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Beans – Improve Your Heart Health With This Protein Rich Superfood
While the term “bean” can include a variety of vegetables, including those in which the outer pod, in addition to the seeds inside the pod are eaten. In regard to superfoods, beans generally refer to the broad bean or more commonly, dried beans.
These would include black beans, garbanzo beans, kidney beans, lima beans, navy beans, pinto beans and soybeans, as well as others. Beans have long been recognized as being significant sources of fiber and protein. Within the primary food groups, beans are included in the “protein group” which also includes meats, eggs, nuts and seafood.
As an all-inclusive food source, beans can’t be beat. Beans can hold their own against meat in the area of protein. One-quarter cup of beans contains as much protein as one ounce of meat, yet they contain none of the fat.
Black Beans vs. Lean Meat
In a side-by-side comparison, black beans can be shown to have many benefits over lean meat.
Four ounces of lean ground beef contains:
- 23 grams of protein
- 20 grams of fat
- 0 grams of fiber
- 306 calories
Twice the amount of black beans (8 ounces) contains:
- 18 grams of protein
- .09 grams of fat
- 15 grams of fiber
- 227 calories
In regard to fiber, beans contain more fiber per serving than vegetables, fruits or whole grains. The amount of fiber a person needs varies depending on what he or she has eaten in a given day. With one cup of beans providing 15 grams of fiber, beans easily provide almost twice the fiber of most fruits and vegetables.
Because the body has to work harder to digest the calories contained in beans, this means that fewer of them are absorbed into the body. One study suggests that if a person wishes to lose weight, adding an additional 14 grams of fiber for every 1000 calories consumed, can decrease the number of “recordable” calories by 100. With one cup of beans containing 15 grams of fiber, this is good news for everyone!
Beans are also low on the glycemic index which means they release their natural sugars slowly and steadily into the bloodstream. This helps the body resist the spiking and falling of blood sugar levels and also helps to provide sustained energy. Beans provide a source of B vitamins, folate, potassium and calcium. Folate is a B vitamin that the body is unable to produce on its own. Beans are the most significant source of folate which provides protection against cancer and heart disease.
Surprisingly, one of the areas in which beans rank the highest is in antioxidant capacity. In an article in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, red beans, red kidney beans and pinto beans ranked at the top. Only wild blueberries contain as many antioxidants. Adding to this impressive performance is the fact that beans pack their punch in a serving size half that of most other foods.
For the gardener, beans can be enjoyable to grow at home. They require very little care and are left in the ground until the end of the season when they start to dry up. Then the plants are simply pulled from the ground and left to dry the rest of the way on a screen or hanging in the garage or basement. Shelling the beans, the process of removing them from the pod, is easily done when the pods are dry and is a job that even children enjoy doing.
Experts across the board agree that beans easily earn their place on any list of superfoods because of their significant protein and fiber, low levels of fat and calories and bargain price at the check out line. Overall, beans are the closest to a complete food source that any one food can come. They are by far, the most versatile of all foods. Beans are one of the only foods that can successfully be used as a main dish or a side dish, or used in soups, dips and salads. Because they can easily be added to other dishes, it is a convenient way to take advantage of the additional fiber, protein and nutrients.
Blueberries – The Phenomenal Antioxidant Power Of Blueberries
Americans have long known about the wonderful health benefits of blueberries. This attractive berry has been a favorite in the family home for years and ranks second only to strawberries in their popularity. Fruits, along with vegetables are of prime importance in a balanced diet, and blueberries are recognized as being the most beneficial of all the fruits.
Probably the most well-known fact about blueberries is the high level of antioxidants contained in the small fruit. Blueberries rank at the top of the antioxidant list with only beans (red, red kidney and pinto) scoring higher. The main and most powerful antioxidants are contained in the skin of the fruit, so make sure to include the skin when enjoying blueberries. Any juicing that removes the skin from the juice will impact the levels of these beneficial nutrients.
There is good news for athletes. The high levels of antioxidants actually help to protect them from inflammation and cell damage that can occur after a challenging workout. This comes from the major impact blueberries have on cellular inflammation.
According to many sources, wild blueberries score higher than cultivated blueberries in antioxidant levels. Wild blueberries, or “lowbush” blueberries are grown in northern regions including Maine and parts of Canada. The cultivated or “highbush” blueberry is grown in several states within the U.S. The names represent different plants rather than a difference in how the berries are grown, although Maine’s blueberries come from plants occurring naturally within the state. Wild blueberries are about half the size of cultivated blueberries. Their higher score in antioxidant values most likely comes from the fact that because of their size, about twice as many berries are contained in a serving.
