10 Superfoods for Better Health and More Energy

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Superfoods are full of good nutrition. They are important for health and well-being. Everyone knows about salmon for heart and muscle health and blueberries for your brain. So I skipped over these and included 10 other foods you should include in your diet:

Kefir

Kefir is a tangy cultured milk product made by fermenting milk with several bacteria and yeasts. Kefir tops the list of superfoods because it is rich in beneficial bacteria called probiotics. Probiotics are good for gut and immune health. Kefir is an excellence source of calcium and vitamin D for bone health and several B vitamins (your energy vitamins). Opt for plain kefir or mix a little flavored kefir (generally high in added sugars) with plain kefir for great taste but less sugar. If you are lactose intolerant kefir is easier on the stomach because enzymes in the bacteria help break down lactose.

Other Options: Though most yogurts don’t contain the wide variety and number of probiotics as kefir, they are a great option as well. Other probiotic-rich foods include: unpasteurized sauerkraut, miso soup, naturally fermented pickles, and good quality sourdough bread.

Beets

Beets come in brilliant shades of dark red, yellow and orange and have a nice sweet earthy flavor. They are a good source of potassium for nerve and muscle functioning as well as healthy blood pressure. Beets are also a good source of vitamin C and fiber. Beets have more nitrates than most other foods. Nitrates help the body make nitric oxide, a gas that expands blood vessels to make room for greater blood flow. Regular intake of high nitrate foods can help lower blood pressure and improve blood vessel functioning. If you drink 16 oz. of beetroot juice (containing 300-500 mg of nitrates) 2.5 – 3 hours before you hit the gym, you may notice a bump in energy thanks to greater blood flow to working muscles. There’s one caveat: antibacterial mouthwash kills the good bacteria in your mouth. This bacteria is needed for the first step in nitric oxide production. Some research suggests antibacterial mouthwash may increase blood pressure and raise heart disease risk.

Other Options: Celery, argula, spinach are good sources of nitrates.

Ginger

Ginger soothes an upset stomach and helps ease symptoms of motion sickness. Make ginger a regular part of your diet and you’ll also benefit from its ability to decrease muscle soreness after tough bouts of exercise.

Other options: Combat excess muscle soreness with tart cherry juice.

Sunflower seeds

One serving of sunflower seeds will help you meet one-half of your daily vitamin E needs – a nutrient that most Americans aren’t consuming in recommended amounts. Vitamin E protects your cell membranes (including muscle cells) from damage, supports immune functioning and helps expand blood vessels to accommodate greater blood flow. Vitamin E deprived muscle cell membranes do not heal properly yet a healthy balance is important. Get enough, but not too much, of this vitamin as both deficiency and excess may impair your training gains. Plus, more than recommended amounts will not improve athletic performance.

Other Options: Snack on almonds, pine nuts, and peanuts to help you meet your vitamin E needs.

Pumpkin seeds

Pumpkin seeds are one of the best sources of magnesium, a mineral that is so widely under-consumed. Magnesium keeps muscles and nerves functioning properly and is also necessary for your body to produce energy. Pumpkin seeds are also an excellent source of zinc, a mineral important for immune health and wound healing.

Other options: Sesame seeds and Brazil nuts are also excellent sources of magnesium. For a magnesium-packed meal, brush firm tofu (also a source of magnesium) with sesame oil and coat with sesame seeds before stir-frying.

Olive Oil

Olive oil is a staple in Italy and Spain where the Mediterranean Diet is associated with reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer and improved brain health. Replacing dietary saturated fats, such as butter or shortening, with olive oil may help reduce risk of coronary heart disease. Replacing other cooking oils with olive oil may help lower blood pressure and improve blood cholesterol. Use olive oil in moderation, because it is high in calories. There are some sketchy companies out there who mix cheaper quality oils with olive oil to lower their costs. Make sure you’re getting good quality olive oil by looking for a seal of approval from the USDA Quality Monitoring Program or the North American Olive Oil Association (NOOA).

Other Options: For baking, cooking, stirfrying and other high heat cooking, consider almond, hazelnut, peanut, or pecan oil.

Garlic

Garlic adds favor without calories. When used in a marinade or added to beef, fish, chicken or turkey patties, garlic helps limit the formation of nasty compounds that cause cancer in animals, heterocyclic amines (HCAs). HCAs are formed when your protein-rich food is cooked. High dry heat leads to more HCAs formed so make sure you add garlic to any meat, poultry or fish you throw on the grill or in the smoker.

