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Sunday, March 10, 2013

Are there superfoods?

     Many of us have heard about foods with supposedly great health benefits.  The grapefruit diet is based on the myth that grapefruit somehow melts fat away.  Similarly, there is a myth about a vinegar drink to cleanse our system.  But are there superfoods, foods that pack an extra health benefit?  Well there are a number of foods that are super healthy and can be considered a “superfood”.  These foods have no special powers but do pack a lot of nutrients and other beneficial substances like antioxidants.  What is so good about antioxidants?  These substances help prevent cancer and decrease our risks of age-related diseases. 

  • Sweet potatoes – many people malign the potato.  But the sweet potato is rich in vitamin A (carotene), providing us 9 times our daily dose.  It also offers fiber and they are a rich source of potassium, making them a heart-healthy vegetable.  If someone gives you sweet potatoes from their garden this summer, store them at 85-95 degrees for about two weeks. This will bring out the flavor and make them sweeter.  I like it when restaurants offer baked sweet potatoes on the menu.  I choose the baked sweet potato but then  have the toppings on the side so I can control the amounts of butter, sour cream that  I put on as toppings.  Our family also likes sweet potato fries choosing the ones lowest in fat. 
  • Blueberries  - Growing up my grandfather would call every summer to say it was time to go blueberry picking.  We didn’t pick blueberries because they were a superfood.  We picked them because we wanted blueberry muffins, blueberry pancakes and blueberry pie.  Now blueberries are one of the new superfoods on the block.  Much has been written about the nutritional benefits of blueberries.  Most people don’t realize it but blueberries provide vitamin C, vitamin K and are a rich source of antioxidants.   In fact, USDA has ranked blueberries as the no. 1 foods in antioxidant activity compared to other fruits and vegetables.  Blueberries are good for our hearts, lowering the buildup of our bad or LDL cholesterol in our blood vessels.  The antioxidants in blueberries have been found to be beneficial to our brains improving learning and memory.  
         Add blueberries to your cereal, yogurt, pancakes, salads, muffins or eat them plain.
  • Edamame – these young soybeans come to us from Japan.   You might be served edamame at a Japanese restaurant.  They are rich in fiber, protein  and antioxidants.  Another substance in edamame are isoflavones which have been found to reduce risk of heart disease and cancer.  One mother noted her daughter enjoys edamame as an after school snack. 
  • Tomatoes – tomatoes a superfood?  Yes.  Not just fresh tomatoes but canned tomatoes as well.  Tomatoes provide potassium, fiber, vitamins C and A and the antioxidant, lycopene.  Tomatoes are one food that is actually healthier cooked as this increases the bioavailability of lycopene making it easier for our bodies to benefit from this antioxidant.  Lycopene is noted for eye health and protects us from cancer and heart disease.   
  • Kiwis – low in calories, only 50 calories each, but supplying 85% of our vitamin C needs. 
  • Seeds, especially sunflower seeds and sesame seeds.  Sunflower seeds are rich in heart healthy oils that are polyunsaturated, and are high in vitamin E, an antioxidant.  The seeds also provide protein, B vitamins, and the minerals magnesium, manganese and selenium.  Another compound in sunflower seeds are phytosterols which help lower blood cholesterol.  Sesame seeds are rich in copper, magnesium, iron, and zinc.  Additionally, sesame seeds provide fiber, protein, and vitamin B-1.  Enjoy by sprinkling on salads, side dishes, breads, and pasta for added nutrition. 

Sources:  blueberries and our hearts and Power Up with Hidden “Superfoods”, Environmental Nutrition, Dec. 2010.

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