Regardless of the source, blueberries are a great fruit choice due to their convenience and versatility. Blueberries can be frozen without losing any of their nutritional value. Recent studies have shown that freezing does not damage the sometimes fragile antioxidants. This makes blueberries a great choice year round. Although the texture of a frozen berry will change, the benefits will not. Typically, frozen blueberries are available at a lower price than fresh blueberries and can be eaten as a snack after thawing slightly.
For those who are interested in freezing their own blueberries, simply spread the berries out in one layer on a cookie sheet and freeze. Freezing this way keeps the berries from clumping together. Once they are frozen, place in freezer bags. Do not wash the berries prior to freezing, but rinse gently once removed from the freezer.
Blueberries are also a great source for vitamin K, vitamin C and manganese, with one serving providing 35% of the daily recommended amount of vitamin K, and 25% of both vitamin C and manganese. They are also a good source for fiber with one serving providing 14 grams.
There is good news in the area of cognitive health, especially recently. Although it has been known for quite some time that blueberries have a potential benefit on brain and nervous system health, a recent study has shown that they may have a positive impact on memory. There is a current study taking place that suggests that blueberries might also be beneficial in delaying some of the cognitive challenges that frequently occur with aging.
Fresh blueberries are a great quick snack. Fresh or frozen, blueberries can easily be added to salads, desserts, breakfast foods and breads to provide a super boost to your health.
Broccoli – The Cancer Fighting Superfood
Over the years, broccoli has earned the reputation as the vegetable that kids just won’t eat. The creative approach of adding cheese improved the likelihood that children would take a chance on broccoli. Many adults, although hesitant to try the villain vegetable after their childhood experiences, have found that it isn’t as bad as they remembered. Some have even grown to enjoy it.
Many cooks place the blame for the dislike of broccoli not on the vegetable itself, but on the way it has been prepared. Aaron Kagan, a fan of wise cooking, comments that “kids don’t hate vegetables, they hate soggy, defrosted, flavorless” vegetables. Adults aren’t much different.
Boiling broccoli removes much of its nutritional value and leaves the vegetable soggy and unappealing. The best way to serve broccoli is raw. It can also be briefly steamed—not more than 5 minutes—and also roasted. Steaming broccoli actually enhances its flavor and nutritional value
There are many recipes available online for broccoli. Keep in mind that overcooking can destroy the beneficial nutrients, so when including broccoli in a cooked side dish or casserole, it is best to add the broccoli part way through the cooking, or cook it separately and add it after the dish is cooked.
Broccoli is widely available in grocery stores throughout the United States. Freezing broccoli does not destroy its nutrients, and because broccoli is typically frozen within a few hours of being picked, may even retain more nutritional value than fresh broccoli that is a few days old. This makes broccoli a convenient choice as it is easy to keep on hand.
Its nutritional value and cancer-fighting properties is what typically gives broccoli its place on the superfoods list. A single one-half cup serving of broccoli contains high levels of vitamin C — 40 mg or 65% of recommended daily value and vitamin K — 45 mcg or 56% of the daily value. According to Wikipedia, broccoli contains nutrients that help the immune system, and assist DNA repair in cells. It also appears to interfere with the growth of cancer cells.
In an indirect way, broccoli helps the body with its vitamin D requirements. Although not containing helpful amounts of vitamin D itself, broccoli contains a uniquely effective combination of vitamins A and K. These two vitamins, in large amounts, help to manage the metabolism of vitamin D. For people who need to supplement their diets with vitamin D, the high levels of these two “helper” vitamins in broccoli make it an ideal choice to include in the diet.
There is extensive information available regarding the remarkable impact broccoli has on many of the body’s processes and systems. Not only does broccoli provide benefits for the body in battling inflammation, but it also boosts the body’s ability to detoxify itself, protect itself against cancer and works to support cardiovascular and digestive systems. These mechanisms have become especially helpful as allergens and toxins in our environment increase. As our bodies have to work harder to eliminate harmful substances, our systems can get weakened and become less effective. The powerful combinations of nutrients, antioxidants and vitamins can work with our body’s systems to support and enhance their effectiveness.
Keeping broccoli on hand, either in the refrigerator or freezer can go a long way in providing the components necessary for balanced nutrition and health.
