended for your daily intake!
Just a little tip – research has shown that letting your potato cool before you eat t can help you burn almost 25% more fat after a meal, because of a fat-resistant starch in it.
It has been found that eating a serving of legumes (beans, lentils, and peas), about 4 times a week can reduce the risk of heart disease by 22% and reduce the risk for breast cancer! Lentils are super versatile, budget-friendly, and contain over 9 grams of protein and 8 grams of dietary fiber in just a half a cup! They are also a great source of folate and iron. Also, darker beans contain more antioxidants than lighter ones. It was found that black bean hulls contain 40 times more antioxidants than white bean hulls! Beans can be eaten as a side dish on their own, but can also be thrown into soups, rice dishes, and now serve as healthy substitutes in dessert recipes!
Avocados are the “it” food these days. Apart from being the main component in guacamole, they can now be found in many salads, and even brownie recipes! They are rich in healthy fats that are both satisfying and can lower your cholesterol by almost 22%! A single avocado also contains more than 50% of the fiber and 40% of the folate that is recommended daily, which, in turn, can reduce your risk for heart disease. In addition, adding it to certain dishes can improve your absorption of key nutrients such as beta-carotene in salads by three to five times as compared to when eaten without this superfood.
If you are wandering the nut-aisle at your local grocery store and wondering which nuts to purchase, just know that walnuts contain the most omega-3-fatty acids, which help reduce cholesterol, out of all the nuts. Omega-3s have also been shown to improve your mood and fight cancer! They have also been shown to help your skin and protect it from UV rays – but no, this does not mean you should stop wearing sun-screen! Walnuts also contain melatonin, which helps regulate your sleep!
There was a research done in which participants ate about a cup of mixed berries (like red raspberries, strawberries, and blueberries) every day for 8 weeks, and the results showed an increased level of “good” HDL cholesterol and a lower blood pressure. This active participants to cause these changes were believed to be the diverse range of health promoting plant compounds, also known as polyphenols, which contain anthocyanins and ellagic acid. This research was published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition if you would like to read up on it further. Blueberries are referred to super fruits because of their high levels of antioxidants. They are also a high fiber food, along with green beans, raspberries, chickpeas, and strawberries! These can help you prevent weight gain or even promote weight loss-without dieting- according to a new research in the Journal of Nutrition. Researchers found that boosting fiber intake by 8 grams for every 1000 calories consumed resulted in a loss of about 4.5 lbs over the course of the study. As suggested earlier, you can pop these bad boys into your bowl of cereal or oatmeal in the morning, into a smoothie (maybe with some spinach??), a pie, or a bowl of yogurt and granola. Maybe you can pop them in a salad as well to pump up the health levels there.
Incorporating these delicious foods into your every day diet can reduce your risk for all sorts of cancers as well as heart disease. It can improve the smoothness and appearance of your skin, protect you from UV rays, improve your eyesight, help prevent weight gain, and even help regulate your sleep! Start your path to a healthier you by just adding some of these into your every day routine! You can even combine these in all kinds of recipes. Bon appetit!