* (if you want to be healthy).
There’s nothing new about the adage to “eat healthy.” But what does that entail, exactly? In simple terms, it involves eating the right balance of foods in order to achieve optimum nutrition. If asked to elaborate, you would probably sum it up like this: vegetables and fruits are good, sweets are bad, proteins should be lean and consumed in moderation. And that’s a great general rule of thumb…but awfully vague. If you’re like me, you thrive on specifics! I like things spelled out for me.
T.E.L.L. M.E. W.H.A.T. T.O. E.A.T.
So, I’m doing you all a solid and giving you 5 “power” foods you can incorporate into your diet immediately. All have proven health benefits – and all taste great! Each food is a regular part of my nutritional rotation, as well. Of course, there are more than merely five “superfoods” (overused term alert!) out there, but I’m avoiding some of the trendier ones, like chia seeds and kefir. Those can be intimidating; start with this list and slowly work your way up the (hemp) ladder.
- Almonds. Nuts get a bad rap sometimes because they are high in fats, but keep in mind those are good fats. Almonds have an abundance of monounsaturated fats (the same type found in olive oil), which help lower LDL cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of heart disease. Their potassium helps regulate blood pressure, and magnesium improves the flow of blood. Almonds are rich in Vitamin E, a powerful antioxidant that helps boost the immune system. Studies show that people who ingest high amounts of Vitamin E decrease their risk of heart disease by 30-40%. Almonds increase your energy, speed up your metabolism, promote weight loss,help protect against cancer, prevent the blood sugar of diabetics from spiking, and even make your skin look healthy. A handful a day is one of the best steps you can take to improve your overall health! I’m a big fan of Blue Diamond’s roasted, salted almonds. A one-ounce serving (28 nuts) is 170 calories, has 5 grams of carbs and 3 grams of dietary fiber. I’ve also recently discovered almond milk, which adds a subtle, nutty flavor and makes a delicious substitute for cow’s milk. I could write a separate blog post on almond milk.
- Blueberries. Don’t let their tiny size fool you – blueberries have huge health benefits! They contain more antioxidants than any other fruit; these chemicals help neutralize free radicals, groups of atoms that damage the body’s cells and are associated with the development of cancer, heart disease, and other age-related diseases. Blueberries are low in fat and calories, high in fiber, and contain plenty of Vitamin C (25% of your recommended daily allowance in one serving), manganese (helps convert carbohydrates and fats into energy), and anthocyanins (helps reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer). They help promote a healthy urinary tract, improve brain health, and even help preserve your vision. Plus, they taste great! I’ll top cottage cheese with 1/4 cup of blueberries for a nutritious snack, or toss a handful into a salad. I also enjoy a homemade blueberry vinaigrette (I’ll post the recipe soon).
- Black beans. Good for the heart? Definitely! Black beans are high in fiber (15 grams per cup) and potassium, which help lower cholesterol levels, maintain blood glucose levels (making them an excellent choice for diabetics), promote a healthy digestive tract, and aid in weight loss as they make you feel fuller longer. They are also packed full of protein and have no saturated fat or cholesterol. In addition, black beans are another excellent source of antioxidants, containing more than any other type of bean. They help prevent heart disease and cancer, lower blood pressure, and strengthen bones. I love adding black beans to a healthy wrap, mixing with quinoa for a nutritionally balanced side dish, or serving in place of refried beans when making Mexican food. Want a great tasting, healthy breakfast? Heat up black beans and add to scrambled eggs. Top with salsa and a few slices of our next food, and you’ll have a great start to your day!
- Avocados. Some people shy away from avocados for the same reason they avoid nuts: they are afraid of the high fat content. But like almonds, the fats in avocados are healthy ones; 15 of the 22 grams of fat monounsaturated. This creamy, buttery fruit is nutritionally dense, containing lots of Vitamins C, E, K, and B6, in addition to potassium (packing more per serving than a banana), riboflavin, niacin, folate, pantothenic acid, magnesium, beta-carotene and omega-3 fatty acids. A medium avocado contains about 250 calories, so it’s best to portion that out – I rarely eat more than 1/2 in one sitting, and in fact, the official serving size is 1/5. Avocados are high in fiber, low in saturated fat, contain no cholesterol or sodium, and can significantly reduce cholesterol and triglyceride levels. They improve digestion and help prevent heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. People who eat avocados on a regular basis weigh less (thanks to the low carbs/high fiber combination), have a lower overall Body Mass Index, and less belly fat. Avocados help promote healthy vision and even lower your risk of depression. Turning them into guacamole is a given (I have another great recipe to post); I will also slice them and add them to wraps, sandwiches, and salads.
- Quinoa. Quinoa is an “ancient grain” that is enjoying a modern surge in popularity thanks to its many health benefits. The Incas called it “the mother of all grains” and believed it improved the stamina of their warriors. This gluten-free superfood contains all nine essential amino acids and is chock full of protein, fiber, iron, magnesium, and B vitamins. Its antioxidant properties help ward off heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and cancer, while its high fiber content helps fill you up longer, helping to prevent obesity. Whole grains are significantly healthier than refined grains such as white rice, white bread, and pasta, which have been stripped of their fiber and nutrients during the milling process. Plus, I think they taste better. Brown rice is another nice whole grain substitute, but honestly, it’s a bitch to cook – I have yet to master its idiosyncrasies. Quinoa, on the other hand? Simple. Add one cup of uncooked quinoa to a pot, 1/2 cup of liquid (water works fine, but I like the flavor that chicken or vegetable broth brings), bring to a boil, cover, and simmer for 20 minutes. Be sure to season with salt and pepper. Quinoa is incredibly versatile, as well; add sauteed mushrooms and garlic to the pot for a burst of flavor and textural contrast, or make this delicious one-pan Mexican quinoa when making tacos or enchiladas – it’s a great replacement for Spanish rice.
I’ve also got some honorable mentions that would easily have made the list if I’d expanded it beyond five items. These include salmon, green tea, feta cheese, spices like curry and turmeric, and garbanzo beans. Even dark chocolate and wine have surprising health properties.
Good luck, and eat up!