The Food Blog

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Season’s Eatings: The Top 10 Healthiest Foods for Spring

These days, the concept of eating foods “in season” has all but lost its meaning. Modern processing techniques and worldwide distribution has now made a variety of foods available year-round—it’s nearly impossible to gauge whether it’s January or July from looking at a typical produce bin.
However, buying seasonally harvested and locally grown produce from farmer’s markets and organic grocers not only helps sustain regional agriculture but also assures you’re getting the highest quality in freshness and taste. This produce is free of both the preservatives used to keep imported foods fresh and the genetic modifications of so-called “Franken”-fruits and -vegetables. Additionally, eating seasonal and regional foods is one of the healthiest ways to restore balance to the body during the cyclical changes in weather, daylight and temperature.
Get into the green
“Spring brings a lightness and warmth that allows us to leave behind the heavier foods of the winter months,” says Karen Seibert, lead nutritionist at New Seasons Market in Portland, Oregon. “It is also a time for growth and rejuvenation. Often, people associate spring with cleaning closets or the garage, but it is also an important time for giving the digestive organs a good ‘sweeping out.’ ”
So why not extend spring's fresh start to the way we eat? Below are the top 10 freshest and healthiest food picks of this life-renewing and regenerative season.
1. Asparagus. “Asparagus is the trumpet that announces spring has arrived,” says Gabriel Langholtz, special project manager of New York City’s Greenmarkets. Rich in vitamins A and C, calcium, iron and folate (the world’s most common vitamin deficiency), asparagus has been prized for its culinary and medicinal purposes since ancient times. Choose asparagus stalks that are rounded, with firm, thin stems and dark green or purplish closed tips. Just one cup of cooked asparagus provides 67 percent of the daily requirement for folate, essential for heart health and prevention of birth defects.
2. Green beans. Harvested while still immature when the inner bean is just beginning to form, they are one of the few bean varieties that can be eaten fresh. With a healthy supply of beta-carotene and vitamins A and C, green beans help protect the body’s water-soluble parts from oxygen-free radical damage.
3. Spring Chinook salmon. The health benefits of eating fatty, cold-water fish are widely known, but salmon contains the highest volume of omega-3 fatty acids, essential for maintaining good heart health. Choose wild over farmed salmon whenever possible.
4. Spinach. A Mediterranean favorite since the 16th century, spinach is a rich source of vitamin A (for cardiovascular health) and vitamin K (for bone health). Just one cup of cooked spinach provides 294 percent and over 1,000 percent, respectively, of the daily value for each. George Mateljan of the World's Healthiest Foods foundation notes that spinach contains at least 13 different flavonoid compounds that serve as powerful antioxidants and anti-cancer agents.
5. Apricots. The true fruits of spring, apricots were first discovered in China and have been cultivated for more than 3,000 to 4,000 years. Not only do apricots help satisfy a sweet tooth, but the vibrant red, orange and yellow hues signal a plentiful supply of antioxidants. They are also rich with beta-carotene and lycopene, two carotenoids important in reducing the artery-clogging LDL cholesterol and maintain a healthy heart.
6. Spring onions. Also known as scallions or green onions, these tasty vegetables are available year-round but are at their peak when they make their debut in those first few weeks of spring. Onions have been the subject of new research linking them to lower incidence of certain cancers. They also provide vitamins A and C, calcium and iron.
7. Green peas. Although they date back to biblical times, it was not until the 17th century that green peas were made popular by France’s King Louis XIV. Green peas are a rich source of folate and a wide range of B vitamins, essential for the proper metabolism of fats, proteins and carbohydrates. Green peas are also chock-full of lutein and zeaxanthin—both powerful antioxidants.
8. Basil. A popular herb that can enhance the flavors of your favorite pasta sauce or spring salad, basil is a wonderful source of vitamin A.
9. Avocados. Previously avoided by dieters due to their high fat content, avocados have made a comeback as a great source of heart-healthy monounsaturated fats to help lower cholesterol. By volume, avocados are also 50 percent higher in potassium than bananas.
10. Spring greens. “What makes spring different is the number of fresh, succulent greens available,” says New Seasons’ produce buyer Jeff Fairchild. Choose from arugula, romaine, mesclun, bok choy and watercress to mustard, collard and dandelion greens. All are rich in lutein, beta-carotene, vitamin C, folate, minerals and fiber and excellent for digestion. For a tasty spring delight, Erica Simon, marketing manager for People's Food Co-op in Portland, Oregon, suggests an arugula pesto: Blend arugula, olive oil, garlic and chopped walnuts, spread over rustic bread and top with grilled asparagus and goat cheese.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

