Not All Foods Are Created Equal
Compare the nutrients in, say, a head of iceberg lettuce and a sweet potato and it’s obvious. But what makes some foods “super” and some nutritious but nothing special? Actually, there isn’t really a consensus on what constitutes a so-called superfood, according to the American Dietetic Association. In essence, superfoods are those that are packed with essential vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids and antioxidants. “They have more ‘nutrient density,’ meaning they offer high nutritional value and are low in calories,” says Amy Jamieson-Petonic, MS, RD, the director of wellness coaching at the Cleveland Clinic. If you are trying to upgrade your diet without a major overhaul, she suggests stocking your pantry and fridge with the following:
Dietitians are unanimous in their recommendation to eat breakfast, and few choices for that first meal of the day are more nutritious than oatmeal. Not only does it lower cholesterol, it contains protein and fiber to keep your appetite in check.
If you don’t like oatmeal, try: steel-cut oats (they have a nuttier flavor and crunchier texture).
The humble walnut has so many nutrients it’s almost hard to keep track. For starters, walnuts contain alpha-linolenic acid, an omega-3 fatty acid. Walnuts have been shown to lower cholesterol and have been associated with better heart health. They are packed with antioxidants and also contain vitamin E, folic acid, zinc and protein.
If you don’t like walnuts, try: chia seeds (yes, the ones from the “pet” commercials; these seeds are high in omega-3 fatty acids).
Olive oil contains oleocanthal, an anti-inflammatory that may work like ibuprofen. It’s also a key to the super healthy Mediterranean diet; followers of this type of diet enjoy longer lives and reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer.
If you don’t like olive oil, try: canola oil, which is also a good source of monounsaturated fat.
Wild salmon (which is more nutritious and environmentally friendly than farmed) is loaded with heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. People who eat fish regularly have been shown to have a lower risk of heart disease and heart attacks than those who do not eat fish. Wild salmon is also full of vitamin D — almost four times as much as farm-raised salmon. It’s also is a good source of selenium, which is an important trace mineral involved in many cellular processes.
If you don’t like salmon, try: herring, sardines, flaxseeds or fortified eggs.
Green tea contains a substance called epigallocatechin-3-gallate ( ECGC), a powerful antioxidant. Research has suggested that this antioxidant effect can prevent LDL (bad) cholesterol from becoming even worse when it is oxidized.
If you don’t like green tea, try: black tea, since it contains some of the same components.
This simple grain is packed with antioxidants and soluble and insoluble fiber, helping metabolize fats and also keep the digestive track healthy. People who eat hulled barley regularly have lower blood cholesterol, and the grain also keeps blood sugar levels stable.
If you don’t like barley, try: lentils; they provide B vitamins, iron, complex carbohydrates and protein.
Kale contains chemicals called glucosinolates, which activate enzymes in the liver to neutralize cancer-causing substances. Kale is a nutritional powerhouse because it provides more than 100 percent of the recommended daily intake for vitamin A and vitamin K.
If you don’t like kale, try: collard greens.
This often maligned cruciferous vegetable is an army of health. It’s packed with vitamin C, folic acid and carotenoids that work together to protect cells from the ravages of free radicals, make the immune system function better and strengthen bones. Broccoli is also high in vitamin K, which plays a role in blood clotting. Scientists have also studied a compound found in broccoli — called indole-3-carbinol — that they believe may assist in preventing several types of cancer.
If you don’t like broccoli, try: cauliflower, bok choy or kohlrabi.
From their vision-protecting vitamin C to their satiating fiber, these pretty nibbles are antioxidant powerhouses. In fact, they have the highest antioxidant amounts of any fruit or vegetable. While blueberry consumption has not been proven to reduce your risk of developing some cancers and heart disease, some studies suggest there may be benefits. And anyway, they taste good!
If you don’t like blueberries, try: blackberries, raspberries or strawberries.
Tomatoes are chock-full of lycopene, a powerful substance that has been associated with a reduced risk of vascular disease and prostate cancer.
If you don’t like tomatoes, try: watermelon or pink grapefruit.