Superfoods

From greens to nuts & beyond

Superfoods

When it comes to good food, there's an abundance of choice. Try two of my favourites, cruciferous vegetables and nut butters, and discover their health benefits.

When it comes to good food, there’s an abundance of choice. Good food comes in all shapes, sizes, and colours. Read on to discover the many options available in two of my favourite super-nutritious food groups.

Green giants

When I first met my girlfriend she was more smitten with spinach than Popeye ever was. Blissfully oblivious to other greens, she had yet to enjoy the crisp, robust, ambrosial qualities that kale brings forth.

Sure, it took a bit of arm twisting and “really honey, you’ll love it” before kale, a powerhouse among cruciferous veggies with its brilliantly jaunty verdant leaves, ended up in our grocery cart. But it was love at first bite.

Kale’s sharp, profound peppery flavour has her hooked—so much so, she’s become a kale superfan; extolling its virtues to whomever may have a salad bowl. And all this before I even put on my dietitian hat and spoke of its nutritional might.

Disease fighters

You see, kale and other cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, Swiss chard, and cauliflower are plants of the Brassica genus and are absolutely brimming with nutrients and tongue-twisting compounds that have potent disease-fighting properties.

In a recent issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers found that among more than 6,000 women, those with the highest intake of cruciferous vegetables (Chinese cabbage and turnips, to be specific) had a lower breast cancer risk than those of the fairer sex with the lowest intake.

We holders of the XY chromosome can reap the rewards as well. Toronto researchers found an inverse relationship between broccoli and cauliflower intake and aggressive prostate cancer.

Important compounds

Experts speculate that cruciferous vegetables’ cancer-thwarting abilities can largely be chalked up to compounds called isothiocyantes that stimulate natural detoxifying enzymes in the body. Found abundantly in broccoli, cabbage, and kale, these compounds roam our bodies, neutralizing carcinogens and suppressing tumour growth.

Diindolylmethane is another beneficial crucifer’s resident that appears to exert chemoprotective tendencies against numerous cancers, including those of the breast and ovaries. Add to that an often good showing of selenium—a trace mineral that is incorporated into antioxidant proteins that eliminate free radicals before they can cause cellular damage—and you begin to see why this anticancer vegetable group should regularly find a home in your crisper.

Other good news

While most of the recent research has focused on the abilities of broccoli and cabbage to ward off cancer, these veggies are so dense with good-for-you nutrients that it wouldn’t be wrong to speculate that other diseases could also be targeted by turning over a new, greener leaf.

My loving partner was rather pleased to learn that her new favourite green health bomb is loaded with vitamin C—a water-soluble antioxidant that can reduce the chances of developing cataracts. It can also lower harmful blood LDL cholesterol and triglycerides, making it an ally in the battle against heart disease.

Let’s not overlook all that fibre, which, according to German researchers, can slash diabetes risk, and as reported in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, may do away with unwanted body fat. Dietary fibre slows digestion and draws water into the digestive tract, causing stomach distention. This can bring a feeling of satiety sooner—so you are less likely to overeat.

Perhaps the best news of all is that a wide array of cruciferous vegetables is available at your local green grocer, making your green-giant stalking as easy as gathering nuts in the fall.

Small but mighty nuts

For eons it seemed ubiquitous peanut butter had a monopoly on the nut butter market. But now—hooray!—all sorts of nuts and seeds are being ground up to elicit oohs and ahhs from your taste buds. Like peanut butter, each one of these nut butters packs a whopping nutritional punch. Herewith, the best spreads for your morning toast (or a wandering index finger).

Almond butter
Sweeter than peanut butter, almond butter is a rich source of monounsaturated fat (six times more than saturated), which is credited with helping to maintain healthy cholesterol levels. California researchers reported that after four weeks of almond butter intake, a small group of men and women significantly reduced their dangerous LDL cholesterol levels and slightly raised their beneficial HDL cholesterol. Almonds also contain magnesium needed to maintain a healthy skeleton, immune system, and blood pressure.

Pumpkin seed butter
Grind these jack-o’-lantern castoffs and what’s left is an earthy spread laced with essential fatty acids, magnesium, iron, phosphorus, and vitamin K; the latter may improve insulin sensitivity, offering protection from diabetes. Further, phytosterols in pumpkin seed butter can inhibit cholesterol absorption in the intestine, making it an ideal part of a heart-healthy diet.

Sunflower seed butter
With its smooth texture, sunflower seed butter is chock full of selenium and vitamin E. Selenium acts as an antioxidant, waging war against cell-damaging free radicals. Fat-soluble vitamin E may reduce the risk of life-threatening blood clots, according to a 2007 study in the journal Circulation.

Cashew
butter Cashew butter is a good source of heart-protecting antioxidants and copper, so add a dollop here and there to smoothies and oatmeal. Copper is necessary for proper iron metabolism as well as collagen synthesis, making it a necessary mineral for bone and skin health. Like our other all-natural butters, cashew butter is not weighed down by sugars, unhealthy fats, or artificial preservatives.

