Superfoods for Super Health
Concerned about eating more healthfully? Choose foods that come “from a garden, tree or root,” Dr. Maria Cannarozzi, medical director of UCF Health, told nearly 60 participants at a February 12 seminar on kick-starting a healthy 2015.
Dr. Cannarozzi is board certified in internal medicine and pediatrics and cares for patients at UCF Health, the College of Medicine’s physician practice. Her discussion on “Superfoods for Super Health” was designed to give participants the best choices for eating healthfully based on science – not marketing hype.
“Superfoods are not meant to cure specific ailments, but rather work to enhance overall wellness. Good nutrition simply means getting back to basics,” said Dr. Cannarozzi.
“We should consider eating like our grandmothers and great grandmothers did. If it didn’t resemble a food, they didn’t eat it.”
Medical evidence suggests that 50 to 75 percent of suffering can be eliminated with a healthy diet, she said. However, there’s so much conflicting information about nutrition that it’s hard to know what to eat these days. While there is no medical definition for a superfood, the best food choices contain superior nutritional properties—from antioxidants and anti-inflammatories to cancer inhibitors and blood sugar regulators. These top choices include:
- Leafy greens and crucifers (broccoli, Brussel sprouts, spinach, kale and collards)
- Nuts (walnuts, almonds and pistachios)
- Legumes (peanuts, lentils, black beans and garbanzo beans)
- Whole grains (oats, brown rice and whole barley)
- Super starches (sweet potatoes)
- Fatty, cold-water fish (salmon, herring and sardines)
- Fruits (berries, avocados, tomatoes, pears, grapefruit and bananas)
- Tea (green and black varieties)
- Dairy (Greek yogurt and eggs)
- Other (pumpkin, beets, dark chocolate, cinnamon and soy)
There are several trendy superfoods like nutrient-rich quinoa, which is packed with iron and is a nice balance of carbohydrates and proteins. Dr. Cannarozzi said it’s almost like a balanced meal in itself.
Matcha tea (or fine power green tea) also is getting lots of attention due to its ability to enhance toxin excretion, boost metabolism and lower cholesterol. Cauliflower ranks high on the superfood list because it is a tremendous source of vitamin C, and a popular substitute for high-carb foods like potatoes. Sauerkraut also is making a comeback as it includes fiber and significant amounts of vitamins C and K. Its iron content helps boost energy and the immune system, but beware of its high sodium content.
Since many American diets are deficient in protein, chia seeds and hemp seeds provide simple solutions because they can easily be added to soups, salads and cereals for an instant boost, she said. And the seeds do not contain the high-fat content of many cuts of beef or the high salt and other processing ingredients in lunch meat.
Superfoods are great additions to healthy diets said Dr. Cannarozzi, but there are a few basic principles everyone should follow:
- Drink at least 64 ounces of water per day. This is essential for proper metabolism and optimal body function.
- Include at least 25 to 30 grams of fiber in your diet daily.
- Include about 46 to 56 grams of protein in your diet daily; more if you’re very active.
- Incorporate resistant starches (healthy carbohydrates) like beans, brown rice and garbanzo beans, which serve to boost metabolism and burn fat.
“When I’m asked which food plan is best to follow, I often recommend the Mediterranean diet, which many regard as the ‘gold standard’ pattern of eating for lifelong health,” said Dr. Cannarozzi. Based on dietary traditions in 1960 Greece when the rates of chronic disease were low and life expectancy was high, this diet places great emphasis on fruits, vegetables, olive oil, fish and nuts. It also emphasizes avoiding red meat, sugar and saturated fats.
Other medically sound diets include DASH (Dietary Approach to Stop Hypertension) by the National Heart, Lunch and Blood Institute; the TLC (Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes) diet by the National Institutes of Health; the Mayo Clinic Diet; and Weight Watchers, she said.
Regardless of your eating pattern, a diet high in plant-based foods is best, she said. It will lower your risk of heart disease (and may even reverse the damage), help control weight, provide necessary fiber and antioxidants, and improve overall wellness and even sleep.
“Ultimately, nothing can replace healthy living,” said Dr. Cannarozzi. This includes no smoking; alcohol only in moderation; regular physical activity (30 minutes five days a week); appropriate amounts of sleep; taking time out for mindfulness, meditation and deep breathing; enjoying leisure and relaxation activities; and remaining social.
With so many food choices in abundance, Dr. Cannarozzi said it’s important to heed the wise words of Hippocrates… “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” With such a great turnout for the superfoods event, and the many questions asked, Dr. Cannarozzi said she’s pleased that so many people are taking those words to heart.