Good nutrition is important for good health and an optimal quality of life. In “Nutrition for Optimal Health – Part One” we looked at the effects of sugar and how to consume a reasonable amount each day. In part two, we focused our attention on blood pH balance and how it affects a person’s overall health. In the third (and final) part of the series, we will learn about a special category of nutrient dense foods that provide exceptional health benefits and help to prevent a wide variety of preventable disease … “SUPERFOODS”!
What Makes a Food … “Super”?
Superfoods are a special category of foods found in nature. They are important to include in a healthy eating plan because they are:
- High in nutrient content/value (ie. one serving provides the daily recommended intake).
- Low in calorie content (ie. one serving is significantly less than an unhealthier, processed food option).
- Provide a wide variety of health benefits (ie. lower blood cholesterol, high in antioxidants, etc.).
- Have very few negative properties (ie. high in saturated fat, artificial ingredients, contaminants, etc.).
Because these foods are often times found in nature you won’t find them along the inside aisles of your typically grocery store. They will be in the sections on the perimeter of the store (produce section, meat department, dairy section and dry goods section). Below is a list of recommended superfoods to consider adding to your grocery list:
- Dark green leafy vegetables
- Green tea
- Sulfur-containing foods
- Raw nuts
Top 5 Superfoods for Optimal Nutrition
1. Dark Green Leafy Vegetables
Many health boosting nutrients can be found in dark green vegetables (ie. vitamins A, D, C, B, E and K). They also have a high fiber content and phytochemicals (ie. beta-carotene and lutein). Other nutrients found in these foods include magnesium, manganese, potassium, calcium, folic acid and omege-3 fatty acids. These nutrients help facilitate the body’s repair processes and help protect the body against free radical damage (ie. repair of skin, organs and bones). They are also useful in helping to manage one’s weight. The low-calorie and high-fiber contents of these foods allow you to eat a lot of them, without significant weight gain. Examples of dark green leafy vegetables include: spinach, kale, romaine lettuce, collard greens, mustard greens, chicory and Swiss chard.
As a wonderful vegetarian source of omega-3 fatty acids, flaxseed is the richest source of a substance called lignans. Lignans are compounds that give flax its cancer-fighting ability. Once you eat them, plant lignans can be converted by your intestinal bacteria into a compound that blocks estrogen activity. Soy and the anti-cancer drug tamoxifen work in much the same way. Flaxseed is also helpful in reducing high blood pressure, high cholesterol and triglycerides. Last but not least, it also relieves constipation. It’s important to grind your flaxseed before consuming it. If the seeds aren’t crushed beforehand, they will pass straight through your system intact and you won’t get any of the benefits.
3. Green Tea
Green tea is simply amazing! It contains a substance called “epigallocatechin gallate” (EGCG) that enhances our body’s sensitivity to insulin. This has profound benefits for people who struggle with insulin resistance (ie. type II diabetes). Green tea has also been shown to slow down the release of carbohydrates into the bloodstream, preventing rapid rises in blood-insulin levels and keeping the body at an ideal blood sugar balance for fat burning. EGCG also has powerful anti-cancer properties. Besides inhibiting the growth of cancer cells, it has demonstrated the ability to kill cancer cells without harming healthy tissue. Drinking green tea has also been found to boost your immune system so it is better prepared to fight off infections.
Note: Green tea leaves are processed using steam or dry heat, and are not fermented. Black tea, on the other hand, undergoes fermentation to strengthen its flavor. Fermentation destroys nearly all of the EGCG, the substance that gives green tea so many of its benefits.
4. Sulfur-Containing Foods
Sulfur has strong antimicrobial and antioxidant properties. Your great-grandmother probably used a little sulfur and molasses as a health tonic. She may have also used it as a laxative and as a remedy for many health problems. Your body requires 850 mg of sulfur each day to keep its biological processes humming. Most of the intake comes from the amino acids in protein foods — such as cysteine, taurine and methionine. L-cysteine is a powerful antioxidant, and much of its strength appears to be related to its sulfur content. Egg yolks are probably one of the best food sources of sulfur. Two eggs a day will provide more than enough sulfur for your body’s needs.
5. Raw Nuts
Research has shown over and over that by simply by eating nuts, a person can significantly:
- Improve their cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
- Reduce their risk of heart disease.
- Lose weight.
Many of the benefits come from their high fatty acid content. Because whole nuts are digested slowly, their oils enter the bloodstream at a slower rate. This is why they are actually better for us than extracted oils, which enter the bloodstream quickly. This is an important fact because the longer digested fat circulates in the bloodstream, the greater the risk of developing heart disease. Raw nuts are also a good source of vitamin E and minerals like magnesium and potassium. They also contain the amino acid arginine, which the body uses to make nitric oxide. Nitric oxide improves blood flow to the heart muscle.
Don’t be afraid to enjoy a variety of healthy raw nuts (ie. walnuts, pecans, almonds, hazelnuts, and Brazil nuts). Keep your daily intake to approximately 3 ounces (a handful weighs roughly one ounce), and be sure you to get adequate amounts of omega-3 fats in the form of fresh-ground flaxseed or fish oil each day to balance the omega-6 fats found in nuts. The ideal balance of omega-6s to omega-3s is between 3:1 and 4:1.
Food for Thought …
With the right knowledge and a personal commitment to one’s health anyone can avoid preventable disease and have the optimal quality of life. Now that you have the tools to decrease your sugar content, maintain an optimal pH level and have a list of superfoods to include in your grocery list you are ready to take control of your health through good nutrition and healthy food!