27+ Anti-Aging Superfoods

Fruits and Veggies
Woman Eating Bowl Of Fruit
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While the headlines rant on about healthy fats and net carbs, the real news in nutrition is the way food affects your genes. It turns out that specific chemicals in foods -- such as sulforaphane, a phytochemical in broccoli -- work with your genes to ratchet up your body's natural defense systems, helping to inactivate toxins and free radicals before they can do the damage that leads to cancer, cardiovascular disease, and even premature aging.

While it's still not quite a household term, "nutritional genomics" is a field that's only going to get bigger, says Jose Ordovas, PhD, director of the Nutrition and Genomics Laboratory at Tufts University. He predicts that in the next five to 10 years we'll be able to assess our genetic vulnerabilities and eat to reduce our risks accordingly. If, say, you have a genetic predisposition to heart disease, you may want to eat more broccoli and oats. Someone with other genetic red flags might alter her diet in other ways. Says Ordovas, "Exactly when this will happen is difficult to predict. But it will happen."

The specifics -- which foods influence which genes -- are still being mapped out. But while you're waiting to hear about the panacea for your gene pool, you might as well feast on foods that appear to pack the most potent disease-fighting, anti-aging punch. "If you can protect yourself from needing a cholesterol drug by eating vegetables and fruits," says Daniel A. Nadeau, MD, of Exeter Hospital in New Hampshire, "why not do it?"

Tomatoes, Tomato Sauce, and Salsa

Lycopene, the pigment that makes tomatoes red, also appears to reduce risk for cardiovascular disease, some cancers, and macular degeneration, the leading cause of blindness in people 55 and older. Additionally, a study of elderly nuns (77-98 years old) linked higher levels of lycopene with greater self-sufficiency. While fresh tomatoes have a good hit of lycopene, the most absorbable forms are found in cooked tomato products, such as spaghetti sauce and soup. A spoonful of tomato salsa will also offer a dose of the antioxidant. Get the same benefits with: pink grapefruit, guava, red bell peppers, and watermelon.

Sweet Potatoes, Squash, and Carrots

Eating at least two cups of orange fruits and vegetables a day boosts intake of beta-carotene, which converts to vitamin A, essential for healthy skin and eyes, and which may also reduce the risk of some cancers, cardiovascular disease, and osteoporosis. Lutein and lycopene, also found in orange produce, help reduce the risk of macular degeneration and may also protect skin from sun damage and even reduce wrinkling. Another reason to add a handful of raw baby carrots to your lunch: falcarinol, a substance naturally present in carrots, has been shown to reduce the risk of developing cancerous tumors in rats by one-third. Get the same benefits with: mangoes and cantaloupes.

Blueberries and Red Grapes

Anthocyanins, the chemicals that give these fruits their deep hue, are absorbed into the brain's membranes and can improve memory and cognition, says James Joseph, PhD, of Tufts University. "And frozen fruit works just as well as fresh." Get the same benefits with: plums (fresh or dried), purple grape juice, blackberries, and red cabbage.

