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Some foods more beneficial than others December 11, 2007

Posted by Dreamhealer in Diet.
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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:

Green tea

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.

Flaxseed

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.

Tomatoes

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.

Soy

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:

  • Honey: There’s been a buzz about honey lately, with people crediting it with helping to heal wounds, boost energy and improve memory. Raw honey has been noted for its ability to fight off germs and bacteria.
  • Chili peppers: A 2006 study in a nutrition journal found that consuming chili peppers reduces the amount of insulin in the blood after eating.
  • Fish oil: Whether taken as a supplement or from the consumption of fatty fish, like salmon, fish oil is an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids. These acids lower triglycerides and reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke in people with cardiovascular disease.
  • Sprouts: Broccoli sprouts have sulforaphane, which has been found to help fight age-related blindness. Mung bean sprouts are a good source of vitamin C, which aids in wound healing and in keeping bones and teeth strong. But be sure to buy them from a reputable place and wash them completely before eating. They can harbor dangerous bacteria from the ground.
  • Blueberries: Like other foods with antioxidants, blueberries can help neutralize free radicals. The reason is the anthocyanidins in them, which also gives the berries their deep color. In general, says Westcott, the darker the color, the more nutrients a fruit or vegetable has. “That’s why we encourage eating a rainbow of colors,” she says.
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