Salmon – The Heart Healthy Superfood Also Boosts Brain, Joint and Eye Health
In most cases, salmon is included in most lists of superfoods due to its unusually high omega-3 fatty acid content. Because it is such a good source of DHA and EPA omega-3, many of its other benefits are often overlooked. Salmon also contains nutrients and ingredients that aid in the body’s inflammation response, joint health and cancer prevention.
There are two controversies surrounding salmon. One centers around whether wild or farm-raised salmon is better and the other concerns whether the ALA omega-3 found in plant sources such as walnuts and flax seed oil is as beneficial as the DHA and EPA omega-3 fatty acids found in fish.
Because the debate surrounding these two issues can become quite involved, we will not deal with them extensively here. It is up to consumers to decide what they believe to be best for them and their own situations.
There are differing views on the nutritional value as well as the omega-3 content of wild vs. farm-raised salmon. The POP (persistent organic pesticide) level in farm-raised salmon is also a concern for some people, and determinations about whether these levels are dangerous to consumers can vary depending on the source.
According to the World’s Healthiest Foods rating, the only two foods that contain more omega-3 than salmon are walnuts and flax seeds. Here is where the debate regarding ALA vs. DHA/EPA comes into play. Some experts believe that the body can easily convert ALA into DHA and EPA, so consuming plant sources of omega-3 (ALA) is just as effective as fish sources (DHA/EPA). Others disagree and encourage consumers to not count on ALA omega-3 to fulfill 100% of the daily requirement of omega-3 fatty acids.
One serving (4 ounces) of salmon contains slightly over 2 grams of omega-3 fats—about 62% of the 4 grams recommended daily for adults. In addition, it contains more than twice the daily value of vitamin D and all the vitamin B12 needed daily. It is a wonderful source of protein (62%) and selenium (61%) and almost 40% of the daily value of vitamin B3.
Omega-3 fats are associated with cardiovascular benefits that include decreased risk of stroke, high blood pressure, heart attack and irregular heartbeat. These benefits can begin when a person starts consuming just one serving of salmon per week, although it is suggested that to experience all the benefits, two to three servings per week be consumed.
In addition to these heart benefits, which are relatively well-known, omega-3 fats contribute to health in other important areas that are often overlooked. Because DHA is considered to be the most important fat when it comes to the human brain, there are benefits in the area of cognition and brain activity as well as a decreased of depression and age-related decline in cognitive function.
The EPA omega-3 in salmon has been shown to be especially supportive in joint health and the body’s anti-inflammatory response. The ability to manage inflammation within the body is linked to better overall health.
Benefits in the area of eye health include a positive impact on macular degeneration. In this condition, the area in the back center of the retina begins deteriorating and causes vision loss. With two servings of salmon per week, the risk for macular degeneration is significantly decreased. People who consume five to six servings per week showed risk-reduction that was even greater.
Although most consumers are not as widely familiar with the mineral selenium, it is an antioxidant that aids in the prevention of some cancers. It also plays a protective role in the areas of joint inflammation and cardiovascular protection. These advantages go hand-in hand with other high-benefit areas of salmon supporting salmon’s distinction as a superfood.
Salmon is very easy to fix, and from fresh or frozen form can be broiled, baked or grilled. It can be served as a steak or added to pasta or green salad. Canned salmon is also a great and convenient way to enjoy salmon without any loss of nutrition. There is no question that adding two to four servings of salmon per week will provide a range of benefits that are not readily available in other foods.
Spinach – The Green Giant Of Superfoods
A look at the nutritional content of spinach reveals a vegetable that is jam packed with value. Spinach is considered one of the world’s most healthy vegetables and ranks at the top of the list for nutrient density. It is impressive in its concentration of vitamins and minerals, with 18 of the 23 nutrients providing over 10% of the recommended daily value. As a comparison, broccoli, as great as it is, contains only 4 nutrients, out of 22, that provide over 10% of the daily value.
When using figures provided from various sources regarding the nutrient content of spinach, make sure you note whether the source is considering fresh spinach or cooked spinach. One cup of cooked spinach can contain up to six times more spinach than fresh. That is simply because spinach is one of those vegetables that really compacts when cooked. Because there is more of the vegetable in one cup when it has been cooked, that one cup naturally contains more nutrients.
Spinach is a leafy green giant when it comes to our bones. In addition to providing nutrients that are especially supportive of bone health such as magnesium and calcium, it is rich in vitamin K. Vitamin K, in its different forms present in spinach, serves to help processes in the body that promote bone strengthening. Vitamin K also discourages the activation of other processes and cells that break down healthy bone. Kale is the only vegetable that provides greater amounts of vitamin K per serving than spinach.
