Marion Nestle is a "no-nonsense-tell-it-like-it-is-and-hold-the-hype" kind of nutrition maven. She's a professor of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at NYU, and a best-selling author. I used to be annoyed with her pitch that you should eat a wide variety of fruits and vegetables and forget about the supplements and vitamins. It's a lot easier to just pop a vitamin. But the truth is, scientists have only identified a fraction of the nutrients that exist in our foods, and these nutrients truly work in a synergistic way that would be impossible to duplicate in a pill.
Why are antioxidant-rich foods so important?
Every cell in the body needs a constant supply of oxygen to produce energy. When these cells burn oxygen for energy, they release a by-product called a free radical. If not controlled, free radicals cause a chain reaction of damage that wreaks havoc on the body's cells, tissue and DNA. And the older we get, the harder it is for our bodies to repair this damage. This destruction is called oxidation, and it can lead to a variety of ailments, including cancer, aging, cataracts, arthritis, heart disease, and Alzheimer's disease. Certain vitamins and minerals-including vitamins C and E, beta-carotene, lycopene and many others, work as antioxidants to neutralize the effect of damaging free radicals-literally stopping them in their tracks. In fact, these antioxidants work best together. The problem is, research has shown that taking antioxidants in pill form just doesn't do the job, while a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and legumes provides a far more potent antioxidant weapon against free radical damage. No supplement on the market can give us nearly the power that whole foods can! -adapted from the Cleveland Clinic Healthy Heart Lifestyle Guide and Cookbook-
Here's what's on my (almost) everyday top super food list:
- Ezekiel Bread is an organic, flourless, complete protein bread that is made from sprouted whole wheat, barley, millet, lentils, soybeans, and spelt. It's got 3 gm. of fiber and is 80 calories a slice. Imagine getting all these beans and grains in one easy shot, and without cooking? I usually have 2 slices a day in a sandwich. If I miss a day of this delicious hearty bread, believe me, my digestive system notices. It's widely available at Trader Joe's, large grocery stores (often in the freezer) and at most health food stores. The Ezekiel brand also makes hot dog and hamburger buns and torilla wraps with the same wholesome ingredients, if you want a change of pace.
- Rader Farms Mixed Frozen Berries are a convenient economical way to make sure I get a daily dose of these power-packed antioxidants. Berries are loaded with phytochemicals and this variety is a combination of raspberries, blueberries & marionberries. A 4 pound bag (14 servings) costs about $9.00 at Costco. I pour some pomegranate kefir on top of a cup of thawed berries, sprinkle on some sliced almonds and voila, I have a delicious afternoon snack. If I want berries right out of the freezer, I just thaw them briefly in the microwave. They weigh in at 70 calories and 3 gm. of fiber.
- Baby Carrots are always a part of my packed lunch. I count out at least 12 carrots which for a mere 36 calories provides me with 552% of my daily Vitamin A intake, with 2.2 gm. of fiber. They're loaded with caretenoids that can decrease the risk of cancer, heart disease, cataracts and macular degeneration. There's no such thing as a toxic dose of beta-carotene when you get it from whole foods, unlike the supplement pill form.
- Butternut squash or pumpkin are also part of my everyday packed lunch, or dinner. I get precut raw chunks of butternut squash at Trader Joe's, toss them in a little olive oil, a dash of real maple syrup, add a sprinkle of kosher salt and pepper and bake for about 20 minutes at 400 degrees, until they're slightly browned and a little caramelized. It's delicious cold or warm, as a side dish, in a salad or as a snack. A 1/2 cup serving is about 80 calories with almost 400% of my daily vitamin A. It's like eating a dessert. Alternatively, I make a pumpkin pudding that provides a week's worth of yummy desserts or snacks loaded with fiber and carotenoids.
