These twenty-five foods are an essential and delicious way to increase your energy and vibrancy, and improve your overall health. All of my recipes incorporate these foods on a regular basis. Many of the foods may be found in my book Your Fit Gourmet, Cooking Secrets for The Overscheduled Woman.
Pulse foods are from the legume (seeds that grow within pods) family. The term “pulse” refers to dried seeds, edible beans, chickpeas/garbanzo, dried peas, and lentils. They are high in protein and dietary fiber. Pulses contain phytochemicals (plant chemicals) that are recognized to reduce the risk of some types of cancer. They are an excellent source of minerals such as iron, magnesium, phosphorus, and zinc. They are a perfect protein and a healthy alternative to animal protein. As a protein, an average adult needs about 1.5 cups of pulse foods each week. As a vegetable, 1 cup a day is recommended.
Nuts and Seeds
What I love about nuts and seeds is that they make a quick and high protein snack, and they are easy to pack. They are delicious in cooked grains, salads yogurt, and roasted vegetables. They are incredibly versatile and available all year. A little goes a long way. Recommended serving 6-10 per day, and 1-2 tablespoons of seeds.
90% of the fats in almonds are unsaturated, making it a delicious and satisfying snack. They have a high content of protein, calcium, magnesium, potassium, vitamin E, making this little super food a mighty antioxidant. Almonds help prevent osteoporosis and regulate blood pressure.
Omega-3 and 9 fatty acids. Flax seed is one of the only plant sources that provide the added benefit of fiber along with Omega-3. They lower cholesterol, improve brain function, aid in the prevention of breast and colon cancers, and help prevent heart disease, diabetes, osteoporosis, asthma, and other allergies. Grinding your flax seed before consuming will prevent the seeds from lodging in your digestive track. Sprinkle a teaspoon on cereals, in grains, on salads, and over anything!
Packed with Omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants, these nuts are a tremendously important part of a disease fighting meal plan. They help lower cholesterol and fight heart disease. Walnuts are low in saturated fat, high in vitamin E (good for skin health, healing scars and tissue), vitamin B6, folate and protein. They are one of the highest antioxidant tree nuts, and are a super brain food. So kids, eat your walnuts!
These vegetables include broccoli, cabbage, kale, radishes, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, turnips, bok choy, arugula, and watercress, to name a few. The sulfur-containing compounds in these vegetables help prevent and fight cancer by enhancing the elimination of carcinogens before they can digest.
Kale is a member of the brassica family—vegetable royalty that boasts cabbage and broccoli among its relatives. It’s rich in cancer-fighting substances called indoles, and loaded with bone-building vitamin K. Kale has a high antioxidant rating and is fabulously low in calories.
Dark beets contain betacyanin, a powerful cancer-fighting agent. They are loaded with fiber, antioxidants, and are especially useful for detoxification and bowel function, lowering cholesterol, and keeping blood healthy. Rich in folic acid, calcium, and iron, beets contain compounds that help protect against heart disease and certain cancers, especially colon cancer. The folic acid is particularly important for women of childbearing years, as a deficiency in folic acid has been strongly linked to neural-tube birth defects. Beets are natural anti-inflammatory and high in vitamin C (good for preventing bruising). After eating beets, some people may experience alarm while visiting the WC because urine turns red or pink and stools take on a red hue after beets are consumed. Beeturia is the condition, and it’s completely harmless.
Nutritional Highlights: Vitamin B, C, folate, potassium, manganese, fiber, iron, and copper.
I eat a quarter of an avocado everyday. I’m convinced it is the main reason my skin is still smooth 58.. Although the fat content in avocado is 70% – nearly 90% of it is mostly monounsaturated plant fat. Oleic acid, a monounsaturated fat found in avocados, help lower cholesterol and has shown significant protection against breast cancer. A good source of potassium, a mineral important for regulating blood pressure, avocados are also high in folate, a phytonutrients important for heart health. Avocados increase the absorption of lycopene and carotenoid – both essential for a diet rich in cancer fighting nutrients. Add avocado to salsa, chili, sandwiches (my daughter’s favorite sandwich is turkey, avocado and basil), smear on pita with hummus, in omelets, smoothies to give a rich creamy texture, or eat it right out of its shell.
Nutritional Highlights: Vitamin K, B6, C, folate, copper, potassium, and dietary fiber.
Contains lutein and other carotenoid antioxidants, B vitamins plus C and E, iron, and betaine. It is an anti-cancer food and helps with stomach inflammation, and ulcers. It is a rich source of beta carotene, lutein, and xanthene, all of which are important for eyesight. The potassium in spinach is beneficial for high blood pressure. Popeye had it right – eat your spinach and build your muscles. The CO-Q10 (an antioxidant) is key in building and maintaining muscle strength, especially the heart muscle. Spinach is also excellent in protecting against osteoporosis, colon cancer, arthritis, and heart disease.
Nutritional Highlights: Vitamin K, C, A, B2, B6, calcium, potassium, folate, iron, manganese, zinc, magnesium, omega-3 fatty acids, selenium.
Fruits & Berries
Acai contains far more health promoting antioxidants found in grapes, raspberries, and blueberries. Many experience increased energy and less seasonal flu and cold symptoms when consuming acai on a regular basis. It promotes circulation, and aids the health of the heart. The acai berry grows as a wild plant in the Amazon and is a staple ingredient of the indigenous diet. Rich in the powerful antioxidants anthocyanins compounds such as resveratrol (same compound in red wine), and flavonoids, these compounds help defend the body against life’s stressors. This is important for reducing risk of disease such as heart disease and cancer. Acai berries are a good source of dietary fiber, omega-6 and omega-9 fatty acids, all of which are important in lowering cholesterol and protecting the cardiovascular system. This super food plays a vital part in slowing down the aging process due to its concentrated antioxidant content. The juice is delicious in smoothies.
The juicy red or green apple’s reputation for keeping you out of the doctor’s office is well deserved. Loaded with pectin (an important fiber), apples are also one of the best sources of boron, a little known nutrient that helps support strong and healthy bones. An apple with a glass of water is a great natural appetite suppressant. Highest antioxidant values are found in red delicious.
Another brain food, these amazing berries have one of the highest ORAC value (antioxidant rating) for a fruit. Belonging to the same family as cranberries, blueberries are packed with an antioxidant phytonutrients called anthocyanins. These antioxidants help maintain the collagen fibers that support tissues in the eyes, veins, and heart. Anthocyanins are responsible for the blue-red pigments found in blueberries and are known to support the effects of vitamin C. A smoothie made from oranges and blueberries is a great combination for activating this process.
Nutritional Highlights: Vitamin C, E, manganese, soluble and insoluble fiber.
Cranberries are full of antioxidants and help to inhibit certain bacteria, including E. coli. Cranberry juice is a holistic remedy for bladder infections. The quinic acid in cranberries is not broken down by urine, helping in preventing kidney stones. An excellent vitamin C, potassium and iron, these berries are good for circulation, fatigue, and urinary track infections. They’re tasty on salads, with grains such as quinoa and rice, and combined with pulse foods. Natural cranberry juice is beneficial in reducing cholesterol and protecting against many cancers.
Nutritional Highlights: Vitamin C, K, dietary fiber, manganese.
Goji berries have a rich and long history. They have been used for 6,000 years by herbalists in China, Tibet, and India. Long believed to boost libido and increase energy, it is often referred to as the “fruit Viagra”. It is a rich antioxidant that protects the liver, improves circulation, eyesight, and aids the immune system. Goji berries contain carotenoids such as beta-carotene and zeaxanthin (important for protecting the retina). They are so versatile and can be consumed dried, chocolate covered, or as a tea made with chrysanthemum, Treat them like any dried berry and add it to homemade breads, salads, grains, and on the go snacks.
A little known super food, guava is very low in calories and packed with fiber. Just one cup has 8 grams of fiber. Its taste is part strawberry and part pear, and it makes out-of-the-world smoothies. Guava rivals blueberries and is right behind kale in antioxidant levels. It also contains cancer-fighting lycopene.
If you are having surgery or have had accidental trauma, papaya is very effective in reducing inflammation and edema associated with these conditions. A rich antioxidant aids in the prevention of diabetic heart disease and the preventions of atherosclerosis, nausea, colon cancer and strokes. It is excellent in salads, frozen as a dessert ice, and mixed in a smoothie. Chop it raw with green onions and a small amount of olive oil and serve over grilled chicken. And once you remove the papaya meat, smear the remaining all over you face for a natural facial – your skin will feel smooth and revived.
