We’ve all heard that certain foods are good for you. Mom told us that, but did you know there are some foods that are really over the top for nutrition. Some people call them super foods and for good reason. They contain exceptional amounts of vitamins, antioxidants, minerals, and good fats hidden among their extraordinary flavors.

Life is very hectic these days with free radical levels higher than they have ever been. Lots of people have aches and pains, are tired or just don’t feel well. Our bodies are reeling from the pace that we have set for ourselves. Some people even have difficulty eating healthy, so super foods can put a big dent in the nutritional desert some of us find ourselves in. Between the junk food, food additives, trans fats, environmental contaminants, job and financial stress and nutritionally depleted foods, we need to add several servings of these super foods to our weekly regimen of eating. Preventing future disease should be on everyone’s bucket list.

Avocados are indeed a super food full of oleic acid which is a monounsaturated fat that has been shown in studies to lower cholesterol. In a week long study, 45 volunteers ate avocados every day. They reported an average 17 percent drop in their total cholesterol count, including LDL cholesterol and triglycerides. They also presented an average of an 11 percent increase in HDL cholesterol.

In a study published in the March 2005 edition of the Journal of Nutrition, researchers at Ohio State University also found that avocados help the body to absorb more caretenoids, which are prevalent in yellow, orange, red and green vegetables. People are being encouraged to eat more vegetables and less fat, but researchers found that a little healthy fat is necessary to get the most out of carotene absorption. By adding a few slices of avocado to your green salad, you are ensuring the absorption of these health enhancing nutrients.

Avocados are an excellent source of potassium, which is an important mineral in blood pressure regulation. They also contain folate and glutathione which help lower homocysteine levels, lower high blood pressure, and improve atherosclerosis, in addition to its cholesterol regulating abilities. Potassium is an important circulatory protector for heart disease, stroke and other circulatory diseases. In other words it is a great inflammation fighter.
Another big plus for the avocado is the amount of folate it contains. One cup of avocado has approximately 23 percent of the RDA of folate that the body require to be healthy. Studies show that people who consume foods rich in folate have a greatly lowered risk of any form of cardiovascular disease, including heart problems and strokes that those who consume less or none at all.

Women will be pleased to know that the monounsaturated fatty acids, carotenoids, and tocopherols (vitamin E) in avocados show promising protection against breast cancer in recent studies. Men will be equally pleased to know that prostate protection is another attribute of the avocado, as shown in recent studies.

Another great super food is nuts, particularly those nuts that have a higher alkaline pH like raw almonds and raw cashews. Raw walnuts, when the shell is removed look like a mini brain and like other nuts, contain high levels of monounsaturated fats. These types of fats are also found in cold pressed extra-virgin olive oil. In the nut family, almonds, pecans, pistachios, walnuts, filberts, beechnuts, cashews, chestnuts, macadamias and other members of the nut family are concentrated forms of nutrients that five large and comprehensive studies have shown to be linked to a lowered risk of heart disease. Peanuts, although classified as a legume, have valuable antioxidant values and healthy fats. Almonds and walnuts sit on top of the nutritional heap with the other nuts falling somewhere underneath.

Some of the studies showed that if nuts were substituted for an equivalent caloric amount of carbohydrate in the average diet, there was a 30 percent potential reduction in heart disease risk. The British Journal of Nutrition reported that when foods that are known to reduce cholesterol are combined in a healthy eating plan, the resulting drop in health risk multiplies. In one particular study, 12 people with elevated LDL cholesterol, ate a diet combining cholesterol-lowering nuts which also contain plant sterols, with foods containing soluble fiber such as beans, oats and pears to have near maximal reductions in blood LDL factions in only two weeks.

If we use almonds as an example, not only is there healthy monounsaturated fats, there is the antioxidant action of Vitamin E. A quarter cup of almonds also contains approximately 99 mg of magnesium and 257 mg of potassium. That’s almost one quarter of the RDA of each mineral. Other nuts have similar nutrients and effects in the body.

Magnesium has a huge effect of the circulatory system, relaxing arteries and veins, improving their elasticity, blood flow and the movement of oxygen and nutrients all over the body. Sufficient magnesium has been shown in studies to reduce the risk associated with heart attacks and the resulting free radical damage after a heart attack.

