Superfoods to the rescue
If the old saying "You are what you eat" is true, shouldn't we be eating the most nutritionally dense foods available? We all know we should eat a healthy diet, but what does this mean? Armed with some basic knowledge about "superfoods," a trip to the local grocery store can help you reduce your risk of developing the most common chronic health conditions, such as high cholesterol, heart disease and cancer, and can help improve existing conditions and overall health.
Q: Why are certain foods better for us than others?
A: Certain foods — always unprocessed "real" foods — are chock full of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that can have a powerfully positive impact on our health. Plus, these vitamins, minerals and antioxidants are more potent and better absorbed in our bodies if we get them through our foods rather than through supplements.
Q: What foods should I be eating to ensure optimal health?
A: Some of the most common superfoods (those easily found in your local grocery store or farmer's market) include beans, blueberries, broccoli, edamame (soybeans), oats, oranges, pumpkin, wild salmon, spinach, tea (green or black), tomatoes, walnuts, yogurt, sweet potatoes, pomegranate, bell peppers (red, yellow, orange or green), garlic, eggs, apples and avocado.
Q: How much do I need to eat each day to get the health benefits?
A: Unfortunately, there is no magic amount of these superfoods to be eaten on a daily basis to guarantee their health benefits. However, the new USDA Food Guide Pyramid, named MyPyramid, does have a starting point on amounts to be eaten for veggies according to their color. For example, according to MyPyramid, a 35-year-old female who weighs 150 pounds and is 5 feet 4 inches tall should aim to eat the following quantity of vegetables every week:
• Dark green vegetables: 3 cups weekly
• Orange vegetables: 2 cups weekly
• Dry beans and peas: 3 cups weekly
• Starchy vegetables: 3 cups weekly
• Other vegetables: 6 1/2 cups weekly
Check out www.mypyramid.gov to get personal recommendations based on your age, gender, weight, height and activity level.
Q: I lead a very busy life, and I'm always on the go. How can I incorporate these superfoods into my lifestyle?
A: Here's the good news: You can take charge and incorporate these foods into your very busy lifestyle with minimal effort. Listed below are several strategies:
• Strong Start: Blend a peeled orange, blueberries and yogurt with non-fat milk to make a delicious breakfast smoothie. If you don't have time to drink it at home, pour it into a travel mug to begin your day in a super healthy way.
• Travel Treats: Simply throw an apple, orange, blueberries or edamame into your work or lunch bag. They travel well and are delicious as a snack or with lunch. A small handful of walnuts are also a great snack, or toss them onto a salad for yet another dose of a superfood.
• Yummy Yogurt: Perfect for breakfast, lunch, snack or dessert, yogurt is a great grab-and-go option. Individual servings are very portable, and you can even find portable cups of yogurt at local convenience stores.
• Tea Time: It is easy to substitute green or black tea instead of coffee. Keep some tea bags in your purse or backpack and toss one in a mug with hot water, and you have a quick and healthy pick-me-up.
• Restaurant Requests: Don't be afraid to ask for superfoods with your meal order. You might be surprised that restaurants can cook their wild salmon with garlic on a bed of spinach and — voila — you get three superfoods together.
• Egg-cellent Option: Yes, eggs are good for you. They offer a great nutritional profile and are easy to grab-and-go. You can hard boil several at once and grab one on the way out the door for a high-protein snack.
The bottom line is this: Don't count on any single food as a quick fix or miracle cure. Enjoy a variety of healthy foods, and incorporate superfoods into your diet as often as you can.
Toni M Toledo, MPH, R.D., and Rachel Freiberg, M.S., R.D., are registered dietitians with the HMR Weight Management Program at the Mountain View Center of the Palo Alto Medical Foundation.