Like broccoli, spinach is notable in the positive effects it has on inflammatory reactions in the body and in its cancer-fighting benefits. Spinach has been especially beneficial in the area of prostate cancer. Because of the high levels of nutrients, vitamins and minerals, spinach has a more positive impact on some of the body’s health mechanisms that do other vegetables.
There is ongoing debate in the foods arena about whether vegetables and fruits should be eaten raw or cooked. In most cases, raw wins. However, there are some instances in which the cooked form of the food is actually better. Such is the case with spinach. Spinach contains more oxalic acid than most other vegetables. Oxalic acid can interfere with the body’s absorption of minerals such as calcium and magnesium. Boiling will reduce the concentration of this acid in the spinach. One organization dedicated to providing accurate information to consumers recommends boiling the spinach for only one minute to keep the loss of flavor and nutrients to a minimum.
Don’t be afraid to eat spinach raw. However, just know that your body will only make use of about 10% of the calcium and magnesium provided in the raw spinach. (People with a history of or concern about kidney stones will want to check with their doctors. Some sources state that oxalic acid can contribute to kidney stones).
Both canned spinach and frozen spinach appear to retain their nutritional benefits well. The main difference in these forms is that the color and texture present in fresh spinach is lost. The preferred method of preparation is to select fresh spinach that is not slimy, bruised or wilted. Store the spinach in the refrigerator in a zipper-type bag from which you have removed as much of the air as possible. Wait to wash the spinach until you are ready to use it, as moisture will hasten the spoiling of the somewhat delicate vegetable.
Washing is best done by filling a large bowl with lukewarm water and agitating the spinach gently with the hands to loosen any dirt. If the spinach is especially dirty, the process can be repeated. The spinach is ready to use in a recipe or salad.
All in all, spinach is an extremely good choice for inclusion in a healthy diet. People who for some reason have an aversion to spinach would be wise to find some form or preparation of the vegetable they can enjoy. The benefits provided by this impressive vegetable are just too good to ignore.
Walnuts – A “Nutty” Way to Keep Your Heart Healthy
Walnuts gain their place on the superfoods list due to their high antioxidant content, contributions to heart and cardiovascular health and high concentration of omega-3 fats.
Some health-conscious individuals have dubbed the walnut as the “king” of all nuts because of these benefits. Nuts, regardless of the variety, all have a unique combination of benefits when it comes to nutrition. In addition to fiber, minerals and vitamins, nuts contain a good supply of high-quality protein and can stand in for meat when needed. When you add to all of this the transportability and finger-food status of walnuts, and you have a nutrition-packed food that can go anywhere with you.
Walnuts are ranked first among other tree and ground nuts when it comes to antioxidants. The value of antioxidants is well known. These microscopic scavengers help to protect the body from cellular damage, and as a result can contribute to heart health and cancer protection. The healthier our bodies can remain on a cellular level, the healthier we can remain overall.
Perhaps one of the greatest benefits of walnuts lies in their contribution to cardiovascular health. The overall health of our vascular system depends on its ability to function well in several different areas. In order for this to happen, generous amounts of anti-inflammatory and antioxidant nutrients must be present. The balance and makeup of blood as well as the walls of blood vessels is also important. Experts state that walnuts stand out in their ability to contribute positively in all these areas of vascular health.
Some sources state that walnuts can aid in the reduction of LDL (low-density lipoproteins) cholesterol in the blood. Walnuts are also credited with contributing to the health of blood vessels by helping to keep them more elastic and responsive to stimuli.
Although walnuts can resemble a brain due to their wrinkled, lobed appearance, this is not why they have been referred to as a brain food. This distinction comes from the fact that walnuts are one of the best sources of plant-based omega-3 fats.
About two-thirds of the brain is made up of fat. This means that the membranes of our brain cells are primarily composed of fat. These membranes are the security system of the cell and determine what is allowed into and out of the cell. The make up of omega-3 fats are specially suited to this task, making it possible for the cell to take advantage of nutrients in the most efficient manner possible. Just as crucial, it allows the cell to efficiently get rid of waste, which is of primary importance when you are talking about the cells that make our brains work.
The best way to consume walnuts is whole and in the skin. While it is true that the skin does have a slightly bitter taste, and it is possible to remove it from walnuts, experts recommend leaving the skin alone because that is where close to 90% of the beneficial nutrients reside.