Potassium, on the other hand is involved with the nerve transmission and muscle contraction in the body. This is particularly important for heart muscle and heart beat, both of which are essential to life. This electrolyte is excellent protection against high blood pressure and atherosclerosis. People consuming at least 4 servings of raw nuts per week, were shown in studies to have a 37 percent decreased risk of coronary heart disease. Each additional serving was shown to have an average additional reduction in risk of 8.3 percent.

Inside a sleeping seed is one of the most complete and nutritionally dense super foods. Once the seed has sprouted, it is a powerhouse of nutrition. A sprouted mung bean for example, has the ascorbic acid of a loganberry, the thiamine of an avocado, the niacin of a banana, the carbohydrate content of a melon, the vitamin A of a lemon and the riboflavin of a dried apple.

The Chinese have known about the nutritional qualities of sprouts for thousands of years and now nutritionists are recommending them to our nutritionally poor North American Diet. Some studies even show the antioxidant protection  of sprouts in assisting in preventing some types of cancer.
Sprouts are so convenient to grow right at home in a jar on your kitchen counter. The seeds are inexpensive and other than a twice a day rinsing with fresh water, require little time and care. During the winter months they provide a valuable source of Vitamin C, beta-carotene and lots of B vitamins. Any seeds or grains that are sprouted amp up their vitamin and mineral content by as much as two and one half times. Some vitamins like Vitamin A can explode up to 8 times more after the seed has sprouted.

Sprouting seeds actually break down the starch they contain into simpler carbohydrates and the protein into amino acids ready to grow that plant big and strong. When we eat the sprouts, a lot of the complex nutrients are all ready broken down into simpler compounds so our enzymes don’t have so much work to do.
Seeds and grain can contain what could be called anti-nutrients, ingredients that cause problems in the body rather than nourishing it and promoting health. Sprouts contain enzyme inhibitors and phytates. Enzyme inhibitors in dried seeds are what enable seeds to remain viable in soil for years waiting for water and the right growing conditions. Once most seeds start to sprout, enzyme inhibitors disappear. Phytates are phosphorus compounds that bind with minerals such as calcium, iron and zinc and interfere with the body’s ability to absorb them. They too, are found in unsprouted seeds and grains. Once the grains sprout, the phytates biding quality is no longer an issue.

Tomatoes are one of those nutrient rich foods and are a storehouse for high levels of Vitamin C, niacin, riboflavin, phosphorous, magnesium, calcium and a good source of folate, fiber and chromium. Lycopene has come to the forefront in cancer prevention research in recent years and tomatoes are a particularly good source. Lycopene, in adequate amounts has been shown to protect against prostate, colorectal, skin, breast, cervical, bladder, endometrial, and pancreatic cancers. In addition, the lycopene in tomatoes has been shown to help protect against heart disease and aging eye problems such as macular degeneration and cataracts that can lead to blindness.

Tomatoes are loaded with vitamin B6, potassium, folate and niacin which are great protectors against heart disease, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and other forms of heart disease. These are also great inflammation reducers helping to prevent heart attacks and strokes. The fiber in tomatoes has been shown to keep blood sugars low, lower cholesterol levels and prevent colon cancer. The riboflavin in tomatoes has been shown to be useful in reducing the intensity and frequency of migraine headaches.

The lycopene in tomatoes is more bio-available if the tomatoes are cooked. Canned tomatoes and tomato sauces are just as nutritious as raw tomatoes providing another nutrient rich super food.

Garlic, Onions, Leeks and Shallots
Garlic, onions, leeks and shallots are  members of the lily family and are commonly called Alliums. Garlic and other allium vegetables have high levels of thiosulfinates, sulfides, sulfoxides and other odoriferous sulfur compounds. These cysteine sulfoxides are primarily responsible for the strong flavor and smell of these foods.

This group of foods not only provides excellent flavor to other foods they are added to, they add antioxidant activity, antibacterial and medicinal properties. Garlic and onions have been the subject of much folklore with regards to their healing properties, with claims including preventing everything from the common cold, flus, plagues and even acne. Because garlic tends to have a stronger taste, it has been shown to have a higher medicinal value, containing allicin and diallyl sulphides. Allicin is the more powerful of the two compounds and has the greatest shown health benefits. Allicin is produced when garlic is crushed or finely chopped. The more the garlic is crushed and chopped the more allicin is produced to provide the stronger medicinal effect. Allicin has been shown to have excellent anti-fungal properties in skin infections such as athlete’s foot.