Other Options: Rosemary and Caribbean spices also decrease HCA formation.

Dark Chocolate, one of the Ultimate Superfoods?

Wouldn’t it be great if you could bite into a rich, smooth, dark piece of chocolate with complete confidence that you were doing something good for your body? Dark chocolate is made from cocoa powder – the defatted powder from cacao beans. Cocoa powder contains flavanols, a group of antioxidants responsible for the association between dark chocolate and lower blood pressure. Unfortunately you can’t rely on the percentage of cocoa or cacao in a bar as an indicator of total flavanol content. Here’s your best option for  getting that dark chocolate taste you are craving and health benefits as well.

Tempeh

In your local grocery store, tucked in a remote refrigerator between tofu and non-dairy “cheese,” you’ll find long, thin light brown colored sheets of tempeh. Tempeh is fermented soybeans. Unlike tofu, tempeh includes the whole soybean so it is higher in protein, fiber, and vitamins. Tempeh is also an excellent source of iron (for oxygen delivery throughout your body), magnesium and vitamin B-6 (an energy vitamin) and good source of calcium.

Tempeh has a firm, chewy texture and slightly earthy, bean-like taste. Replace deli meat with tempeh, try it sautéed in sesame oil and garlic, grilled or served on top of salad.

Other options: Pick up plan or flavored tofu.

Green peas

Green peas are so ordinary. Why did I add them to the list of superfoods? Green peas are an excellent source of fiber and vitamin C, good source of vitamin A (important for your eyes and a “nutrient of concern”) and also contain decent amount of magnesium, vitamin B6, folate (a “nutrient of concern,” folate helps build healthy new cells and prevents some birth defects) and iron. Look for pea protein in bars and protein powders. It boosts a leucine (the key amino acid that turns on muscle building and repair) content equivalent to whey protein and will give you the same muscle-building results as whey protein.

Try peas in multiple forms including pea protein powder, split pea soup and peas mixed into burritos, wraps, in other dishes. Add peas to your rice pilaf, pasta dish, casserole, or stew.

Other Options: Consider yellow whole or split peas. They have a similar nutrition profile to green peas.

Superfoods add vitamins, minerals, fiber and plant compounds important for good health. They support your daily energy needs while improving your overall health.

References

Balk E, Chung M, Lichtenstein A, et al. Effects of Omega-3 Fatty Acids on Cardiovascular Risk Factors and Intermediate Markers of Cardiovascular Disease. Summary, Evidence Report/Technology Assessment: Number 93. AHRQ Publication Number 04-E010-1, March 2004. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Rockville, MD.

Kromhout D, Bosschieter EB, de Lezenne Coulander C. The inverse relation between fish consumption and 20-year mortality from coronary heart disease. N Engl J Med 1985;312:1205–1209.

Kromhout D, Feskens EJ, Bowles CH. The protective effect of a small amount of fish on coronary heart disease mortality in an elderly population. Int J Epidemiol 1995;24:340–345.

Mozaffarian D, Rimm EB. Fish intake, contaminants, and human health: evaluating the risks and the benefits. JAMA 2006;296(15):1885-99.

Ahmet I, Spangler E, Shukitt-Hale B, et al. Blueberry-enriched diet protects rat heart from ischemic damage. PLoS One. 2009; 4: e5954. PloS ONE 2009, 4:e5954.

Malin DH, Lee DR, Goyarzu P, Chang Y, Ennis LJ, Beckett E, Shukitt-Hale B, Joseph JA. Short-term blueberry-enriched diet prevents and reverses object recognition memory loss in aging rats. Nutr 2011;27:338-342.

Krikorian R, Shidler MD, Nash TA, et al. Blueberry supplementation improves memory in older adults. J Agric Food Chem 2010, 58:3996-4000.

Davis C, Bryan J, Hodgson J, Murphy K. Definition of the Mediterranean Diet; a Literature Review. Nutrients 2015;7(11):9139-53.

Food Labeling, Summary of Qualified Health Claims Subject to Enforcement Discretion. Food and Drug Administration.

Fernandez-Janne E et al. Risk of first non-fatal myocardial infarction negatively associated with olive oil consumption: a case-control study in Spain. Int J Epidemiol. 2002 Apr;31(2):474-80.

Rozati M, Barnett J, Wu D et al. Cardio-metabolic and immunological impacts of extra virgin olive oil consumption in overweight and obese older adults: a randomized controlled trial. Nutr Metab 2015,12:28.

