Monday Medical: Build a healthier body with superfoods
September 1, 2013
Red goji berries and green chewy kale chips. Roasted pistachios and earthy cacao nibs. Green tea to drink and include in baked goods — these are a few of our favorite superfoods.
Registered dietitians Cara Marrs and Laura Stout and internal medicine physician Dr. Charlie Petersen sang the praises of 11 nutrient-dense, vitamin-packed foods at their monthly "Real Food" presentation at Yampa Valley Medical Center on Wednesday.
Superfoods are filled with vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals, all powerful antioxidants that may help protect against cancer, reduce menopausal symptoms and osteoporosis, lower the risk of urinary tract infections and even improve dental health.
Antioxidants help keep our bodies in balance by neutralizing harmful molecules called "free radicals," Marrs explained.
"Free radicals are unstable molecules looking to scavenge and steal electrons from proteins, fats and DNA in our bodies, which leads to cell destruction," she said. "Antioxidants can give up electrons and not become unstable themselves, but antioxidants then become inactive so a constant supply is needed."
"Plants provide the best source of antioxidants," Petersen said. "You can't make up for a poor diet with vitamins. The answer is in food, not in supplements, so it is important to eat the right foods."
There are many lists of superfoods — it's a hot topic in magazines and books and on television. Stout shared her favorites and encouraged the audience to explore more.
Kale comes first on Stout's list. High in Vitamin C, it protects against immune system deficiencies, cardiovascular disease, prenatal problems and eye disease. It also promotes healthy bones and brains and aids digestion.
This leafy plant can be roasted or sauteed, eaten raw in a salad, added to grain dishes or blended into smoothies. Lightly salted, drizzled with olive oil and nutritional yeast and baked, kale is transformed into tasty "chips."
Berries are an excellent source of antioxidants. Although goji berries are the latest craze, Stout also touts blueberries, raspberries and mulberries. Pistachios are a great choice for encrusting fish and adding to baked goods, salads and grain dishes.
Quinoa, the super grain, is high in protein. Enjoy it cooked and served as a side or main dish, or add it to a salad. (I'll vouch for this — I recently had a quinoa-spinach salad that was as delicious as it was nutritious.)
Green tea is a healthy substitute for high-calorie or higher-caffeine beverages. You get a double dose of antioxidants if you soften the robust flavor with a little organic raw honey — another superfood. Stout also recommended adding green tea matcha powder to baked goods or smoothies.
Citrus fruits are popular for their taste and health benefits. Cooking with citrus can brighten any recipe. Its tenderizing qualities make it an excellent addition to marinades.
On the other end of the superfoods spectrum, cacao was a new experience for many in the audience. The basis of dark chocolate, it has an earthy taste when consumed in its raw and unsweetened state.
Colorful, flavorful turmeric and licorice-like fennel can add zest and health benefits to any meal. Speaking of flavor, let's not forget garlic. Loaded with vitamins and minerals, it boosts immunity and cardiovascular health and has anti-cancer properties.
Petersen said it is important to mince or slice garlic 10 to 15 minutes before heating it. This waiting period allows garlic to release the enzyme allicin.
He learned this tip from the book “On Food and Cooking,” by Harold McGee, which he highly recommended.
Marrs and Stout will continue their Real Food series on Sept. 25 when the topic is gluten. They also provide individualized nutritional counseling sessions through YVMC's Integrated Health program, reachable at 970-875-2731.
Christine McKelvie is a writer/editor for Yampa Valley Medical Center. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.