- Spinach/Kale or Swiss chard are my new favorites, now that my oldest son has taught me a quick & easy way to prepare them. As healthy as spinach is, I'm not fond of eating it raw. In 5 minutes you can quickly saute spinach, kale or swiss chard in a little olive oil, along with chopped up garlic. I use a great shortcut with pre-roasted jarred garlic from Christopher Ranch. You can even add a little splash of Liquid Smoke and a dash of real maple syrup for a yummy sweet smoky taste. These 3 greens are real nutritional powerhouses, and a 1 cup serving of cooked greens will provide a day's worth of phytonutrients.
- Flax seed is part of my breakfast, no matter what form it takes. I add 2 TBS. to my oatmeal, a soy shake, sprinkle it on oat pancakes, in fruit and yogurt, or on top of almond butter with toast. I always travel with a container of this stuff. If I miss a day, my body notices it! Enough said. Flax seed is high in omega 3's in the form of alpha linolenic acid. It's rich in vitamin E and has the largest amount of lignans, which are known to protect against breast cancer. Additionally, it lowers your triglycerides, provides soluble & insoluble fiber, reduces the inflammatory response and may protect against stroke. It's pretty much a miracle seed. You have to eat flax seed in its ground form, and since I'm lazy, I now buy them pre-ground as "flax meal". Once ground, they must be kept refrigerated to protect against rancidity. They really have a pleasant nutty taste & can even be sprinkled on a salad.
- Kefir is like a drinkable non-fat yogurt. It's loaded with 10 live probiotic (good-for-you-bacteria) cultures that keep your digestive and immune systems healthy. It helps with lactose intolerance and is a good source of calcium, protein, and fiber. I buy Trader Joe's brand, or Lifeway. The Lifeway pomegranate flavor is fabulous mixed in berries.
- Citrus - I try to have a cup of Minute Maid Heart Wise OJ everyday to get a gram of plant sterols to keep my "bad" cholesterol at bay. It just flushes it out of my system. Honeybells, available in the winter or clementines are my whole fruit citrus favorites.
- Big salad - To coax myself into eating salads I have to load them up with interesting ingredients, so in the end, I'd rather eat a huge main dish salad for dinner, than bother with a little boring side salad. What's the point? I always use mesclun greens, cherry tomatoes, red peppers or roasted vegetables, squash, roasted corn (frozen from Trader Joe's) or avocado. I often add dried or fresh fruit, nuts or a sprinkle of feta or goat cheese. Top it with some grilled chicken or salmon and it's a quick and nutritious meal.
- Low sodium V-8 juice is the lazy person's (me) vegetable. Tomatoes, carrots, celery, beets, parsley lettuce, watercress, and spinach all mixed together for an easy dose of potassium, magnesium, vitamins C and A, minus the salt!
- Silver Palate Whole Grain Oatmeal is an award-winning version of this cholesterol-cutting morning cereal. I mix it up with some oat bran, flax seed, dried fruit, nuts, soy protein and soy milk for a stick-to-my-ribs breakfast that keeps me full for at least 3 hours. For my personal oatmeal recipes click here. The soluble fiber slows the rate at which food leaves the stomach and delays the absorption of glucose following a meal. It keeps blood sugar stable which is a real plus for keeping hunger at bay, and preventing diabetes.
- Almond Butter is my back-up plan breakfast when I'm in a rush, or in need of an afternoon pick-me-up. Almonds are the best nut source of vitamin E, and contain arginine which promotes blood flow by relaxing the blood vessels. It's high in the good mono-saturated fats, protein, and biotin, which promotes skin health and keeps your energy level up. If you want to lower your cholesterol, this is the nut butter for you. I buy the Trader Joe's brand which is unsalted and costs about 1/2 of other brands. For breakfast I'll slather it on Ezekiel bread and mash in a couple tablespoons of flax seed on top. Spread on sliced apples it gives me a boost in the afternoon and keeps me away from the cookies and chips.
Anybody else have everday super food favorites to recommend? I love trying out new powerhouse foods!