Broccoli and Broccoli Sprouts

The sulforaphane in broccoli increases the production of enzymes that clear toxins from the body. The younger the broccoli, the more sulforaphane it has: Three-day-old sprouts offer up to 50 times the protection of mature stalks, says Paul Talalay, MD, of Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. Go for BroccoSprouts, which are grown to ensure high levels of the phytochemicals (, to find a local distributor). If you're sticking to the stalks, buy fresh: Frozen broccoli is blanched, which leaches out some of the sulforaphane, says Talalay. Don't like broccoli? Try out other cruciferous vegetables, such as cabbage and cauliflower, which offer some of the same benefits. Get the same benefits with: broccolini and broccoli rabe (also known as rapini).

Oatmeal, Barley, and Beans

Oatmeal's star ingredient is soluble fiber, which lowers levels of LDL cholesterol and, consequently, cardiovascular disease. If you need a change of grain, toss some barley in your cart, which can lower LDL and total cholesterol as well as oatmeal can. You can also boost your intake of soluble fiber (as well as heart-healthy folic acid and blood-pressure-controlling potassium) by eating beans: about three cups a week is optimal. Beans contain anthocyanins and quercetin, antioxidants also found in berries and apples. The darker the bean, the bigger the benefit.

Spinach, Kale, and Collard Greens

If you make just one change today, eat some leafy greens. A recent study suggests that, for each daily serving you eat, you drop your risk of heart disease by 11 percent. Eating greens may also save your eyesight, thanks to their two carotenoids, lutein and zeaxanthin. This antioxidant combo decreases your risk for age-related macular degeneration. "Greens are packed with carotenoids because they sit out in the sun all day, so they need protection from sun-induced damage," says biochemist Dean P. Jones, PhD, of Emory University School of Medicine. "The carotenoids accumulate in the retina and protect your eyes." Dietary guidelines advise at least three cups of greens a week. Frozen or bagged is as good as fresh.

Salmon, Sardines, and Tuna

The American Heart Association recommends that adults eat two servings of fish a week, for the omega-3 fatty acids that boost heart health. New research suggests that omega-3s may also keep your brain sharp. A recent study found that a higher intake of fatty fish significantly reduced mental decline, particularly when the subjects were timed during challenging mental tasks. While mercury and PCBs have become a concern, "The benefits will outweigh the risks," says Nadeau. Avoid swordfish, shark, king mackerel, and tilefish, which have higher levels of mercury. If fresh fish isn't an option, go for canned tuna (light has less mercury than white albacore because it comes from smaller fish, which accumulate fewer toxins), salmon, and sardines.


Cornell researchers recently found that quercetin, an antioxidant in apples, may protect the brain from the kinds of damage seen in diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's. All varieties contain healthy amounts of this and other antioxidants, says study author Chang Y. Lee, PhD, chairman of the department of Food Science and Technology at Cornell University. Eat the peel; it's where the compound is most concentrated.

Low-Fat Dairy Products or Fortified Soy Milk

Yogurt and other low-fat dairy products are packed with calcium and vitamin D, which keep bones healthy and strong. Eat two to three servings a day. If you're lactose intolerant, mix it up with calcium- and vitamin D-enriched soy milk. Soy has been touted as easing menopause symptoms and preventing cancer, and it earned an FDA-approved health claim based on evidence that eating 25 grams a day could help lower cholesterol. Isoflavones, components of soy with estrogen-like properties, may also decrease your risk of osteoporosis.

Avocados and Olives

It's old news that the avocado's monounsaturated fatty acids are good for heart health, but new research yields another reason to go for the guac -- especially if you pair it with salsa. The fat in avocados (and olives) enhances absorption of disease-fighting carotenoids: lycopene in tomatoes, beta-carotene in orange vegetables, lutein in leafy greens. "There has to be some fat in the diet to efficiently absorb these fat-soluble phytonutrients," says food scientist Steven J. Schwartz, PhD, of Ohio State University in Columbus.

