Thursday, March 13, 2014

20 Super Foods! (A practical, affordable list!) - March is National Nutrition Month!

March is National Nutrition Month, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics!  No I’m serious, it really is!  Time to celebrate by eating super, nutrient-dense foods!  I have compiled a beginner’s list here for you –we all have to start somewhere.  There are many amazing foods out there that are nutrient dense and very functional.  A list like this is inherently subjective and a practical list couldn't and shouldn't contain them all.  I mean if you're aware of a particular, rare mushroom with miraculous healing powers, but it can only be located after trekking the Amazon jungle for a month, then well, that's not really going to help the rest of us 9-to-fivers is it?!   All the foods I have listed here can be found at almost any super market or whole-foods-type market.  This is a practical list for you and I.  So what makes me consider a food “Super”?  As far as this list is concerned a food will not be considered super unless it possesses healing properties above and beyond providing nutrition and energy.  “Healing properties?” you ask – why yes, along with providing energy and nutrition, food can also be Mother Nature’s most raw and powerful ‘medicine’.  Let me give you few examples of some healing and medicinal properties I’m referring to and how they are defined:

  1. Anti-oxidant:  Neutralizes free-radical molecules in the body, due to oxidative metabolism, by binding to them.  Free-radicals left unchecked can wreak havoc in the body by pulling electrons from other molecules and speed up the aging process of cells.
  2.  Alkalinizing:  If you’ll remember from my earlier article on pH-balancing, your body’s natural pH is slightly alkaline, and many of the refined foods, sodas, coffees, and dairy we eat are very acidic causing the body to leach calcium and other minerals from our bones and muscles to neutralize the acids.  An acidic body has a weakened immune system and does not function at its ideal.
  3. Anti-inflammatory:  Some foods lower inflammation and it is now thought that chronic, systemic inflammation is directly linked to elevated CRP, atherosclerosis, insulin resistance, arthritis, Lupus, and many other problems.
  4. Lower LDL-cholesterol and/or raise HDL-cholesterol: This one really needs no explaining.  Good for the heart and blood vessels.
  5. Anti-biotic/anti-fungal:  Some foods naturally accomplish this role in helping the immune system eliminate harmful pathogens from the body and preventing Candida, (yeast), overrun.
  6. Anti-cancer/carcinogenic: Some foods directly battle cancer cells, and bust up tumors.
  7. Anti-allergenic:  Can help our immune systems grow accustom to allergens and prevent reactions.
  8. Phyto-chemicals:  Micronutrients found in plant-foods including phyto-estrogens to block bad/synthetic estrogens, isoflavones, flavonols, and plant sterols.  These amazing chemicals do things like lower LDL-cholesterol, function as anti-oxidants, support hormone balance, and combat cancer.
  9. Improve Insulin sensitivity/glucose tolerance:  Helps cells uptake glucose from the blood for energy using less insulin.

