I recently got together with a group of friends (at a socially accepted distance). One of them suggested we go through the alphabet and name all the things for which we are thankful. It did my heart good to hear the array of answers from “apple pie” to “Zoom meetings.”
That gave me the idea for an A to Z list of good-for-us foods. Yours might differ according to your own health needs, of course. This is mine:
Apples: Partially because we have two crispy sweet varieties hanging around the trees in our yard. Apples are a great source of a soluble dietary fiber…if we eat them with the skin. Foods high in soluble fiber are now recognized for their glucose and cholesterol lowering abilities.
Berries: I’m partial to blueberries but all types of berries are brimming with substances scientists call bioactive compounds that help protect the function of the heart and brain. They may even help ease gut issues. Enjoy them fresh, frozen or dried to add to your nutrient arsenal for the day.
Cauliflower: Along with other cruciferous vegetables like cabbage, broccoli and Brussels sprouts — contains substances widely studied for their ability to help deactivate cancer-causing toxins. They are considered non-starchy vegetables…high in nutrients and fiber; low in carbs and calories.
Dairy: Foods such as milk, yogurt and cheese have been shown to help keep blood pressure under control when eaten along with other healthful foods. A recent analysis of several clinical studies found that the intake of dairy foods may also lower the risk for colon cancer by up to 19%.
Eggs: Hooray! Besides being the most digestible high quality protein on the planet, whole eggs are rich in choline, a nutrient our bodies need for brain development as well as mood, memory and muscle control. And get this: Current research findings have found that early introduction of eggs (between 6 to 12 months of life) may actually help reduce a child’s risk for developing an allergy to eggs.
Fruit: Fresh, frozen, canned or dried, these foods are so important to our health, they have earned their own nutrient group status. Most of us require 1 to 2 cups of fruit daily to get the required amount of nutrients provided by these foods.
Grapes: I can’t tell you how many of my clients have mistakenly thought that grapes were off limits because they “are high in sugar.” Not necessarily. A half cup of red grapes, for example, has about the same amount of natural sugar as a small apple. Red grapes have additional antioxidant properties due to their red pigment.
Honey: Due to its antioxidant content, honey can be an alternative to sugar.
Ice cream: That most luscious of desserts made from frozen sweetened cream — is definitely good for the soul, if not the waistline. So here’s the deal: It’s true that all foods (in the right balance) can fit into a healthful diet. We just need to avoid snarfing down a whole carton in one sitting.
Juice: Is that good for us? Actually, fruit juice has all the nutrients of whole fruit with the exception of important dietary fiber. So here’s what we do: Eat whole fruit as much as possible and when presented with that nice glass of fresh-squeezed juice, sip it from a small glass like a fine wine.
Kale: This green, leafy cruciferous vegetable happens to be one of the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet. One cup of raw kale has a measly 33 calories, yet is brimming with health-promoting vitamins and minerals. It makes tasty salads and enhances the flavor as well as nutrient content of soups and stews.
Lettuce not forget all the varieties of greens we have to choose from. Just remember that — in general — the greener your greens, the more nutrients your body will enjoy.
Meat: Yes, I know I will get hate letters for this. Yet foods like beef and pork are truly nutrient-dense. One example is zinc, an essential mineral needed for healing and a strong immune system. Next to oysters, beef provides more zinc per serving than any other natural food.
Nuts: These seed-type fruits are high in healthful fats that help keep our arteries clear. Nuts also provide protein, dietary fiber, and a host of valuable vitamins and minerals to our hard-working bodies. A small handful of nuts (unsalted, please) a few times a week is also good for blood pressure, say scientists.
Oats: They are a whole grain. And a good source of soluble fiber, now recommended to help control blood sugars as well as cholesterol levels. I use the old-fashioned variety in my homemade granola, by the way.
Peas: Seeds that grow in pods — are packed with protein and other life-enriching nutrients. Split peas are the dried version of this popular legume. And don’t be afraid of this starchy vegetable if you have diabetes. Peas contain a carb called resistant starch which may help control blood sugar levels and may even help with weight loss.
Quinoa is considered a “pseudo-cereal. We cook its seeds like a grain but the quinoa plant is closer botanically to spinach or Swiss chard. Quinoa is considered a valuable whole grain, says the Whole Grains Council ( www.wholegrainscouncil.org). It is also one of only a few plant foods known to be a complete protein.
Ricotta: It’s a creamy Italian cheese made from the milk of sheep, cows, goats or Italian water buffaloes, says Wikipedia. While other cheeses are made from solid curds formed in the cheese-making process, ricotta is a product of the liquid whey that is left behind. In fact, ricotta in Italian literally means “recooked” (another R word). Ricotta is rich in whey protein, which has been shown to be an effective type of protein for muscle strength and maintenance. This cheese is also a great source of calcium, vitamin B12 and a host of other vitamins and minerals. That’s really rather remarkable.
Strawberries: One cup of this red fruit more than meets our vitamin C requirement for the day. Strawberries are also rich in substances that may lower our risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease, according to some studies. Keep strawberries as dry as possible, say the folks at Driscoll’s. Store them in their original container between 32-34 degrees F. Rinse them gently with cool water right before you are ready to eat them. And let them reach room temperature before serving to enhance their natural flavor.
Tea can sooth tired minds and adds fluid to tired bodies. Tea drinkers tend to have lower blood pressures and a reduced risk for strokes, according to some studies. Interesting, too, that green, black and oolong teas are made from the same plant, Camellia sinensis. They are just processed differently. Cup for cup, black tea has about half the caffeine of coffee while green and oolong varieties have less.
Udon. I turned to Marilyn Uwate, my dietitian friend with Japanese roots, on this one. Udon is a noodle made from wheat flour and widely used in Japan, she says. “It is usually eaten as a soup. Look for whole grain versions for a better boost of nutrients.”
Vegetables: Plants we eat for food are as varied as the nutrients they supply. Think of vegetables as nature’s vitamin, mineral and fiber supplements. For best health, let this group of foods grace your table often.
Walnuts: Besides being the nut with the highest amount of plant-based omega-3 fats (the good-for-you fat), walnuts are certified by the American Heart Association as a heart-healthy food. Before you eat the whole bag, remember that a “serving” is considered 12 to 14 walnuts halves or 1/4 cup … about a handful.
Xanthan gum might not be on your shopping list but is a common ingredient in salad dressings and sauces. According to the International Food Information Council xanthan gum helps stabilize opposing ingredients like oil and water. This food additive is also gluten-free so has become a useful way to mimic the properties of wheat flour in gluten-free breads and pastries.
Yogurt: A staple food in many cultures, yogurt is a great source of essential protein and calcium. And because it is fermented, it helps to keep healthful bacteria in our guts. Scientists now believe that good gut bacteria not only helps fight off infections but may also protect us from intestinal disorders and help with weight control.
Zucchini. Don’t make fun of this incredibly versatile summer squash. It’s considered a non-starchy vegetable with only 25 calories and 5 grams of carbs per cup. I like it roasted or sauteed with a little olive oil and seasonings.