Nine Super Foods That Are Super Easy
You don’t have to seek out the latest in trendy foods that claim health benefits. There are a whole lot of common foods that provide the same benefits.
It seems every time I open a health magazine or get an email newsletter from a health website I’m assaulted with claims about new super foods that are going to transform my health – if only I dash out to my nearest natural grocer immediately and stock up. I’m not suggesting the claims for these foods aren’t authentic – although long-term scientific studies into their efficacy have not been performed for most – but that there are plain old foods right here in your nearby supermarket that can do just as good a job. Here are nine “ordinary” super foods that are worth the trouble (at less expense) of putting in your shopping cart
This happens to be my favorite leafy green and easy to find, but if you’re also a fan of kale, collards and Swiss chard (which I am), go for it. Dark leafy greens are the food most missing from our modern diets. They strengthen the circulatory and respiratory systems and are high in calcium, magnesium, iron, potassium, phosphorous, zinc and vitamins A, C, E and K. Greens also stimulate production of serotonin, your “feel-good” hormone which can mitigate food cravings. One caveat: spinach and Swiss chard contain oxcalic acid which can leach calcium from the body if not paired with a high quality protein when eaten.
Seriously easy to work with, beans are high in fiber (also hugely missing in most American diets), high in protein and good carbohydrates, and most contain no fat. Soybeans (edamame) are an exception here because they do which actually makes them something of a perfect food with all three vital macronutrients (proteins – carbs – fats) your body needs. I make all my many chili recipes exclusively meat-free, bean-rich now because the nutrient value is so much greater, not to mention more affordable.
I’m not talking about the sugar-laden, girly-packaged, weight-loss promising varieties here. It’s important to find a good, plain yogurt that has a high Probiotic value. The reason Greek yogurt has become popular is because of this feature. Probiotics help to improve the immune system, reduce cholesterol levels, treat intestinal disorders, protect against allergens, prevent some cancers, and lower blood pressure. Most supermarket yogurts don’t have significant live and active Probiotic cultures to make them anything other than an ice cream alternative. Greek yogurts are now widely available and contain up to six Probiotic strains. They are also thicker and creamier that American yogurts – I’ve used them as an alternative to sour cream. Buy plain varieties and add your own honey (another super food in my book).
Yes, you’ve heard a lot of hype about the benefits of pricey acai and goji berries, but good old blueberries, cranberries, raspberries and blackberries have high levels of antioxidants which protect against free radical damage (think rust on your cells). Berries are a powerful anti-aging food and have been shown to help maintain short-term memory
Now commonly available in large chain markets, quinoa is one of those perfect, easy to cook, versatile foods. It’s in the whole grain family – a food group we need to be eating more of – but its particular claim to fame is its high protein value. This is great for vegans and vegetarians (or those wishing to eat more like those people) who need a quality protein source. Quinoa can be used in pilafs, salads or just as a side dish.
High fiber, high protein, good fats and you don’t need a lot to feel full. What’s not to like about nuts? I often recommend clients who tend to get the munchies to keep small portion-sized bags of almonds or cashews in their desk drawer. And don’t underestimate the power of peanut butter. Unless you have an allergy, a couple tablespoons of natural PB can fill you up and keep you going a long time. Beware commercial versions that have a lot of other ingredients. The only thing on the label should be peanuts and, if you like it, salt.
In addition to containing large amounts of protein, amino acids, vitamins and minerals, the choline in eggs stimulates brain development and function; the selenium may help prevent blood clots that can lead to heart attack or stroke; the Vitamin D strengthens bones and improves immune function. Yes, eggs contain saturated fats, which our bodies need, so we need to pull away from demonizing eggs as bad cholesterol. The scientific evidence just doesn’t support this. Besides, eggs can be relatively inexpensive and very filling. I would opt for organic or at least cage-free varieties, and definitely ones that clearly say they contain no antibiotics or hormones.
Yes, now I’ve got your attention. Chocolate – or cacao – like berries, contains powerful antioxidants, but you need to choose your indulgence wisely. Studies have shown that milk may interfere with the absorption of those antioxidants and could therefore negate any health benefit. The darker the better. Good organic chocolate with at least 70% cacao is the best bet as is eating it in moderation. A dark chocolate binge will only undo the good you are aiming for.
This seems simple enough, but let me tell you why it’s a super food. Our bodies are 75% water. Yet, most of us are under-hydrated – all the time. Our bodies don’t signal that we’re thirsty until we’re dehydrated (a flaw in our otherwise effective homeostasis). Every cell in our body has water inside it and is surrounded by it. Every tissue and organ, nerve, blood, circulatory, digestive, movement and elimination function requires water to work. Plain water is your best first option, but non-caffeinated teas, broths and high-water content fruits and vegetables are another way to effectively hydrate.
One thing to remember with many of the trendy super foods on the market – like acai, goji, chia seeds and pomegranate, is that they may be packaged within a food that has no health benefits at all – foods that contain high amounts of sugar, fat and salt. Read your labels carefully. Or, just stick to the simple stuff and reap the benefits without succumbing to the trend or the high price.
Mary Porter is currently on vacation. She will be responding to comments posted to this article upon her return.
Mary Porter is a nutrition educator and counselor living in the Fort Hunt area. Her company, A Better Plate, works with corporations and individuals teaching the art and practice of nourishment. You can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org