To recap: In part I we talked about 5 “healthy foods” that aren’t all that good for your health after all. In part II I discuss what I consider to be 5 “Superfoods” that you should strive to incorporate into your diet.
But hey--Relax! I’m not talking about blending up wheat grass shakes (although the fiber content must be through the roof)-- what I am all about is eating real foods that you can buy locally and prepare easily. These are not the necessarily the "best" foods on the face of the earth for every person in question, but they are all great additions to a healthy diet—and fairly tasty as well. I guarantee once you try them they will become staples of your diet. Let’s get started!
1. Quinoa. This food is like a cross between brown rice and Moroccan couscous. It’s gluten free for those who are intolerant. It originated in South America, and is now commercially available at most grocery stores. Quinoa is high in fiber, protein, complex carbs, and is also one of the few Vegetarian sources of complete protein. Substitute Quinoa for rice in any dish you choose, or cook and serve alone as a meal. It has a nice nutty flavor that goes well with everything.
2. Acai Berries. Native to Brazil, these berries are extremely rich in antioxidants, which when combined with healthy lifestyle choices have been shown to reduce risk factors for several diseases. By taking the whole fruit or dried berries (you may have to go to a health food store) you will be getting a huge dose of dietary fiber and essential fats. At the very least try adding 2-4 oz of the juice form (it is available at nearly all grocers) to a shake or bowl of yogurt.
3. Flax Seeds. Flax is the number one plant source of omega 3 essential fatty acids. You have probably heard of all of the health benefits of omega 3’s. Foods like grass fed beef and fatty fish like salmon are great sources, but what if you are a vegetarian or simply can’t afford these items? Flax seeds have been a staple for all of my clients who choose to practice a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle, as well as others who just want a quick and easy source of whole food nutrition. Aside from the high omega-3 content, they are a great source of fiber with over 5g per 2 tbsp serving. I mix ground flax into my shakes, use it to "bread" chicken, as well as mix into my oatmeal and yogurt. Best of all, ground flax seeds are very inexpensive and can easily be purchased in bulk.
4. Coconut Oil. When I preach the virtues of coconut oil people often come back to me questioning its saturated fat content. Yes, coconut oil is high in saturated fat— but not all saturated fats are created equal. The animal fat that is found in animal products such as steak does not act the same in your body as the fat found in coconuts. Coconut fat is composed of a special structure called a medium chain triglyceride, or MCT. All this fancy terminology means is that your body is able to easily break down the molecule of fat and use it for energy. And when fat is used for energy it doesn’t end up clogging your arteries. It is obviously a much more complicated process, but that is not the focus of this article. There has also been a growing body of evidence that MCT’s may help you burn bodyfat while exercising. Coconut oil is great to cook with and can serve as a great substitute where you would normally use butter.
5. Pumpkin. This festive favorite is low in sugar, high in fiber, and a good source of vitamins and minerals. You should use it year-round, not just at Thanksgiving or Christmas! Buy a few cans every time you go grocery shopping—you’ll be glad you have this convenient veggie option around. Remember to buy plain pumpkin, and not the pie filling! They put both types right next to each other on the shelf, so be careful. The Pie filling is loaded with sugar, and is not something you want to make part of your diet. Pumpkin can be served warm as a side dish like squash. My personal favorite is to combine 1 scoop of protein powder and 1 cup of pumpkin together into a pudding to be eaten as a pre-workout snack. You might add vanilla, nutmeg, allspice and/or cinnamon to taste. You can also put this mixture into the freezer for “pumpkin ice cream.”
Not only is the “flesh” of the pumpkin healthy, so are the seeds. Pumpkin seeds are high in omega 3 fats as well as fiber and protein. They are also known as “Pepitas” and are sold next to the nuts in the grocery store. Reach for raw pumpkin seeds the next time you have the urge for salty chips or nachos--you may be pleasantly surprised by how well your cravings are satisfied.
So there you have it--5 food items you can incorporate into your weekly meals right away. I encourage you to experiment with these ingredients and see if you can create something that is delicious and nutritious.
If any of you have recipes for any of these ingredients please send them to me at top_notch_training @ yahoo.com, so we can share them with the rest of the readers out there. Until next time remember to have fun, be fit, and get functional!
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Angela Harrington is our in home personal trainer in Brentwood, Stratham, and North Hampton NH and surrounding communities.