Fermented Foods
The most common foods we can think of that are fermented are lacto-fermented foods. They have been around for a long time, especially in Korea, China, Japan, Northern and Central Europe. Fermentation has been used to improve the shelf life, enhance the flavor of food and even create new foods.
The nutritious nature of fermented super foods cannot be understated. Fermentation allows very specific bacteria, yeasts and molds to predigest food constituents such as proteins, fats and carbohydrates into more easily digested foods, while at the same time creating and introducing probiotics into the digestive tract. Friendly bacteria help to keep our immune systems strong and our digestive tract healthy. Our digestion is dependent on bacteria as part of digestive health. An overrun of unhealthy bacteria can cause all kinds of digestive problems, none of them, good for you.

Fermented foods are full of powerful enzymes and live micro-organisms, if they haven’t all been killed off with heat. Healthy immunity starts in the gut with lots of healthy bacteria colonization. Fermented foods promote better digestion and absorption of vitamins, minerals, omega 3 fats and other nutrients. They regulate the pH of the digestive tract and act as antioxidants, scavenging free radicals. Fermented foods contain the identical isothiocyanates found in cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, brussel sprouts and kale and are identical cancer fighters.

Look for labeling that says active or live cultures. Pasteurization kills off the live cultures so look for the live products in the refrigerator section. It will have a shorter shelf-life but will be oh so good for you.

Examples of assorted fermented foods include chocolate, kombucha, live culture yogurt, acidophilus milk, sauerkraut, kefir, amasake, vinegar, beer, miso, cider, tempeh, bleu cheese, umeboshi plums, soy sauce, coffee, pickles, olives, cultured vegetables, and marinated artichokes. If any of these foods have been processed with heat, the fermented value may be lost.

Grass Fed Meats Raw Dairy Cheeses and Butter
Grass fed beef and its dairy products have more beta-carotene, omega 3 fats and Vitamin E than cattle fed by conventional means. Beta-carotene is converted to Vitamin A in the body and it is critical for bone growth, good vision, cell division, reproduction and cell differentiation. Like Vitamin E, Vitamin A is a fat soluble vitamin, vital to good health.  Grass fed meats are much higher in Vitamin E than barn feed meats, measuring up to three times higher.
For us to be healthy we need the right ratios of omega 3 to omega 6 essential fatty acids in our diet. Grass fed beef has the perfect ratios we need to have a healthy body and mind. As we know from research and studies omega 3 fatty acids help reduce inflammation and help prevent inflammatory diseases like heart disease and arthritic conditions. Omega 3’s are particularly important for proper brain cognitive and behavior related functions.

Grass fed meat and milk are one of the richest known forms of another type of beneficial fat called Conjugated Linoleic Acid or CLA. It is up to five times more prevalent in grass fed ruminants compared to conventionally fed animals. CLA is one of the most potent cancer fighters and has been shown in studies to increase fat loss in overweight individuals and to improve muscle tone and build muscle.

Raw milk, butter and cheese made from raw mild has amazing healing qualities. Until just after World War II, milk straight from the udder was used like a medicine. Clean raw milk and products made from it are a complete and balanced super food. I realize that it is hard to police raw milk, especially with the intensive farming that is going on in our current times, although there are some exceptional small farms that are so squeaky clean you could almost eat off the floor. Their animals are equally clean.

Raw dairy has all of the natural enzymes, amino acids, vitamins, minerals, and healthy fats like omega 3’s and CLA, gentle on the stomach and easily digested, because it is fed to baby cows.

Amino acids are the basic building blocks of life. Raw dairy products have 20 of the amino acids required for health. These too are lost or altered when the milk is pasteurized.  Pasteurized milk has an entirely different action in the body than raw milk. Key enzymes, immunoglobulins, enzyme inhibitors, vitamin binding proteins, metal-binding proteins and several growth factors are lost in the heating process.

Wild Caught Salmon
Like grass fed meats, wild caught salmon is a veritable treasure trove of beta-carotene, omega 3 fats and vitamin E. Salmon fed on their natural diet have a much better fat content and fat ratio conducive to our nutritional needs. The high levels of essential fatty acids in omega 3’s have very significant health benefits. The ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 is much more favorable in wild salmon. As with grass fed beef, the nutritional benefits of omega 3 essential fatty acids to reduce inflammation and help prevent arthritis, auto-immune diseases, heart  and circulatory problems show the value of this super food.
By having a few servings of these super foods each week, you can guard your health against illness and disease.

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