Nutritional Highlights: Vitamin C, E, A, rich in flavonoids, low in calories and sodium, high in potassium.
This antioxidant, pomegranate, helps guard the body against premature aging, heart disease, and cancer. Inhibits prostate cancer, may prevent cartilage deterioration caused by osteoporosis, prevents plaque build up in the arteries, Alzheimer’s prevention by decreasing the accumulation of amyloid plaque, helps lower blood pressure, LDL (bad cholesterol), and helps prevent dental plaque build up. Terrific for the skin and relieving discomfort from a sore throat. Pomegranate juice is delicious as vinaigrette, reduced with red wine as a sauce, or seeds sprinkled on top a salad or eaten as a snack.
Nutritional Highlights: Vitamin C, A, E, folic acid, fiber, potassium, niacin.
High in vitamins A and C and virtually no calories, tomatoes are a cancer fighting food containing lycopene. Cooking tomatoes increases the lycopene content, which helps attack cancer cells. Tomatoes are a cholesterol reducing, blood pressure lowering super food that tastes great with just about everything. Roast it slow to increase the sweetness.
A Few of My Everyday Favorites…
High in omega-3 essential fatty acids, high in protein and low in fat, all of which are important for overall health. The omega fats are not naturally made by the body and must be obtain from our foods such as salmon and other fatty cold water fish. Good for the heart and circulation, brain development and function, arthritis and healthy bones. Versatile and easy to prepare. Eat salmon at least once a week. Highly recommended for pre-menopausal meal plans. Avoid farmed salmon and stick to the wild when possible.
Nutritional Highlights: B12, B6, Omega-3, high protein, selenium, magnesium, phosphorus.
An anti-cancer, cholesterol reducing, blood pressure lowering super food that tastes great with just about everything. Like tomatoes, roast it slow to increase the sweetness.
Green tea contains EGCG, a catechin (plant compound) which stimulates the metabolism and contains anti-cancer properties. Green tea also contains theanine, a natural relaxant.
Quinoa is a rich complete protein because it contains all nine amino acids, making it a perfect vegan protein choice. It is loaded with lysine, an amino acid essential for tissue growth and repair. It cooks up like rice, but it’s not a grain, it’s a nutritionally rich seed high in magnesium (blood vessel relaxation) and riboflavin (cellular energy productions). Both of these minerals are useful in reducing the frequency of headache associated with migraines. Referred to as Mother Natures’ perfect food, this ancient seed was considered ‘the gold of the Incas” as it was believed to enhance the vigor of warriors during battle. Magnesium is also an important element for managing hypertensions and heart disease.
Nutritional Highlights: B2, magnesium, complete protein, high in lysine, a member of the spinach and Swiss chard family.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
The beneficial health effect of olive oil is due to the high content of monounsaturated fatty acids along with its abundance of antioxidant agents produced by the phenols in olive oil. It is a primary ingredient in the healthful Mediterranean diet and is key in preventing the oxidation of LDL (‘bad’ cholesterol) while raising HDL (the “good” cholesterol) levels. Some of the effects of olive oil are protection against ulcers, gastritis, lowers the incidence of gallstone formation, reduce blood pressure, inhibit growth of some cancers, lessen the severity of asthma and a good lubricant for joints. The difference between olive oil is vast. I use only extra virgin olive oil for its exceptional taste and health benefits.
Below is a brief account of the differences between the most popular oils on your grocery shelf: Extra-virgin is the first press from the olives and purest with more acidity. The oil is extracted from the olives using pressure only, it is produced without solvents or heat. Virgin olive oil is not as flavorful but still has good flavor and may be produced with heat and added oils. Olive oil is the least flavorful and is a blend of refined oil and virgin oil.
This superb oil has been long neglected as a healthy oil because it contains saturated fat. However, the saturated fat in coconut oil is a medium chain triglyceride (MCT) and does not raise serum cholesterol or contributes to heart disease. In other words, it is a healthy fat. The body easily burns it for energy. Hydrogenated coconut oil does not fall under this description as it has been significantly altered from its original form and should be avoided altogether. Coconut oil also contains lauric acid, a natural anti-viral agent. Coconut oil is now being recognized as a healthy functional food and is excellent in supporting the immune system, skin and hair, maintaining cholesterol levels, diabetes, and has antifungal properties. Use organic coconut oil to ensure additives or solvents have not been added.