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There has been a lot of buzz about the health benefits of so-called “power foods” or “super foods.” But a healthy diet means more than just a concentration on a few good foods.
“You need a variety of different foods in all the food groups – fruits, vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats and healthy proteins,” said Dr. Katrena Lacey, an internal medicine physician at Methodist Physicians Clinic in Millard. “You can’t just eat off of one top 10 list.”
Katina Gordon is a public relations and social media specialist for Methodist Health System. She blogs monthly for livewellnebraska.com.
Proper nutrition, especially for women, means eating a well-rounded diet of nutritious foods. When it comes to getting the most powerful punch out of any diet, combining healthy choices is even more important.
“Certain antioxidants only work in a certain environment, so sometimes you actually have to have one of the foods working in combination with another for it to do its best job,” Lacey said. “One great example of good foods working together happens when you add onions with vitamin C. Working together they can stabilize histamine cells, which are the ones that make us sneeze and give us a runny nose. So if you eat onions and take vitamin C at the same time, you can decrease some of that congestion.”
There are obviously some food choices that are higher on the nutrient-rich list that you want to include in your daily well-rounded diet. With that in mind, here is Lacey’s list of super healthy foods:
– Blueberries, which carry a wide assortment of antioxidants, have been shown to help protect against obesity, diabetes, heart disease and Parkinson’s disease. They also have anti-inflammatory properties that help the brain with cognition. As a bonus, they are relatively inexpensive.
– Pumpkin is packed with beta-carotene, which is an antioxidant, and lutein. If you aren’t a pumpkin fan, you could try other brightly colored gourds such as papaya or yellow squash. Pumpkin seeds are also high in omega-6 fatty acids. Toasting seeds makes for a great crunchy treat.
– Apples have always been known to be high in fiber and very beneficial for digestive health. “You’re combining healthy carbs with high fiber so you’re getting a good source of energy,” Lacey said. “When it comes to apples, I always prefer fruit over juice. You get more fiber and less concentrated sugars.”
– Kale is a leafy green that has a lot of calcium, iron, fiber, vitamins A, C, E and K. It has five times as much beta carotene as broccoli, and carries cancer-fighting phytochemicals and lutein.
“Lutein is one of those antioxidant chemicals that has been shown to help in prevention of macular degeneration in people at risk,” Lacey said. “If you have macular degeneration in your family, find some of those foods that are high in lutein and put them in your diet.”
– Onions aren’t technically a vegetable, but they are great for you. They have anti-inflammatory properties and a flavonoid that’s proven to fight congestion. Red onions are better than yellow. The brighter the color, the more flavonoids.
– Oats are inexpensive and a great healthy carb source. They are high in soluble fiber which decreases LDL (bad cholesterol), and rich in silica which is important for bone, muscle and joint health. Oats have also been shown to boost serotonin which affects our moods and cognition.
“The key with oats is the more you have to cook it, the better they are for you. Plain Quaker Oats in the old-fashioned carton are fine,” Lacey said. “Steel cut oats are less processed, but they are a very different texture and not for everyone.”
-Quinoa is a powerful, low-carb whole grain. It’s a complete protein carrying all eight essential amino acids.
Nuts and Beans
– Almonds contain as many powerful antioxidants as green tea and broccoli. They not only fight skin wrinkles and aging, but also heart disease, cancer and stroke. One cup of almonds has more potassium than a banana and more calcium than a cup of milk. The magnesium in almonds also helps with healthy circulation.
– Beans are a high fiber, healthy source of protein which can reduce cholesterol, as well as your risk of heart disease and diabetes. Lentils, lima beans, chickpeas, kidney beans and black beans are all low in fat and rich in iron. Most menstruating women need more iron in their diet.
– Walnuts are packed with omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Known as “essential” fats, your body needs fatty acids to do everything from building healthy cells to maintaining brain and nerve function. Because our bodies can’t produce them, you can only get those fatty acids from food.
– Avocados are high in monounsaturated fats which are good for cardiovascular health.
– Flax seed is great for digestive health and recommended for women who suffer from irritable bowel syndrome. While it is an actual seed, you don’t get the omega-3 or omega-6 fatty acids unless you grind it.
“I tell women if you’re going to use flax seed, get the most out of it,” Lacey said. “Get the omega-3 and omega-6 by either grinding it or using the oil.”
– Chia seeds also have the omega-3 fatty acids, as well as protein, calcium and powerful antioxidants. Per ounce, they are higher in omega-3 than flax seed.
– Oregano is probably the most potent antioxidant-dense food per ounce, plus it has great antibacterial properties.
– Garlic is technically not an herb, but it certainly adds flavor to any food. It has been shown to decrease risk of certain cancers, is a natural antibiotic, and has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. It contains a compound known as allicin, (responsible for that pungent smell) and its antioxidant properties.
“If you put garlic in the heat too quickly it destroys that chemical, so just let it sit for a little bit,” Lacey said. “If you roast it whole, it doesn’t affect the allicin, so if you want a big, powerful bunch of antioxidants, just roast it and eat it on bread.”
Sweets and Treats
– Honey is a great sweetener and a natural cough suppressant. It’s been shown to be more effective at suppressing cough in children than dextromethorphan, commonly found in Robitussin. It also has some antiviral and antibacterial properties.
– Tea and coffee, whether you choose caffeinated or decaffeinated, have great health benefits. Both decrease cardiovascular risk and share cognitive benefits as well. Coffee decreases your risk of type 2 diabetes and some studies show drinking coffee decreases your chances of getting Parkinson’s disease. Tea decreases cancer and high blood pressure risk. Black coffee is better for you if you don’t add cream. The recommended dose is 3-to-6 cups per day.
– Dark chocolate containing 70 percent cocoa or more has been shown to decrease blood
pressure, cholesterol and improve mood.