The other component necessary for a food to make my ‘super’ list is that it has to be very close to its state created by Mother Nature.  Supplements have a place in the nutrition pyramid for sure, but Mother Nature delivers vitamins, minerals, and phyto-chemicals in better form than any supplement.  Minimal processing and refining, and in fact for many of the foods on this list, eating them raw would be best, as heat from cooking can alter the chemical structure of fragile micro-nutrients and enzymes, and denature proteins.  So without further introductions, here are some super, healthy foods for you, (many of them which have already had quite a bit of buzz, so you may be aware of them), in no particular order:
  1. Garlic: Though garlic is considered more of a seasoning, it possesses some amazing healing attributes, especially when a clove is eaten raw.  The chemicals Allicin and Phytoncide in it function as a natural anti-biotic, anti-fungal, anti-parasitic, fighting Candida-yeast and other pathogens.  It also serves as a blood thinner, lowers LDL-cholesterol, lowers triglycerides, and lowers homocysteine levels.  It is also is a good source of B-vitamins.
  2.  Green Tea: Again, not really a food but a beverage, this tea seems to do it all from boosting energy with just the right amount of caffeine, to boosting metabolism and fat-burning with a chemical called EGCG, to fighting cancer cells with Catechins, packing anti-oxidant power with plenty of Polyphenols, to balancing pH because it is highly alkaline – 3 cups a day and you’re good to go!  Unlike with coffee, you can’t seem to overdo green tea, so drink up.
  3. Olive Oil: From salad dressings, to dipping your bread, flavoring your pasta, to low-heat cooking, this monounsaturated oil is one of the keys to the legendary ‘Mediterranean Diet’ that is credited with longevity and lower cancer rates.  Olive oil’s key nutrients are oleic acid and plenty of Polyphenols anti-oxidants.  Oleic acid is an Omega fatty acid precursor that is multi-functional as an anti-inflammatory, protecting joint health, improving elasticity of arterial walls, and supporting brain health.  Look for ‘Extra-Virgin’ and cold-pressed, if you want the most flavor and most Polyphenols.
  4. The Lemon: This simple, bright smelling citrus fruit is a great way to start off every morning to alkalinize your body and stimulate your digestive tract.  Though lemon contains 5% citric acid, it has a very alkalinizing effect on the body primarily due to its mineral ratio content and reaction to stomach acid.  It is also packed with potassium, vitamin C and citrus bioflavonoid antioxidants.  Squeeze half a fresh lemon in a glass of warm water upon waking.  It is also an anti-septic.
  5. Almonds: Every pilot I’ve flown with at JetBlue loves munching on almonds, and I really hope we get our almonds snack back, instead of cashews!  Raw are best of course, (and they taste just as good), and unsalted.  The almond is one of the only nuts that are alkaline.  At the same time, it is loaded with essential anti-inflammatory fats that lower LDL-cholesterol and boost HDL-cholesterol, (the good kind).  Almonds also deliver a good dose of protein, vitamin E, and Zinc to boot, with no sugar of course!  Walnuts are a great runner-up.
  6. Wild Salmon: (And other cold-water, ocean fish) Wild salmon made the list because it is probably the most tasty source of the essential fat, Omega-3 fatty acid you can eat.  Wild is way better than farm-raised because farm-raised salmon swim in very sketchy tanks full of polluted water, and wild has lower PCB and mercury levels.  Farm-raised fish also has more saturated fat, and less Omega fats.  The Omega-3 fatty acid is the best source of DHA and EPA, so important for brain and heart health.
  7. The Egg: The egg is back!  Some say it never left.  The egg made this list because it is one of the best sources of complete protein found in Mother Nature.  Egg has a high biological absorption value and is easily digested, supplying all essential amino acids in proper ratio.  One egg provides 7 grams of protein.  Egg also is an excellent source of B-vitamins, Folic acid, vitamin A, choline, iron, calcium, phosphorous, and potassium.  Yes the yolk has a lot of cholesterol, but it is now known that most of this is good, HDL-cholesterol, and most of the fat is unsaturated.  The yellow-coloring in the yolk also is loaded with carotene, vitamin D and E.  And now the organic farms are fortifying their chickens with omega fatty acids too.  Did I mention the egg is sugar-free?
  8. Flax Seed/Oil:  Flax whether eaten as seeds or oil is loaded with the omegas 3, 6, and 9 in proper ratio.  The lignans and seed hulls they provide are one of the best sources of dietary fiber both soluble and insoluble, for cardiovascular and colon health.  Use the oil in salad dressings, or blend in your smoothie.
  9. Yogurt:  Look for natural yogurt with “live, active cultures”, and no added corn syrup!  Yogurt made the list because it is a great way to ingest friendly, probiotic bacteria essential for colon health, and to keep yeast in check.  Yogurt also provides calcium and protein, and moderate levels of sugar, as long as you avoid the corn syrup.  Be sure to check out Greek yogurt, which is favorite among my fellow fitness nerds lately!
  10. Oatmeal: Oatmeal is one of the best complex slow-digesting carbohydrates you can eat for sustained energy and minimal insulin release, and also provides a good amount of soluble fiber credited for heart health, by lowering LDL-cholesterol.  Oatmeal can be eaten by itself or blended into smoothies or other recipes.  Granola and other oat-based cereals are better than wheat-based cereals, especially if you suspect you may have a wheat allergy. 
