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

 

 

 

 

 

Spring Clean Your Diet, Satisfy Cravings

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If warmer weather and fresh air send you into tidying mode, don’t forget your pantry. Spring clean your pantry and refrigerator and you’ll make better food choices and improve your health in the long run.

Count on Color for Protecting your Body

The colorful compounds in fruits, vegetables and grains protect plants from diseases and pests. In your body they help protect your tissues including skin, bone and muscle, from harm. Think of all forms of produce and grains in a variety of colors (see below). Fresh, frozen, 100% juice, dried or roasted veggie snacks and dried fruits with no added sugar (I often turn to figs and raisins when I want something sweet).

Here’s an example of of what color can do for you:

Orange fruits and vegetables may be protective against bone loss.

Black, deep red and dark purple produce and grains (examples: black rice, purple carrots, 100% grape juice made with Concord grapes, 100% pomegranate juice) are good for artery health; they help expand arteries to accommodate greater blood flow (very important for maintaining healthy blood pressure).

Dark greens are good for skin and eyes. They can help eyes adjust to bright light and also support night vision. Some examples include spinach, kale, turnip greens, collard greens, broccoli, zucchini, Brussels sprouts and romaine lettuce.

Add Snacks that Satisfy Hunger and Taste

When you want to satisfy hunger, look for foods high in protein and fiber. If you want to satisfy hunger and taste at the same time, consider options that fulfill your cravings. Looking for salty and crunchy? Beanitos hint of lime chips are amazing with guacamole. Searching for something sweet? Yogurt parfaits, granola + milk (Purely Elizabeth’s and The Toasted Oat are 2 of my favorites). There are also a number of bars that satisfy hunger and taste at the same time. Check out the newest Luna bars including chocolate dipped coconut (you won’t miss Mounds or Almond Joy). Find a few other crave worthy options here.

Discover Missing Nutrients

Vitamin D has been the rage for years but there are other nutrients that are ‘shortfall nutrients,’ those most of us do not consume in adequate amounts. Among them are potassium and magnesium.  Potassium is important for healthy blood pressure, nerve and muscle functioning and removing waste products from cells. Branch out from bananas and consider including leafy greens, carrots and potatoes and citrus fruits such as oranges and grapefruits for potassium. Think out of the box with kale chips, roasted carrots and potatoes or slow cooker vegetables with potatoes. Magnesium is  necessary for muscle and nerve functioning, blood sugar control, bone health, blood pressure regulation, energy production and normal heart rhythm. It also helps with sleep and muscle relaxation. Get a little more magnesium with beans, nuts, seeds, dark green leafy veggies, avocados and potatoes.

In addition to focusing on the food mentioned here, place foods you want to consume at eye level and treats you want to eat rarely in the back of the cabinet or bottom of the freezer out of sight and reach. Chances are, you’ll forget they are there.

 

Good Food Bad Food

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As a dietitian I’m often asked “is {insert food} good for me?” or, another common variation of this question: “is {food} healthy?” I often want to respond “well heck I don’t know, I know nothing about you!” Is kale a good food? Yes. Are you on coumadin? Then no, you can’t go hog-wild and throw down plates of kale or green drinks.

The Good Food, Bad Food or stoplight approach for all is an easy system that fails to truly reach and teach people about the foods that are best for them, given their situation. Sure, it’s kind of obvious no one chooses a doughnut or soda to improve the nutrition content of their diet. But, there’s more gray area after doughnuts then red or green lights that can succinctly group foods into categories for the masses. Plus, many very good-for-you foods (sometimes referred to as “nutrient dense” meaning they have a good amount of vitamins, minerals, fiber and other nutrients in them) may not make the cut because they have too many calories per serving or don’t meet some other general criteria needed before they get that green stamp of approval. And many others that are on the list may be ones you don’t like, don’t know how to prepare or don’t settle well in your stomach.

Like any team sport game (football, tennis, basketball, soccer etc.), food can be very situation-dependent (depends on what’s best for you). You put in the right players to get the job done depending on the opponents you face. Likewise, instead of letting green and red guide you to what you should and shouldn’t eat, add the right foods to your diet based on your particular situation and to get the vitamins, minerals, fiber, and healthy plant-based compounds needed to build, repair and support functions within your body while also pleasing your tastebuds.

Here’s an example of seemingly healthy foods that are off limits for many people – making a single answer to this question very tough.

Good Food, Bad Food

Nutrition is complex and I start people off with easy to follow guidelines. But, keep in mind when I (or another dietitian) answers the Good Food, Bad Food question we are answering it for you and not for the masses or for the masses in general though it may not fit on your eating plan.