Superfoods: More than Kale and Quinoa

Though there is no legal or medical definition for “superfoods,” the term is typically used to describe foods that are high in nutrients and antioxidants and low in fat, sugar, and sodium. Eating these foods may reduce the risk of some chronic diseases. The following “superfoods” are packed with vitamins and minerals and are versatile in recipes.

Cruciferous Vegetables – This category includes broccoli, brussels sprouts, and cabbage, which are good sources of fiber and vitamin C and are easily added to a stir fry or a casserole. Substitute shredded cabbage for iceberg lettuce on tacos. Broccoli is also great for snacking raw with a low-fat dip.

Citrus Fruits – Oranges, grapefruit, lemons, limes, clementines, tangerines, and the ugli fruit are included in this group. Citrus fruits are high in vitamin C. These fruits can be enjoyed as a snack or tossed in a fruit salad or a leafy green salad. Squeeze the fruit to make fresh juice and to replace the flavor of salt in recipes.

Green, Leafy Vegetables – Spinach, kale, collard greens, mustard greens, watercress, arugula, and other dark green lettuces are nutrition powerhouses. They are packed with fiber and are a high source of vitamins A and C. Enjoy these greens shredded in a salad, sautéed with olive oil and garlic, or added to soup or casseroles.

Berries – Strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, and raspberries are good sources of fiber and vitamin C. Add them to cereal or oatmeal or enjoy them for a snack. Try adding them to a leafy green salad for a different twist.

Beans – Garbanzo beans (chickpeas), kidney beans, black beans, black-eyed peas, lentils, lima beans, pinto beans, and navy beans are a few of the more popular bean varieties. Beans are fat free, high in dietary fiber, and a good source of folate and potassium. Enjoy them in bean burritos, black bean burgers, bean salads, or bean soups.

Source: Fruits and Veggies More Matters, www.fruitsandveggiesmorematters.org/

Heart Health: Will Vitamins Help?

hand holding vitaminsIt’s February when we are drawn to all ‘things of the heart’ including Heart Disease Awareness month. Because heart disease is the leading cause of death in Iowa, it’s a good time to make sure we are aware of the risks. There are many factors that contribute to a person’s risk for heart disease. Some, like genetics, are not controllable. But lifestyle behaviors such as physical activity and a healthful diet are within your control and can reduce your risk. One area of study is how vitamins and minerals affect the risk of heart attack.

Will taking B vitamins help? At one time researchers thought folic acid lowered the risk of heart attack. Higher blood levels of the amino acid homocysteine were associated with increased risk of heart attack. Because folic acid lowered homoycsteine levels in the blood, it was thought it improved heart health. However, more recent research shows that people who took B vitamins were just as likely as those taking a placebo (e.g. “sugar pill”) to suffer heart attacks. Current research indicates that homocysteine may be a marker of heart attack rather than a cause. So, despite folic acid’s role in lowering homocysteine levels it does not lower the risk of heart attack.

What about multivitamins? The Women’s Health Initiative studies, which followed more than 161,000 people for eight years, showed that those who took multivitamins were as likely to suffer strokes and heart attacks as those who didn’t take multivitamins.

What does improve heart health? The American Heart Association reminds us of ‘Life’s Simple Seven,’ everyday things to do to improve heart health in seven categories:

  • Manage Blood Pressure
  • Lose Weight
  • Get Active
  • Reduce Blood Sugar
  • Control Cholesterol
  • Stop Smoking
  • Eat Better

You can complete a simple online assessment called My Life Check to see how you’re doing in each of these seven areas and learn ways to make everyday changes to improve heart health.

Source: Nutrition Action Newsletter July/August 2010, American Heart Association

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