After a season of indiscriminate feasting, we greet mid-winter as a time of nutritional resolution. Our minds -- and stomachs -- are ready for the culinary correction that will deliver us from the perils of unhealthy eating.
A great way to start is by crafting a diet rich in the most nutritionally-dense foods available. While there's no official "superfood" roster and every nutritionist has his or her favorites, a review finds that certain foods make virtually every Top 10 list. I've compiled them here, along with some easy-to-make recipes.
- Kale is the vegetable most likely to be relegated to garnish status. That's too bad because this king of all superfoods is hyper-dense with antioxidants, anti-cancer phytochemicals, detoxifying compounds, vitamins, minerals, iron, protein, and fiber. Chop and mix it with chopped toasted almonds, dried cranberries, matchstick carrots, lots of olive oil, and a sprinkling of coarse-ground sea salt for a tasty salad.
- Broccoli is a potent nutritional dynamo packed to the florets with cancer-fighting compounds, protein, fiber, potassium, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, vitamins C and A, folate, beta-carotene, and eye-boosters like lutein and zeaxanthin. Stir-fry cut heads, leaves, stalks and all with garlic and olive oil or steam it al dente for five minutes. Add a light cheese sauce and kids will crave it!
- Blueberries usually score highest on tests measuring total antioxidant power in fruit. They have been shown to boost memory and motor coordination, aid eye health, prevent arterial plaque, fight cancer, ease inflammation, and may even lower cholesterol. Plus they've got plenty of vitamins C and K, fiber, and other nutrients. Freeze them in bulk in season and add them to cereal, pancakes, muffins, and smoothies year round.
- Turmeric is a spice that deserves superfood status because of all the curcuminoids it contains. These compounds have demonstrated powerful positive effects on inflammation, cancer, Alzheimer's disease, cataracts, liver function, and viral infections. Sprinkle turmeric liberally on meats and fish, vegetables, grains, and eggs.
- Garlic keeps more than vampires away. When crushed or chopped, a compound called allicin is created that researchers say works to fight cholesterol, plaque, blood clots, viruses, bacteria, parasites, fungi, cancer, high blood pressure, and even the common cold. Remember to mince or crush your cloves so allicin can form, and eat it as raw as possible by adding it to dishes at the last minute.
- Yogurt is made by fermenting milk with probiotic bacteria -- the kind that live in our digestive system and help us process food. Without this bacteria, the digestive system malfunctions and immune issues and other troubles follow. Yogurts help us maintain these good bacteria. (But go only for the real stuff -- look for yogurt that contains live and active cultures.)
- Quinoa, which is pronounced "keen-wah," was considered sacred by the Incans, and here's why: It's extremely high in fiber, iron, and other minerals, and is a complete protein, meaning it offers our bodies all nine essential amino acids in nearly perfect proportions. Buy your quinoa in bulk and rinse it in a strainer to remove its bitter coating before enjoying its delicious nutty taste and creamy, yet slightly crunchy, texture in place of rice.
- Nuts are often shunned because of their fat content, but that's nutty! They contain "good fat" that has been shown to reduce coronary disease. They're also packed with health-boosting phytochemicals and brain-building omega-3s. Almonds, walnuts, and pecans are excellent choices with myriad benefits. A small amount a day will suffice.
- Salmon is another terrific source of critical omega-3s as well as protein, potassium, selenium, vitamin B12, niacin, and astaxanthin, a carotenoid researchers say has ten times the antioxidant power of beta-carotene. Choose wild-caught salmon over farm-raised, which hasn't nearly the nutritional punch.
- Eggs, which get an ill-deserved rap for high cholesterol, are actually high in choline -- a substance shown to inhibit cholesterol accumulation and one that is crucial to cardiovascular wellbeing! Choline is essential for brain, liver, and cell membrane health, too. Eggs are also one of the best sources of protein around, and they contain lutein and zeaxanthin as well as 15 vitamins and minerals. But only if you include the yolks!
Of course, these are only some of the superfoods available at the local market. But they're an excellent start. Pig out on these, and you'll be eating your way to a healthy lifestyle!