Hempseed butter
Greener than the new Al Gore, groovy hempseed butter is packed with protein and an ideal 3:1 ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 essential fatty acids. A recent Harvard School of Public Health study suggests the omega-3 fat alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) found in hemp can reduce the risk of heart attack.

Soy nut butter
As a tasty alternative for those allergic to nuts, soy nut butter (actually from a bean, not a nut) is a stellar source of protein and the B vitamin folate that protects against birth defects, depression, and strokes. A 2007 Archives of Internal Medicine study found that women who increased their intake of soy nut protein for eight weeks improved their blood pressure and lowered their LDL (bad cholesterol) levels.

So whether you’re nutty for butter or big on green giants, there are plenty of super-tasty, super-nutritious options that will add interest and flavour, making every meal … super.

Crunch time
Beef up your salad bowl, soup, or stir-fry with these 10 nutrient-packed cruciferous vegetables.

Vegetable

A good source of

Bok choy bone-strengthening vitamin K
Kale antioxidant beta carotene
Broccoli manganese—an essential component of many enzymes
Broccoli sprouts anticancer sulforaphane, up to 50 times more than mature broccoli
Brussels sprouts appetite-quelling fibre
Collard greens folate, which helps prevent birth defects
Swiss chard vitamin K needed for blood clotting
Watercress vision-protecting vitamin A
Cauliflower vitamin B6 needed for proper protein metabolism
Radish heart-healthy vitamin C

Six Common Myths … Busted

While it’s no myth that cruciferous vegetables and nut butters are superfoods, there are plenty of myths out there concerning the foods we eat. Maybe you’ve heard that drinking cold water burns more calories or that brown eggs are better for you than their paler chums.

The more we hear food myths the more we begin to believe them. But don’t fret. At some time or another almost everyone falls prey to misinformation perpetuated on the Internet and in late-night infomercials.

To take a bite out of food dogma, alive decided to explode six oft-repeated fallacies. And, no, apples won’t grow in your stomach if you eat the seeds.

Myth 1: Eating whole eggs raises cholesterol levels
Busted: Don’t be chicken about eating whole eggs. Sure, one large egg contains three times the recommended daily intake of cholesterol, but recent data has failed to find a link between moderate egg consumption (six eggs a week) and increased cardiovascular disease (that’s because most blood cholesterol is made by the body from dietary fat, not dietary cholesterol). The yellow orb is egg-ceptionally nutritious with plenty of vitamin A, vitamin D, and the eye-protecting antioxidant lutein.

Myth 2: Organically grown produce is no more nutritious than conventionally grown greens
Busted: Organic naysayers have long claimed that there’s little research proving that organic food is more nutritious. Not anymore! A four-year study conducted by United Kingdom’s Newcastle University suggests that organic fruits and veggies contain more iron, zinc, copper, and a hefty 40 percent more antioxidants than their non-organic counterparts. Meanwhile, scientists from the University of California-Davis, determined that organically grown tomatoes have more flavonoids—mighty antioxidants that protect against cancer—than those sprayed with chemicals.

Myth 3: White poultry meat is healthier than dark
Busted: Ounce for ounce, dark meat compared with white meat has only a couple more calories and a measly extra gram of fat—hardly enough to lose sleep over. What it does have, though, is just as much protein, plus more zinc, iron, and some B vitamins. Not to mention juicy drumsticks provide extra oomph in the taste department. One caveat, though: it’s still best to leave behind the skin (it’s laden with saturated fats).

Myth 4: Vegetables are better raw
Busted: Slight cooking actually improves our absorption of some antioxidants found in vegetables such as tomatoes and carrots. For instance, the powerful anticancer antioxidant lycopene is more potent in heated tomato sauce than in raw tomatoes. Steam veggies, don’t boil them, though. Too much H2O can pull out considerable amounts of water-soluble nutrients such as vitamin C. The upshot: enjoy a mixture of raw and lightly cooked veggies daily.

Myth 5: An omega-3 is an omega-3
Busted: Omega-3 fats have risen to rock star status of late. And rightfully so: research shows that more in your daily nosh can help fend off heart disease, cancer, depression, and Alzheimer’s. But the strongest research relates to the omega-3 fats found in fish such as salmon and trout. They consist of long molecular chains, which are more efficiently used in the body than the shorter-chain omega-3s found in walnuts, flax, hemp, and wild greens. Plant-sourced omega-3s—algae-derived DHA supplements—are healthy choices for vegans, but others should get their fix of superhero omega-3s by regularly enjoying fish or through fish oil supplementation.

Myth 6: An apple a day keeps the doctor away
Bust … Hey now, here’s a food myth that’s actually a truth. Cornell University researchers determined that those who consumed the most apple products had smaller waistlines and were 27 percent less likely to be diagnosed with metabolic syndrome—a group of health concerns such as elevated blood pressure and insulin resistance that can be precursors to heart disease and diabetes. This juicy red fruit should be the apple of your eye.

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