Our fast-paced lifestyle often makes it difficult to think about eating healthful foods. There’s less time to spend in the kitchen so people often stop at fast food places or restaurants for their meals. And, to help offset our busy schedules, grocery stores offer a variety of “heat and eat” or ready-to-serve convenience foods. Whatever lifestyle you have, you need to remember the importance of eating good foods that contain a variety of vitamins and minerals for strong, healthy bodies.
Research has shown that plant-based foods are among the most beneficial of foods to consume. According to the USDA Food Guide Pyramid, it is recommended that adults consume between five and nine servings a day of fruits and vegetables.
Here’s a list of some nutritious foods that are packed with vitamins, minerals, fiber, antioxidants* and other protective phytonutrients** that can help your heart, strengthen your bones, reduce some cancer risks, help keep eyes healthy as well as provide other health benefits. Unless you’re allergic to these foods, include them in your diet often, along with other healthful foods. No single food can provide all the nutrients that your body needs so you should incorporate a variety of healthful foods in your daily diet.
* Antioxidant - vitamins, minerals and proteins that help the body fight infections (Note – according to the American Heart Association, extremely high doses of antioxidants could lead to health problems.)
** Phytonutrient – a natural, organic substance found in plants which has health benefits
Avocados - Rich in monounsaturated fats, folate, fiber and phytonutrients that help lower cholesterol and protect against cancer. Ounce for ounce, avocados have more blood-pressure lowering potassium than bananas (but also more calories; about 300 calories each.) Avocados are cholesterol-free, sodium-free and low in saturated fat. Avocados are sometimes called the ACE of fruits because they contain vitamins A, C and E. Vitamin A contributes to healthy vision, skin and hair; vitamin C builds healthy bones, teeth and gums, and vitamin E helps maintain blood cells and muscle tissue.
Blueberries - Full of antioxidants. There are almost four grams of fiber per cup and a good amount of vitamin C. Blueberries also help protect against cancer, urinary tract infections and boost brain health and vision.
Brazil Nuts - A good source of selenium, a mineral that may prompt cancer cells to self-destruct, promote DNA repair and boost your immunity. Brazil nuts also contain a wide variety of nutrients. Limit yourself to eating two medium sized nuts per day to help reduce prostate, colon and lung cancers.
Broccoli - A super-vegetable that has anticancer substances. You should have three servings a week or try its cruciferous cousins: bok choy, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower and cabbage. One of the most nutritious of all vegetables, broccoli contains complex carbohydrates, antioxidants, protein, vitamin C, vitamin A, potassium, folic acid, calcium and iron. It is also high in fiber, has antiulcer and antiviral properties, helps regulate blood sugar and insulin, helps reduce the risk of heart disease and cataracts and boosts the immune system.
Butternut Squash - An exceptional source of beta-carotene that converts to vitamin A. One cup of cooked squash provides more than four times the recommended Daily Value. Squash also provides calcium to build strong bones. All squash are low in calories, high in vitamins and minerals, full of dietary fiber and have anti-inflammatory properties.
Flaxseed - The tiny nutty-flavored seeds are a good source of omega-3 fatty acids and lignans, which may block hormone-related cancers. They have lots of protein and fiber – one third of which is cholesterol-lowering soluble fiber. Flaxseed has anti-inflammatory benefits, helps protect against cancer, heart disease and diabetes. Sprinkle one or two tablespoons of ground flaxseed into soups, cereals, salads, yogurt and batters.
Kale - A leafy, green vegetable that is an excellent source of antioxidants. Kale helps guard against free-radicals (which contribute to age-related eye diseases such as cataracts) and may filter out eye-damaging blue light. Kale is an anti-cancer food and a good source of calcium and fiber. Try also collards, spinach and turnip greens for variety.
Kiwifruit - Two medium-sized kiwifruits can provide more potassium than a banana and twice as much vitamin C and fiber as a small orange. It also has folate, magnesium, vitamins A and E, calcium, iron and other minerals. Kiwifruit’s little black seeds are much like grains, providing lots of nutrition.
Lentils - Brown, green, red and yellow lentils are good sources of heart-protective nutrients and fiber. Because they also have protein and iron, lentils are good meat alternatives and easier to prepare than their bean cousins. Lentils help stabilize blood sugar levels and provide iron for energy.
Onions - The pungent sulfur compounds thin your blood and lower blood pressure. Onions also help defend against cancer and cataracts. Onions are low in calories, high in energy and contain valuable chemicals touted as disease-fighters. Research shows that eating 1/2 an onion daily increases the “good” cholesterol, increases circulation, prevents blood clots and lowers blood pressure. Onions are an excellent source of vitamin A and vitamin C, potassium, magnesium, calcium and fiber. Eating onions regularly can help reduce the risk of a heart attack or stroke.
Quinoa (KEEN-wah) - This seed is full of protein, amino acids and fiber. The rice-like granules have more iron than true grains and provide a good amount of magnesium, potassium, zinc, vitamin E and riboflavin. Magnesium is a mineral that helps relax blood vessels and that can help reduce the frequency of migraine headaches. They can also help protect against some cancers and heart disease. In many studies, eating whole grains, such as quinoa, has been linked to protection against atherosclerosis, ischemic stroke, diabetes, insulin resistance and obesity.
Soybeans (edamame) - The soy protein lowers low-density lipoproteins (the “bad” LDL cholesterol). Some research studies indicate that soybeans can help protect against colon cancer and strengthen bones. It can also lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels as well as help protect against atherosclerosis (narrowing of the arteries which can lead to heart disease and stroke.)
Tomatoes - A rich source of lycopene, which is thought to protect against some cancers - especially prostate cancer, heart disease and some bone loss. Processing tomatoes into sauce, paste, soup, juice and even ketchup helps release lycopene from cell walls. A good source of potassium, tomatoes contain vitamin A, vitamin C, some calcium and iron.
Yogurt - provides an excellent course of protein and calcium, as well as promotes good digestion and boosts your immune system. Yogurt can also help protect against ulcers. Recent research links the consumption of dairy foods to reduced body fat.
Other good foods to consider:
• Oats and oatmeal
• Olives and olive oil
• Oranges and orange juice
• Sweet potatoes
Remember to thoroughly wash all fruits and vegetables before you eat them.
Always check with your physician or a dietitian before starting any special diet. To maintain a healthful lifestyle, eat a variety of foods to ensure that you are getting all the vitamins and minerals your body needs from a well-balanced, nutritious diet that is not too high in calories. Also, combining good dietary habits with physical activity and not smoking can help prevent chronic diseases such as heart disease and diabetes and some cancers. The next time you get ready to eat, choose your foods wisely to help ensure that your food works toward your good health.
1 1/2 pounds Broccoli
2 Tbsp. Sesame oil
1/2 Tbsp. Shoyu
1/2 Tbsp. Water
1/2 tsp. Sugar
1/2 tsp. Garlic salt
Clean and cut broccoli into pieces. Cover with hot water and let stand for one minute. Drain and cool under water. Mix together sesame oil, shoyu, water, sugar and garlic salt. Pour over broccoli. Mix well. Chill.
Yield: 12 servings
Nutritional Information (Per serving)
Calories: 55 calories
Protein: 3.1 grams
Fat: 2.4 grams
Carbohydrates: 5.3 grams
Sodium: 120 milligrams
Recipe courtesy of Kuakini Medical Center’s Dietary Department