Olive, Canola, and Walnut Oils

Like avocados and olives, these cooking oils aid the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins and phytochemicals. A study last year showed that when a salad of spinach, romaine lettuce, tomatoes, and carrots was topped with fat-free salad dressing, fat-soluble carotenoids were not absorbed. A better bet: monounsaturated oil (olive, peanut, walnut, avocado) or polyunsaturated oil. Both types lower "bad" LDL cholesterol and increase "good" HDL levels. When selecting a polyunsaturated oil, chose those with a higher ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fats, such as canola oil, walnut oil, and flaxseed oil, over corn and safflower oil. "Omega-6 acids can increase the amount of inflammation in the body, while omega-3s have the opposite effect," says Daniel Nadeau. We need both kinds, but our modern Western diet is overrun with omega-6 sources, which may add to the inflammation that's been linked with increased risk for heart and neurodegenerative diseases.

Green Tea

Like black teas, green varieties contain antioxidants called catechins that have a protective effect against heart disease. But a recent study of postmenopausal women showed that only green tea can significantly decrease your risk of breast cancer. The green tea "turns down" levels of circulating estrogen, which have been implicated in the development of the disease. Animal research suggests that a daily cup of tea (bagged or loose) will provide the benefits.

Ginger, Curry, and Other Spices

A recent study found that one half-teaspoon daily of antioxidant-rich herbs and spices -- fresh or dried oregano, sage, peppermint, thyme, clove, allspice, and cinnamon -- can help prevent chronic disease. Ginger, in particular, has high antioxidant power and anti-inflammatory properties. But the "hottest" spice these days is curcumin, a component of turmeric and yellow curry, which animal studies suggest may reduce the risk of Alzheimer's. "Indians who eat a lot of curry blend have much lower rates of Alzheimer's, but at this point researchers don't know yet if that's what makes the difference," says Greg M. Cole, PhD, of the UCLA Alzheimer's Disease Research Center.

Drink to Your Health

Cool off this summer with these delicious-and healthy-cocktails.
Strawberry Agua Fresca

Even cocktails—the ultimate fun food—can be made healthier by including whole fruits or fruit and vegetable juices, making them a source of vitamins, antioxidants, and fiber.

Mix in crushed fresh peppermint leaves and add a long, thin slice of fresh, peeled sugarcane as a healthful, unprocessed sweetener.

Summer Seltzer
Any summer spritzer (such as a juice and seltzer combo) can look as fresh as it tastes. Add mixed fruit on a skewer for more natural flavors.

When tropical cocktail recipes call for syrups, try natural, homemade versions instead of store-bought. Combine one half-cup of honey with a quarter-cup of warm water, and stir together to dissolve the honey. It works well in a daiquiri, such as the following made with lime: Combine 1 1/2 cups white rum, 2/3 cup fresh lime juice, and 6 tablespoons of the simple syrup in a small pitcher. Fill 6 (8-ounce) glasses with ice; pour 1/2 cup rum mixture into each glass.

Piña colada
Throwing a half-cup of pineapple chunks into a piña colada gives you twice as much filling fiber than if you used syrup or juice. It also adds volume, texture, and a more natural flavor.

Tropical Drinks
Make watermelon ice cubes for a tasty addition to any tropical drink, says Cooking Light Executive Chef Billy Strynkowski. Simply remove the pits from fresh red or yellow watermelon, dice, and place in a blender with chopped fresh mint. Puree on medium speed until it liquefies, then pour into ice-cube trays and freeze.

Healthy Eating Habits for Kids: 12 Dos and Don'ts

With childhood obesity in North America tripling over the past 20 years, what kids are eating has become a major concern. Here are some ideas to help establish a pattern for a healthy lifestyle:

1. Do set a good example for your child to copy. Share mealtimes and eat the same healthy foods.

2. Do discourage snacking on sweets and fatty foods. Keep plenty of healthy foods, such as fruits, raw vegetables, low-fat crackers, and yogurt, around for children to eat between meals.

