Healing Foods for a Healthy Life: Part One
The foods you eat -- as well as your activity levels -- are major players in maintaining optimal health. Check out these food and health pairings:
Fat affects your heart, for better or for worse. It’s type of fat that matters. Saturated fat, which is in fatty cuts of meat, processed meat, full-fat dairy products (think butter, milk, cheese, and full-fat yogurt), poultry skin, tropical fats and oils (coconut and palm oil, and milk chocolate), can be detrimental to your heart when eaten in excess. Eat these foods in small amounts. Animal products also contain cholesterol, which can affect heart health by causing hardening of the arteries (aka atherosclerosis), which can lead to heart attacks and heart disease.
Fats that keep your heart happily ticking along are unsaturated fats. You can find them in plant-based oils like canola (rapeseed), olive, grape seed, safflower, and peanut oils. Also, avocados and nuts like almonds, walnuts, pistachios, and peanuts all contain beneficial monounsaturated fats. Walnuts, flax, chia, and hemp seeds contain vital polyunsaturated fats called omega-3 fats, which help keep cholesterol levels in a healthy range while fending off cardiac inflammation. Since nuts and seeds are high in calories, limit your serving to an ounce per day. Cold-water, fatty fish like salmon, halibut, mackerel, and tuna contain omega-3 fats, too. Aim for at least two 6-ounce servings per week for your heart to reap the rewards.
Fruits and vegetables are natural blood pressure regulators -- their high potassium and fiber, particularly soluble fiber, work together to keep arterial walls clear and blood flowing smoothly. They also help keep the pressure on arterial walls in a healthy range, which in turn keeps the heart from being overworked. So add leafy greens, red, yellow, orange, purple, and pink fruits and veggies to your plate today!
Blood Sugar Controllers
According to the latest national diabetes statistics, 25.8 million children and adults in the United States have diabetes -- and the rates are rising. How can food help keep blood sugar in a healthy range? The first rule of thumb is to fill up on fiber. Plant foods like whole fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds, all contain a good amount of fiber, which is the non-digestible part of plants. Fiber is fantastic for stabilizing blood sugar levels and helping smooth out our emotional peaks and valleys. High-fiber foods are also very satisfying -- they help you feel full with fewer calories, which can help keep your waistline in check too.
Two large research studies found that participants who ate the most whole grains from breads, cereals, and pastas reduced their risk of diabetes by 40 percent over those who didn't eat as many whole grain foods.
Cinnamon has been shown to help insulin act more efficiently in the body by increasing cells' sensitivity to insulin. Although the research is mixed, there is some science behind cinnamon's relationship to reducing blood sugar levels. So, how can you include cinnamon in your daily diet? You can sprinkle it on toast with almond butter, a skim milk café au lait, steel-cut oatmeal, yogurt, or fresh fruit. It also gives an exotic flavor to soups and chilis.
Magnesium is an important mineral for metabolizing carbohydrates and regulating your blood sugar. Foods that contain chlorophyll -- think leafy greens like spinach, kale, collard greens, and Swiss chard -- are chock-full of magnesium. In addition, legumes (i.e., peanuts, peas, and beans), nuts, seeds, and whole grains can help your body build up its magnesium stores.
Eating an abundance of colorful fruits and vegetables is vital for overall health and weight management. Fruits and vegetables are jam-packed with disease-fighting antioxidants, which are plant compounds that rid the body of the damaging cells that can lead to cancer. The American Cancer Society recommends five or more servings of fruits and vegetables every day. What do five servings (roughly 5 cups) of fruits and vegetables look like? That's 2 cups of spinach (2 cups of leafy greens count as a single cup serving), 1 cup of broccoli florets, 1 large sweet potato, 1 large banana, and 1 large peach. Keep in mind that cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, kale, and cabbage have been shown to be particularly beneficial in fending off cancer, especially colorectal cancer.
By Victoria Shanta Retelny, RD, LDN, author of The Essential Guide to Healthy Healing Foods.
Stephanie Ronco has been editing for Food and Health Communications since 2011. She graduated from Colorado College magna cum laude with distinction in Comparative Literature. She was elected a member of Phi Beta Kappa in 2008.