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

 

 

 

 

 

Save Money at the Grocery Store, Improve Health & Save the Earth

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Food: Fruits and vegetables

 

 

Today is Earth Day, a day focused on building a healthy, sustainable environment. Keep the earth healthy, slash your grocery bill and improve your health at the same time. Here’s how:

Avoid Food Waste

In America, food is cheap and always available. This oversupply of food combined with food marketing means we over buy and end up throwing out an average of 31 – 41% of the food we purchase. In addition to throwing your hard earned dollar in the trash can, food waste drains the environment. Rotting fruits and vegetables, the top food wasted, uses fresh water and contributes to ethylene gas, methane and CO2 emissions all of which are harmful for our environment (1). “Food waste now accounts for more than one quarter of the total freshwater consumption and ∼300 million barrels of oil per year” (1). Rotting food produces a large amount of methane gas, a gas that has 25 times the impact of CO2 on global warming (3). Dairy products are second behind fruits and vegetables followed by meat, which has the biggest impact on the environment.
Here’s what you can do to avoid waste:

    1. Use a shopping list to prevent impulse buys. It doesn’t matter if it’s on sale if you will end up throwing it out.
    2. Buy small amounts and only what you need and will realistically use before it goes bad.
    3. Buy frozen and canned versions, which have the same nutrition value and you can use them at your convenience (metal cans are endlessly recyclable)
    4. Keep fruits and vegetables fresh or for longer period of time with products that decrease the production of ethylene gas (find them in your local natural food store in the produce section).
    5. Don’t automatically throw food out when the “use by” date arrives. That date is a measure of quality and not food safety. Assess your food to ensure it is still safe (smell your meat, poultry, fish, dairy, nuts and oils; make sure fruits and vegetables are not molded).
    6. Follow these tips from Reader’s Digest.

Choose Plant Proteins

Plant proteins typically cost less $ than meat, fish and poultry and they cost less in terms of environmental resources to produce – less water, fewer environmental gases produced. Plant proteins also deliver plant-based compounds that protect the body. When choosing plant proteins you may need more, per meal, to get the right amount of muscle building amino acids.  In addition to swapping out some meat-based meals, consider eating smaller amounts of meat and adding a plant protein as a side dish. Here are some excellent choices based on their nutrition profile:

  • Peas, split pea soup
  • Legumes, beans, bean pastas, lentils (I soak lentils for about 45 minutes and add them to a variety of dishes)
  • Soy foods including tofu, tempeh, edamame
  • Nut, bean and other flours –  substitute some of the flour in your  recipe for: pecan, peanut, almond, garbanzo bean, fava bean, black bean and other higher protein flours

Buy Staples in Bulk

Whole Foods, Sprouts, Wegmans and similar stores have a bulk section where you can get everything from black rice to oatmeal. Consider shopping in the bulk isle. You’ll save $ and food packaging!

Tofu Veggie Stir Fry

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This month’s Recipe Redux theme is asparagus. And, in my opinion there’s no better way to eat asparagus then stir fried in sesame oil. So, I literally threw together a bunch of vegetables and some tofu for this meatless meal. It’s quick, it’s healthy and it tastes good (and you can add a variety of other vegetables to a stir fry dish).

Tofu Veggie Stir fry

Makes 3 servings

  • 1 green bell pepper
  • bunch asparagus (cut into 2-3 inch pieces)
  • 2 carrots, peeled and sliced
  • 1 large sweet onion chopped
  • 6 oz firm tofu
  • 2-3 Tbsp sesame seed oil
  • 1 Tbsp soy sauce chopped into small squares the size of 1-2 dice

Add 2 Tbsp sesame seed oil to a large skillet (depending on the size of your skillet you may need to do this in two separate batches) over low heat. Place all ingredients in the pan and heat for 10 minutes or until cooked to preference and tofu is brown. You may want to add additional soy sauce to taste. Serve over brown or white rice.