Grassi D, Necozione S, Lippi C, et al. Cocoa reduces blood pressure and insulin resistance and improves endothelium-dependent vasodilation in hypertensives. Hypertension 2005, 46(2):398-405.

Hooper L, Kroon PA, Rimm EB, et al. Flavonoids, flavonoid-rich foods, and cardiovascular risk: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Am J Clin Nutr 2008;88(1):38-50.

Mastroiacovo D, Kwik-Uribe C, Grassi D et al. Cocoa flavanol consumption improves cognitive function, blood pressure control, and metabolic profile in elderly subjects: the Cocoa, Cognition, and Aging (CoCoA) Study—a randomized controlled trial.. Am J Clin Nutr 2014.

Miller KB, Hurst WJ, Payne MJ et al. Impact of alkalization on the antioxidant and flavanol content of commercial cocoa powders. J Agric Food Chem 2008, 56(18):8527-33.

Product Review: Cocoa powders, dark chocolate, extracts, nibs and supplements – sources of flavanols. ConsumerLab.com

U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service. 2012. Total Nutrient Intakes: Percent Reporting and Mean Amounts of Selected Vitamins and Minerals from Food and Dietary Supplements, by Family Income (as ! of Federal Poverty Threshold) and Age, What We Eat in America, NHANES 2009-2010. Available: www.ars.usda.gov/ba/bhnrc/fsrg.

Powers SK, Jackson MJ. Exercise-induced oxidative stress: cellular mechanisms and impact on muscle force production. Physiol Rev 2008, 88(4):1243-76.

Sharman IM, Down MG, Norgan NG. The effects of vitamin E on physiological function and athletic performance of trained swimmers. J Sports Med Phys Fitness 1976;16:215–225.

Institute of Medicine (IOM). Food and Nutrition Board. Dietary Reference Intakes: Calcium, Phosphorus, Magnesium, Vitamin D and Fluoride. Washington, DC: National Academy Press, 1997.

Smith JS, Ameri F, Gadgil P. Effect of marinades on the formation of heterocyclic amines in grilled beef steaks. J Food Sci 2008, 73(6):T100-5.

Notice of GRAS Exemption – Pea Protein as a Food Ingredient http://www.fda.gov/downloads/Food/IngredientsPackagingLabeling/GRAS/NoticeInventory/ucm464894.pdf

Babault N, Paizis C, Deley G et al. Pea proteins oral supplementation promotes muscle thickness gains during resistance training: a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled clinical trial vs. whey protein. JISSN 2015, 12:3.

Peas Commodity Fact Sheet. https://www.usaid.gov/what-we-do/agriculture-and-food-security/food-assistance/resources/peas-commodity-fact-sheet

 

 

 

 

 

Snacks that Won’t Set You Back

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By: Gisselle Marie Rosa

Healthy grains and dried fruit

Have you had those days where your stomach feels like it is going to eat itself at any moment and you realize that it is only ten in the morning? Even after eating a good breakfast, having hunger pangs before lunchtime can be frustrating and really decrease concentration and productivity. That’s why many people turn to snacks – to tie them over until their next meal. According to recent studies, 97% of male and female participants over the age of 20 reported eating a snack1, with most individuals eating 2 to 3 snacks a day2. However, having a snack that is high in fat and sugar can make you feel sluggish and put you over your calorie budget for the day. So, before running to the vending machine and grabbing a candy bar, indulge in these healthy, tasty snacks that will fuel your body through your midmorning tasks:

  1. Nuts & Seeds

All nuts and seeds are full of vitamins, minerals, fiber and healthy plant based compounds (including antioxidants) and therefore, you should mix and match your nuts and seeds so you get a diverse array of nutrients (since each nut/seed has different nutrients) and tastes. Here are a few of my favorites:

Almonds – These power-packed nuts are sure to fuel your work day with plenty of protein and heart-healthy fats. A one-ounce serving (about 23 raw almonds) will only set you back 164 calories and provide you with 6 grams of protein.

Wonderful Pistachios Sweet Chili
Wonderful Pistachios Sweet Chili

In Shell Pistachios – Preliminary behavioral studies suggest that you may consume fewer calories if you opt for in-shell pistachios versus those already shelled because it takes time to break them open and the shells are a visual reminder of what you’ve eaten. Wonderful Pistachios 100-calorie snack packs make a great on-the-go snack that conveniently helps control your portions.  Looking for flavor and maybe even something a little sweet and spicy? Try Wonderful Pistachios Sweet Chili*.