  11. The Apple:  “An apple a day keeps the doctor away” still holds true.  Especially when eaten with the skin.  The apple has a very alkalinizing effect, and is packed with Flavonoids and other phyto-nutrients that function as antioxidants and anticarcinogenic.  You also get a good serving of pectin fiber.
  12. Honey:  It has to be raw and preferably harvested in your local area.  Honey, like garlic, touts too many benefits to list here, but primarily helps treat allergies, since locally harvested, raw honey contains small amounts of the very same pollen, mold, and dust that are most likely causing your allergies.  Slowly you will develop immunity to these contaminants.  Honey is also an alkaline source of sugar that packs more sweetness per calorie than regular table sugar, (sucrose).  Honey does not ferment during digestion, and can be used to treat gastric and intestinal ulcers.  Honey also combats H. Pylori bacteria responsible for causing most ulcers.
  13. Blueberries: Berries as a whole, are packed with anti-oxidants, but blueberries may top the list.  Blueberries are also a good source of fiber, folic acid; vitamin C, E, and can help prevent urinary tract infections.
  14. Avocado: The avocado tastes so good, and fortunately for us, it is very healthy.  Very alkaline, and very satiating – a great way to fill up by adding slices to salads, and sandwiches, as guacamole, or just by itself.  When you eat avocado you are primarily eating a monounsaturated fat, like olive oil, that is can be converted by the body into omega fatty acids, and also ingesting potassium, vitamins B and E, and lot of fiber.  Right off the tree, 100% goodness, and squeeze some lime on it to prevent discoloring from oxidation.
  15. Legumes, AKA, beans:  Beans, beans, good for your heart…and everything else!  Your favorite bean, whether black, red, or kidney, is packed with fiber, folic acid, protein, and vitamin E.  Sometimes eating too much leaves a lot of fiber to be fermented in the colon by friendly bacteria there to finish digestion, yielding some gaseous byproduct!
  16. Cinnamon:  This favorite holiday spice has proven effective in improving insulin sensitivity and glucose uptake.  So use it in your coffee, on your toast, or anywhere else, but just make sure it is fresh!
  17. Dark Chocolate:  In moderate amounts and most importantly it has to be ‘dark’, with at least 70% real cocoa content.  This means your favorite Hershey’s or Snickers bar won’t do the trick.  ‘Milk chocolate’ won’t do it.  It is the cocoa that has the health benefits, loaded with flavonols and L-Arginine that improve the health of your endothelium cells lining your blood vessels, dilating them, (causing them to release nitric oxide).  Also, the fat contained in dark chocolate, is from cocoa butter and is a functional dietary fat, not harmful to LDL-cholesterol levels, and may in fact raise HDL levels.  Lastly dark chocolate is lower in sugar than milk chocolate.
  18. Yams, AKA, Sweet Potatoes:  Excellent source of energy sustaining, slow-digesting, complex, carbohydrate that won’t spike your insulin levels.  Also the orange coloring is loaded with beta-carotene, a powerful antioxidant.  Make sure you eat the skin for added fiber and potassium.
  19. Quinoa:  An ancient grain that has surged in popularity lately, mostly because it is gluten-free, is relatively high in complete-protein content, when compared to most other grains, and tastes great with a fantastic texture.  Serve it like you would rice.  Sprouted-quinoa is even healthier, as the naturally occurring enzymes are activated.
  20. Coconut/coconut oil:  Coconut oil has been used by some Asian and tropical cultures for literally thousands of years for cooking, but for some reason has recently taken off in popularity in the health-hipster, vegan and fitness circles – mostly due to anecdotal claims.  What I can tell you is, it tastes and smells great, is useful for high-heat cooking due to it’s high smoke-point temperature and is mostly full of saturated-fat, which is normally considered unhealthy by dieticians because it contributes to higher cholesterol levels, but in the case of coconut, the saturated fat, is a medium-chain-triglyceride fat, which makes it special, because it be burned for immediate energy like a carbohydrate, but with no insulin release, (cutting-phase bodybuilders have known this for years).  Also it seems to increase HDL-cholesterol (the good kind), while leaving LDL cholesterol alone.  It also is a great skin moisturizer and is said to possess some anti-microbial properties.

Well I’ll stop at twenty otherwise what is the point of making a list?  Feel free to add to it.  There are many more foods that deserve super status – just about any fruit or vegetable!  These foods here are all nutrient dense and functional on many levels.  They go way beyond just providing energy.  You can gather from this list that the omega fats are highly regarded in health and nutrition circles.  The Omega 3 fatty acid, DHA, especially, supports brain, cardiovascular, eye, and joint health, and acts as a general anti-inflammatory.  Try to incorporate several of these foods into your daily diet.  It is easier than you think.  You know, we can’t slow time, and we can’t change our genetics, but we can control what food we eat.  Eating super foods like these just might be your best chance at offsetting the effects of aging; antioxidants for example stop the aging and oxidative damage caused by free-radicals.  Super nutrition is the best weapon in our anti-aging arsenal, and best of all eating healthy requires no prescription.

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