Some foods more beneficial than others December 11, 2007Posted by Dreamhealer in Diet.
|We’re supposed to treat our body like a temple, but for many of us it’s more like a flophouse. We work too long, sleep too little and try to make up the difference with too much caffeine. We supersize our fries while downsizing our veggies. And the only exercise many of us get is running from the house to the car so we can sit in traffic on the way to the office.
Is it any wonder, then, that when we hear about the latest miracle foods that can help undo some of the damage we inflict on ourselves, we jump on them like fleas on a shaggy dog?
But the good news is that many of these so-called wonder products actually may do some of the things they promise. Pomegranates and mangosteen contain antioxidants, which help the body rid itself of free radicals — molecules that damage cells and may play a role in serious health problems such as heart disease and cancer. Fish oils are a source of heart-healthy fatty acids. Even honey has been touted for its protective powers.We can do ourselves a favor by consuming some of these products, but we can’t expect a few cups of green tea to make up for the fatty burger we eat four days a week.
“People want a quick fix. You have to look at everything in your life, not just one or two foods,” says Kim Westcott, a registered dietitian with Beebe Medical Center in Lewes, Del. “You shouldn’t be on a diet. You should be on a journey. The changes you make in your life should be lifestyle changes.”
Here’s a look at some of these miracle foods and their benefits and what to consider when incorporating them into our diet:
What it does: Made from leaves that are steamed after they are picked, green tea has a reputation for having the highest amount of antioxidants called polyphenols. What makes antioxidants so great is that they’re like the body’s bounty hunter — they scavenge the body for free radicals. It’s believed that free radicals contribute to aging as well as health problems such as heart disease. Polyphenols work by neutralizing the free radicals before they can damage cells.
Research also shows that green tea lowers total cholesterol and raises HDL cholesterol (“good” cholesterol) in animals and people. And in a Dartmouth Medical School study of more than 2,000 people, drinking two or more cups of tea a day was found to cut the risk of developing skin cancer. All of this good stuff is part of the reason why the world’s tea industry has grown to more than $6.5 billion a year, according to the Tea Council.
What to watch out for: Because it has caffeine, green tea is a good substitute for coffee. But if you drink it, make the tea yourself rather than buying a watered-down version sold in the stores. And don’t dump in a lot of sugar, advises Dr. Gerald Lemole, medical director of the Christiana Care Center for Integrative Health. Doing that actually increases the production of white cells by the immune system, increasing inflammation in the body.
What it does: For being a tiny seed, flaxseed can do a lot. It’s a non-fish source of omega-3 fatty acids, which can help reduce total blood cholesterol and the risk of heart disease. Flaxseed, which has phytochemicals called lignans, also is a good source of fiber, which is important because most Americans usually get only about half of the recommended 28 grams of fiber in their daily diet.
Most health experts advise people to grind the whole seed and sprinkle it over salad or cereals. Flaxseed also can be used in place of eggs when baking cookies, breads and cakes, although it alters the texture.
What to watch out for: Flaxseed oil also is an option, but it doesn’t have the added fiber that the seed has, Westcott says.
What it does: Tomatoes are rich in lycopene, another antioxidant good at fighting free radicals. Some research suggests lycopene could help prevent prostate cancer. In addition to its antioxidant powers, a typical serving of tomatoes also provides about 40 percent of the recommended daily allowance of vitamin C and 20 percent of vitamin A.
What to watch out for: Cooked tomatoes actually have higher available levels of lycopene than raw ones. One suggested reason why is that cooking helps break down the tomato cells, releasing the lycopene.
What it does: Soy protein has been credited with decreasing LDL cholesterol — the “bad” one. Soy also has isoflavones, which are phytoestrogens and antioxidants.
Westcott, the dietitian, says breast cancer patients or women at risk of developing breast cancer are encouraged to eat whole soy foods rather than taking supplements. It provides a good amount of protein and fiber in a diet, and can also replace higher-fat foods, particularly those with saturated fats.
What to watch out for: There is ongoing debate about whether soy — and particularly, isoflavones supplements — are as good for women as they were once touted to be.
Other ‘wonder’ foods
There are plenty of superfoods out there, known for their nutrient density and healing qualities. Here are a few other popular ones: