By Dr. Nina Radcliff
As we begin to climb out of this pandemic, many of us look to ways we can improve our health. And what we choose to put in our mouths, is how we nourish and fuel our body. Consequently, on a daily basis, and throughout the year, we must select foods that are rich in vitamins, nutrients, and antioxidants so our body can function optimally.
Many of us have heard the word “superfoods” and it is generally used to describe foods that are nutritionally dense and rich in antioxidants, and, as a result, are good for our health. It should be noted that this is a marketing term, often for dietary supplements, and does not have an official legal, medical, or scientific definition. What we do know is that eating the right foods can reduce our risk of obesity and obesity-related diseases, as well as chronic disease, and allow us to live longer. Let’s take some time to learn more about some tasty, common, and readily available superfoods.
Cocoa nibs and cocoa powder
Chocolate comes from cacoa beans, the dried and fermented seeds of the cacoa tree. And, as a result, it is chock-filled with antioxidants as well as a number of vitamins and nutrients. Cacao nibs (bits of fermented, dried, roasted and crushed cacao beans) and powder contain fewer than 15 calories per tablespoon, a minimal amount of fat, and good amounts of fiber, iron and magnesium. Additionally, research shows that cacoa can boost endorphins (our body’s feel-good hormones) and serotonin (a neurotransmitter that plays a role in happiness).
However, a number of chocolate products are processed (which decreases the amounts of antioxidants) and sugar is added, causing it to be high in calories. So, if you have a love for chocolate, consider cacoa nibs or powder to get the rich chocolatey flavor while maximizing on the numerous health benefits. Some fun tips to add cacao powder to our diet and minimize its bitter taste include: a teaspoon to your morning cup of coffee in lieu of sugar or sugar substitutes; to your trail mix; or sprinkled over fresh fruit.
Seventy-seven percent of an avocado’s calories come from fat, healthy fats that is. The primary fat is oleic acid, a mono-saturated fatty acid, which is also present in olive oil and is believed to bestow numerous health benefits. Research suggests that this “healthy fat” helps to lower the risk of heart disease, bad cholesterol levels (low-density lipoproteins; LDL), and inflammation. Its benefits do not stop there. Oleic acid appears to improve fasting blood sugar levels, insulin sensitivity, and blood circulation. And as a result, it may help fend off diabetes and improve blood sugar control in those who are pre-diabetic or diabetic.
Additionally, avocados contain 20 different vitamins and minerals and is rich in fiber, devoid of cholesterol and sodium, and low in saturated (bad) fat and carbohydrates. Another interesting fact is that avocados are a great source of potassium, with 40% more of this essential mineral than bananas, which are touted for this. Potassium plays an important role in blood pressure control, fluid balance, and nerve condition, to name a few. And the icing on the cake (figuratively, not literally) is that research shows those who eat avocados tend to weigh less and have less belly fat than those who do not.
Olives are fruit that come from the olive tree and consumption of olives and olive oil dates as far back as 4000 B.C.—that’s over 6000 years ago! It is rich in mono-saturated fatty acids (similar to avocados), and, consequently, have a number of scientifically proven health benefits. Studies have shown that:
- Older people who regularly used olive oil for cooking and salad dressing experienced a 41% lower risk of stroke compared with their counterparts who never consumed it.
- Olecanthal, a compound found in extra-virgin olive oil, helps remove the abnormal Alzheimer’s disease proteins out of the brain (known as beta-amyloid). Hence, it may decrease your risk of dementia.
- Regular consumption can help to decrease both systolic and diastolic blood pressure (the upper and lower number of a blood pressure reading, respectively). Elevated blood pressures increase your risk for stroke, heart attacks, kidney disease, and premature death.
- Although high in calories, olive oil may help reduce levels of obesity. In fact, even the smell or “aroma” of olive oil can create a sense of fullness that results in fewer calories consumed. Talk about a fun appetite suppressant!
Research shows that people who consume nuts live longer and lead healthier lives. In addition to a reduced risk of heart disease, nuts are also associated with decreased Type 2 diabetes as well as Alzheimer’s dementia. The reason behind these health benefits is that they rich in unsaturated fatty acids, omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, vitamin E, and other nutrients that are good for the heart. And there is a saying that what is healthy for the heart is also healthy for the mind.
If you need another reason to go nutty over nuts, they have been shown to help maintain a healthy weight and may even help in slimming down. Some of the theories behind this is that they contain tons of protein, unsaturated fats, and are crunchy which can translate to a feeling of fullness, or satiety. So although you may be consuming fat calories, in the long run, you end up eating fewer calories overall. And, too, another contributing reason is that approximately 20 percent of the fat in nuts are not absorbed by the body. It’s like getting a 20 percent discount on fat calories!
As we start off our new year, let’s make sure that we incorporate some of these superfoods, and commit to being the healthiest you. In addition to what we discussed above, there are a number of others such as Greek yogurt, blueberries, and acai, to name a few. We want to provide our body with the highest “octane” of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, fats, and proteins. We are what we eat, and eating nutritious foods is key to maintaining good health. Happy New Year!