Although nuts are incredibly healthy and nutritious, many people do not make use of them as a part of their daily diet. Only a very small percentage of adults in the United States eat nuts regularly. It may be that people just don’t know how wonderfully healthy nuts are. It may also stem from misinformation. Some men and women voice that they avoid nuts because they are high in fat and calories and therefore believe nuts are not a good choice. It is true that a serving of walnuts (7 whole nuts) contains 185 calories. However, people generally feel more full after eating walnuts and may have a less of a tendency to overeat. Another important distinction is that the fat contained in nuts is unsaturated fat which is much better for us than artery-obstructing saturated fat.
There are additional benefits to including walnuts in your diet. They are a great way to naturally incorporate increased amounts of potassium, calcium, magnesium and vitamin E, which may be beneficial in regulating blood pressure.
Available research has shown measurable anti-cancer benefits by positively affecting oxidative stress and chronic inflammation. Experts believe that it is the specific combination of these two threats that increase the possibility of a person developing cancer. The anti-inflammatory properties of walnuts may also play a positive role in bone stability as well as weight loss.
When considering all of the health benefits of walnuts and the amazing way they can be incorporated in all types of foods as well as eaten as an easy snack, it is a no-brainer when it comes to including them as a part of a health-conscious diet.
Yogurt – The Superfood That Improves Cholesterol and Helps Weight Loss
Yogurt is a common food on many of the superfoods lists and is frequently the only dairy product identified as “super”. It has a well-rounded variety of vitamins and minerals, including calcium, vitamin B2, B12 and B5, phosphorus, iodine, potassium, zinc and protein. Yogurt ranks high among calcium-rich foods, providing approximately 45% of the daily value in a one-cup serving.
Most of the benefits of yogurt arise from a unique “one-two” punch of dairy and live bacteria. The presence of live bacteria cultures in yogurt gives it some advantages that are distinctive to this food.
Some people have questioned the true extent of the influence of live bacteria cultures on health. In spite of this doubt, there are many studies included in respected medical and nutrition publications such as the Journal of Nutrition, Annals of Nutrition and Metabolism, Journal of the American Dietetic Association and the New England Journal of Medicine, that document the positive impact of yogurt in areas such as immune system response, cholesterol levels, bone health, arthritis and fat loss.
Many diseases and illnesses are caused by harmful bacteria (germs) that get inside our bodies. There are, however, a host of friendly bacteria that live in the stomach that help keep us healthy. The addition of live, friendly bacteria cultures to yogurt supports these healthy bacteria in their disease-fighting role.
Studies show that the addition of “healthy” bacteria (lactobacillus casei) to the diet enabled subjects to fight off pneumonia more effectively. Their immune systems also recovered to normal levels and activity much more quickly. Even subjects who began the study in a state of malnutrition were able to fight off the pneumonia pathogen more effectively than subjects not receiving the healthy bacteria.
The white blood cell activity of women was studied to determine the effect of conventional yogurt (no live cultures added) versus yogurt with probiotics (“healthy” bacteria). White blood cells are the special infection-fighting cells of the body. The study found that women consuming six ounces of probiotic yogurt experienced an increase in the number and effectiveness of the white blood cells that continued even when the consumption of yogurt had ended.
Live-culture yogurt has a significant positive effect on cholesterol levels, again documented in scientific studies. Not only did levels of “bad” (LDL) cholesterol drop, but it raised the levels of “good” (HDL) cholesterol. The women in the study experiencing these benefits had consumed three ounces of probiotic yogurt for two weeks, then six ounces of the same yogurt for two more weeks. The increase in good cholesterol as well as the decrease in bad cholesterol was significant.
One extremely interesting aspect of yogurt, and other dairy foods, is the effect on weight loss, especially when it comes to fat around the midsection. As we all know, midsection fat has big impact on overall health and is typically the hardest type of fat to lose. Yogurt can play a significant role in boosting the calcium content of a person’s daily diet and aiding in this role of weight management.
An additional benefit of yogurt is that it can be consumed by people who are lactose intolerant. Lactose intolerance involves a lack of the enzyme, lactase, which breaks down the sugar present in milk. People who are lactose intolerant avoid eating products that contain milk because of the sometimes embarrassing and uncomfortable digestive consequences. Because the lactose in yogurt has already been converted to lactic acid, those who normally stay away from dairy products can eat yogurt without a problem.
Yogurt has some strong health and nutrition benefits and is worthy of significant consideration for both a healthy diet and weight-loss program.