Preliminary behavioral studies suggest that you may consume fewer calories if you opt for in-shell pistachios versus those already shelled because it takes time to break them open and the shells are a visual reminder of what you’ve eaten. Wonderful Pistachios 100-calorie snack packs make a great on-the-go snack that conveniently helps control your portions.  Looking for flavor and maybe even something a little sweet and spicy? Try Wonderful Pistachios Sweet Chili – the secret is in the spices. Salt and pepper has just the right touch of spices to deliver a peppery bite.

If you are worried about the calories in nuts, fear not. Read more about how nuts can help you live longer and lose weight. 

  1. Ants on a Log

A childhood favorite, this snack not only brings out your favorite memories, it also gives you a great protein-packed snack to keep you satisfied ‘till lunchtime. Cut a small stalk of celery in half, then lengthwise to give you four halves of celery. Divide one tablespoon of peanut butter and one tablespoon of raisins into each of the celery halves. This tasty, fun snack stacks up to only 124 calories and 4 grams of protein!

  1. Turkey and Cheese Roll-Up

Looking for a more savory snack? Pack a 1-oz slice of deli turkey and a slice of your favorite low-fat cheese for a dose of 12 grams of protein to keep you full, 200 mg of calcium for bone health, and a measly 145 calories!

  1. Edamame

Ever heard of edamame? Don’t worry, it is just a fancy word for green soybeans. Steam ¾ cup of these shelled soybeans with a sprinkle of garlic powder for a tasty treat that only sets you back by about 140 calories. And don’t worry, with 13 grams protein and 6 grams of fiber, this snack will be sure to keep your belly happy!

5.  Hummus Dippers

Hummus is a food trend that is really sticking; it is a great, healthy snack that is inexpensive and flavorful. So, what exactly is it? Hummus is a Mediterranean dip made of ground chickpeas and spices. Try dipping your favorite vegetable in it, such as baby carrots, sliced cucumbers, or sliced bell pepper for a nutrient-dense snack. At about 100 calories, 2 tablespoons with a handful of your favorite dip-able veggies are a fresh way to keep you going. Also check out edamame hummus – it’s simply amazing (Trader Joe’s has one or make your own).

  1. Peanut Butter Toast

This rich, creamy snack will help quell your stomach and hold you over. Toast one 100% whole wheat slice of bread and top with 1 tablespoon of your favorite peanut butter for 160 calories, 8 grams of protein, and 3 grams of fiber.

  1. Popcorn

Popcorn is a fun, easy-to-eat snack that gives you more bang for your calorie “buck”. For a whole 3 ½ cups of plain popcorn, you’re getting 4 grams of fiber and only about 100 calories. Word of caution: try to avoid the buttery or sweet popcorn flavors as those have more calories and sodium in them!

  1. Strawberries and Cream

Want a change from a plain cup of strawberries? Dip some berries or 1 cup of your favorite fruit in ½ cup of low-fat or fat-free Cool Whip for a light and fresh 100-calorie snack. Or try mixing higher protein cream cheese with a little cheesecake flavored cream cheese and spread this on sliced strawberries or pipe it into hulled strawberries.

  1. Yogurt Parfait

Fuel up with this creamy treat that won’t weigh you down. Top ½ cup of fat-free vanilla yogurt with 2 tablespoons of your favorite low-fat granola and ½ cup of fresh blueberries (or ½ cup of your favorite fruit). This fun snack is nutrient-packed with 7 grams of protein, plenty of calcium for strong bones, and only 200 calories.

Cabot Snack Size. Because everything is better with cheddar!
Cabot Snack Size. Because everything is better with cheddar!

10. Cabot snack size*. Individually pre-wrapped cheeses can be kept out for hours and they are a great nutrition-rich (protein, calcium and more) snack to tie you over until your next meal. Find them at Wegmans, Costco and Acme.

* Clients

References

  1. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service. 2014. Snacks: Percentages of Selected Nutrients Contributed by Food and Beverages Consumed at Snack Occasions, by Gender and Age, What We Eat in America, NHANES 2011-2012.
  2. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service. 2014. Snacks: Distribution of Snack Occasions, by Gender and Age, What We Eat in America, NHANES 2011-2012.
  3. United States Department of Agriculture. Supertracker. Internet: https://www.supertracker.usda.gov/foodtracker.aspx (accessed 5 November 2014).