3. Do allow children to follow their natural appetites when deciding how much to eat.

4. Do encourage children to enjoy fruits and vegetables by giving them a variety from an early age.

5. Don't give skim or 1-percent-fat milk to children under the age of 5 unless your doctor prescribes it; at this stage, children need the extra calories in whole milk.

6. Do ask children to help prepare meals. If parents rely mostly on convenience foods, children may not learn to enjoy cooking.

7. Don't add unnecessary sugar to drinks and foods.

8. Don't accustom children to extra salt by adding it to food or placing the shaker on the table.

9. Don't give whole nuts to children under the age of 5, who may choke on them. Peanut butter and chopped nuts are fine as long as the child is not allergic to them.

10. Don't force children to eat more than they want.

11. Don't use food as a bribe.

12. Don't make children feel guilty about eating any type of food.

Easy, Healthful Snacks
Stock up on healthful snacks that children and teenagers can nibble on throughout the day.

* Breads and crackers with spreads such as peanut butter, low-fat cheese, canned tuna or sardines, and lean cold cuts.
* Rice cakes and whole-grain crackers or breadsticks.
* Fresh and dried fruits.
* Yogurt.
* Sticks of carrot, celery, or other raw vegetables, and cherry tomatoes with nutritious dips.
* Plain popcorn.
* Breakfast cereals.
* Water, milk, or fruit juice.

5 Foods That Suppress Your Appetite

The cold and ugly truth about weight loss is that you will be hungry some of the time. While there are many tactics to reduce hunger--from avoiding refined carbohydrates to meal-timing strategies--the best may be finding food and beverages you can consume when you're feeling intense hunger pains that don't have a lot of calories, reports

These 5 foods really do control your appetite and suppress cravings--without adding calories:

  1. Water or broth
  2. Green leafy vegetables, including lettuce, cabbage, and bokchoy
  3. Homemade instant banana pudding
  4. Pickles
  5. Apples

The idea is that if you eat two cups of anything, your tummy will thank you by turning off those gnawing hunger pains. But if the two cups of food is cabbage instead of cashews--20 calories vs. 900 calories--you have succeeded in curbing your appetite without incurring a lot of calories, notes NewsTarget. That's the idea behind appetite control foods.

Appetite Control Food No. 1: Water or Broth
Fresh drinking water--from a tap or bottle--is a powerful appetite suppressant. NewsTarget says if you drink 8 oz. of water at the first sign of hunger and then wait 10 minutes, you'll almost always suppress your appetite. If water doesn't work for you, drink organic vegetable (or chicken) broth. Heat it up a quart at a time, and for only 20 calories you'll be full.

Appetite Control Food No. 2: Green Leafy Vegetables
Lettuce, cabbage, bokchoy, and other green leafy vegetables have so few calories that you don't even need to count them, but they will fill your tummy and turn off the hunger signals to your brain. Don't like to eat them plain? Add a low-calorie salad dressing (look for one that is 25 calories per tablespoon) and enjoy. Or, stir-fry the veggies in water. Add onions, garlic, and soy sauce for more flavor.

Appetite Control Food No. 3: Instant Banana Pudding
Don't look for this in the grocery store. You have to make it yourself. Purchase the ingredients from a health food store. Here's the recipe from

Pour a quart of soy milk into a blender. Add two scoops of unsweetened banana-flavored simply natural spirutein soy protein powder. Add stevia powder as a sweetener. Blend. While the blender is running, add 1/2 tablespoon of guar gum powder and 1/2 tablespoon of xanthan gum powder, both of which are thickeners.

Appetite Control Food No. 4: Pickles
Buy natural pickles only, avoiding those with added sugars and artificial food coloring. An entire jar of pickles has only 50 calories.

Appetite Control Food No. 5: Apples
Apples do have a few calories and a few carbs, but they will fill you up for quite a while, which will stop you from eating more calorie-dense foods, notes NewsTarget. The bulky fiber of apples will fill you up before you overeat.