Studies show that eating a whole foods diet reduces the incidence of heart disease, diabetes and cancer. A whole foods diet consists of fresh vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, legumes and whole grains. The maximum benefits of vitamins, antioxidants, minerals, fiber, proteins, etc. are found in these foods. Antioxidants such as beta-carotene, lutein, lycopene, selenium, vitamins A, C, and E protect the cells in our bodies from abuse by free radicals. Free radicals damage cells and play a part in the disease processes of cancer, heart disease and other maladies.
We know eating healthy can help our bodies fight disease and improve our energy. But what exactly should we be eating and how can we fit healthy eating habits into our busy schedules.
A few “super foods” and their research supported health benefits can help.
One egg contains six grams of protein and merely 72 calories. The American Heart Association recommends eating up to four yolks a week, but egg whites can be used as a protein source more frequently. Egg whites are the ultimate source of lean protein, which helps us feel full, builds healthy tissue and aids in muscle repair following exercise. Eggs contain 12 vitamins and minerals, including choline, which supports muscle control and memory. Rich in lutein and vitamin A, eggs help promote good eyesight and immunity. Eggs contain keratin, which is a tough fibrous protein that strengthens hair, nails and skin, as well as vitamin D, which helps strengthen bones. According to research, eating eggs daily while following a low calorie diet can promote weight loss. In one study dieters who ate the same amount of calories as their counterparts but included two eggs in their diet five days a week lost 65 percent more weight than those participants who did not eat eggs as part of their reduced calorie diet. The protein found in eggs makes people feel fuller longer than other meals containing a similar number of calories. Eating eggs has also been shown to lower levels of ghrelin, the hunger hormone.
It’s easy to enjoy a hardboiled egg as a snack or chopped up in a salad. Pack a few hardboiled eggs in a cooler for a quick snack on the run. Be sure to use refrigerated hardboiled eggs within one week after preparing.
Here are a few simple, yet healthy and tasty, egg recipe ideas with minimal ingredient requirements. For a quick healthy breakfast, toast low fat cheese on a whole grain English muffin. Scramble three eggs whites or two eggs. Add spinach or a slice of tomato for a quick meal on the go. Enjoy an omelet with salsa, spinach, or other vegetables for a low calorie fast meal. Combine scrambled eggs or egg whites with salsa, black beans and a little low fat cheese in a whole wheat tortilla as a healthy meal with minimal prep time.
These colorful berries are packed with antioxidants, phytoflavinoids, potassium and vitamins. They can lower your risk of cancer and heart disease as well as slow the aging process and decrease inflammation in your body. Researchers believe inflammation is a driving force for all chronic disease. The “super” part of blueberries is the deep blue coloring caused by flavonoids. These naturally occurring compounds protect the brain’s neurons (memory carrying cells) from the damaging effects of inflammation and oxidation. Therefore this super food helps preserve memory function. At just 83 calories and 3.5 mg of fiber per cup, blueberries can be eaten straight from the bush for a snack or added to a whole grain cereal such as Kashi Go Lean or even Cheerios to get your cancer fighting and heart healthy boost for the day. Frozen blueberries are just as nutritional as are the fresh variety, but wild blueberries have been found to be higher in antioxidant activity.
For a healthy treat that looks and taste great, layer 1/8 cup blueberries, 1/4 cup Greek yogurt, 1/2 ounce crumbled (at least 60 percent cocoa) dark chocolate bar, and a few pecans, walnuts or almonds in a parfait glass. Repeat the layers. The end result is a snack full of super foods that work together to keep your heart healthy, your skin from aging and your blood from clotting—all for around 200 calories.
Low in calories (one cup = 41 calories) and packed with nutrients, spinach is known for its high concentration of vitamins and minerals. It is also rich in phytonutrients such as carotenoids and flavonoids that are powerful antioxidants. In preliminary studies, spinach has been shown to slow down cell division in human stomach cancer cells, and to reduce skin cancers in lab animals. In another study, spinach was linked to a decreased risk of aggressive prostate cancer. A diet containing spinach has been shown to decrease the risk of high blood pressure and atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries. Rich in vitamin K, it also helps to promote strong bones.
Substituting spinach leaves for iceberg lettuce in salads and on sandwiches is a simple and easy way to lower your risk of cancer and heart disease. Tear up spinach leaves and add to an omelet with tomatoes, mushrooms or other vegetables. Sprinkle spinach leaves with low fat mozzarella, cheddar, feta or parmesan cheese for a delicious, quick and healthy meal.
Over the last few decades, multiple studies have proven that green tea is the healthiest choice of ANY beverage to drink. It has been proven that drinking green tea lowers the risk of death by all causes. The antioxidants in green tea, called catechins, seek out free radicals that damage DNA and cause cancer, atherosclerosis and blood clots. Due to minimal processing, the antioxidants found in great tea, which include epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG), are much more concentrated than in other teas. Green tea’s cancer preventative effects have been supported by a multitude of epidemiological, animal, cell culture and clinical studies. Separate studies have proven that green tea, like blueberries, make our blood vessels more flexible and less prone to clotting. Drinking green tea lowers your bad cholesterol and helps fight obesity, especially around the abdomen. It has even been shown to help prevent diabetes, boost immunity and slow age related mental decline in brain function.
So if you are not sipping green tea as you read this, you need to go brew a cup. Start your day with a cup of green tea. Enjoy a cup as a mid-morning-pick-me-up. To sweeten, add a teaspoon of honey or a use a natural low calorie sweetener such as Truvia or Stevia made from the stevia plant. Replace that sugary soda or diet soda with a cup of disease fighting green tea. Green tea contains about the same amount of caffeine as a soft drink and usually about half of that of a cup of coffee. Always consult with your health care provider about caffeine consumption. Keep a few bags of green tea and some natural sweetener with you on the road—it beats easily beats day-old truck stop coffee. Brew a quart of green tea, ice it and carry it with you to work or to the barrel race to sip on all day.
Get Super Food Savvy
There are many more super foods than those mentioned here, which research proves have a positive effect on our health. Almost every brightly colored fruit and vegetable, as well as many varieties of beans, nuts, herbs, seeds and spices fall into the super food category. Realizing that what we put on our plate either makes a positive or negative impact on our health is the first step to becoming healthier and living a longer and more productive life.
About Martha Smith
Martha Smith resides in Hazelhurst, Miss., a small community south of Jackson, and has been a member of the NBHA for 15 years, competing actively in Mississippi District 05. In 2006 she earned the Open 3D Mid-South National championship and has qualified for numerous NBHA World Shows. Smith now serves as adjunct faculty at the University of Southern Mississippi School of Nursing in the Family Nurse Practitioner program, teaching RNs how to become nurse practitioners.
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