In the March issue of Basil MAGAZINE, I submittied the article below… We received tons of emails as people really enjoyed the artcile. With that, I’m posting to all of you…
Basil MAGAZINE 01/01/2010 – I was engaged in a conversation with my friend Stacey Cox who has decided that in 2010 she is going to be more conscious about what she puts into her body, as well as informed about all-around health for women.
We all, men and women, need the same nutrients to feel our best. However, being the unique creations that we are, women have nutrient needs that are special to only us. And, lucky for us, they all are found in foods that are mouth-watering delicious. Granted, eating right is not about a handful of foods, but rather is the healthiness of the entire diet. That said, a few foods are truly super, packing in more than their share of nutrients and phytochemicals that lower women’s risk for diseases such as breast cancer and heart disease, helping prolong our lives, keep out minds sharp, and at the same time – tasting divine. The conversation caused me to do some research and find the top “super foods” for women. I found that everyone has their own ideas on what should be on their list and decided to create my own… Here is what I found:
Extra-lean Red Meat
Extra lean red meat helps with fatigue and memory. Beef has gotten a bad rap, probably because so many cuts of beef are drenched in saturated fat, the bad fat that clogs a woman’s arteries and leads to heart disease, colon cancer, and other ills. But, extra-lean beef has a number of good qualities, with iron topping the list. Iron is the #1 deficiency for women, with estimates ranging from 20% to 80% of women being iron deficient. Iron is the key oxygen-carrier in the body. Without enough iron, the tissues – from your brain to your muscles – literally suffocate for oxygen and that causes fatigue, poor concentration, and increased susceptibility to colds and infections. Not only does extra-lean beef contain a good dose of iron, but the type of iron, called “heme” iron, is really well-absorbed (30% versus as little as 5% in beans or other vegetables).
Salmon / Sardines / Mackerel
Helps prevents heart disease, depression (including postpartum depression), and memory loss, encourages optimal brain and vision development in your baby. You are hearing a lot about the omega-3 fats these days and salmon tops the list for the tastiest, best source of these healthy fats. The omega-3s reduce the risk for blood clot formation and may lower blood levels of the bad cholesterol, which helps prevent heart attack and stroke. These fats help the brain develop properly, which is critical during pregnancy and while breastfeeding. The omega-3s also boost levels of serotonin, the feel-good brain chemical, and might lower Alzheimer’s risk by up to 60%!
Prevents birth defects, heart disease, dementia, colon cancer, and vision loss; protects skin and bones. One of nature’s best sources of folate, a B vitamin that prevents birth defects, heart disease, dementia, and colon cancer (the third most common cause of cancer in women). Another compound in spinach, called lutein, helps prevent macular degeneration, a leading cause of age-related vision loss. But, probably one of the most exciting new findings is that lutein helps protect your skin from the damaging effects of sun exposure. It appears that lutein protects the fats in the top layer of skin, preventing dehydration, roughness, and possibly even wrinkles over time. Spinach also is an excellent source of vitamin K, a nutrient essential for bone development.
Helps with the prevention of heart disease, cancer, Alzheimers, and insomnia
With more antioxidant muscle power than most other fruits, berries strengthen tissue defenses against oxidation and inflammation, which are underlying factors in most age-related diseases, from heart disease and cancer to Alzheimers. For example, substances in blueberries help with short-term memory loss associated with aging. All berries help lower risk for breast, oral, and colon cancers in women. With a wealth of phytochemicals like ellagic acid, adding strawberries to the diet lowers tumor risk by up to 58%. Both blueberries and cranberries help prevent urinary tract infections. Tart cherries are one of the few foods that contain appreciable amounts of melatonin, the brain chemical that helps you sleep.
Wheat germ is good for stress, bones, thyroid, and diabetes. The heart of the wheat kernel is a gold mine of nutrition. A half cup serving of toasted wheat germ supplies more than half of a woman’s daily magnesium needs, a mineral that three out of four women don’t get enough of, yet is essential for reducing stress, building bones, and regulating thyroid function (which affects 20% of postmenopausal women) and heart rate. Magnesium also aids in the production, release, and activity of insulin. Several studies, including one from Harvard School of Public Health, found that women cut their risk of developing diabetes by 48% when they consumed magnesium-rich diets. In contrast, low intake of magnesium increases risk more than three-fold. Wheat germ also supplies husky amounts of vitamins, including 100% of your daily need for folic acid, 50% of your vitamin E requirement, and decent amounts of trace minerals, such as iron and zinc.
Tomato paste helps with heart disease, healthy skin, and fibroids. Women average less than 3 ounces of canned tomatoes daily, which is no where near enough. Tomatoes are an excellent source of lycopene, a potent antioxidant found in the red pigment in plants that might be a heart saver. Maintaining high blood levels of lycopene could lower heart disease risk in women by up to 50%. Another study suggests that lycopene also might reduce the risk for fibroid tumors, which affect up to 45% of women.
Nonfat yogurt is good for those who have issue with osteoporosis, intestinal problems, and even cancer. One in every three women after age 50 will fracture a bone because of osteoporosis. In women over 45 years of age, osteoporosis accounts for more days spent in hospital than diseases like diabetes, myocardial infarction and breast cancer. Getting enough calcium is paramount to preventing this epidemic, and yogurt is an excellent source of calcium, supplying 62% more than an equal amount of milk (488mg vs 300mg, respectively). In addition, thousands of studies, spanning decades of research consistently show that encouraging the growth of healthy bacteria in the digestive tract could boost immunity and also lower the risk for a wide variety of disorders, ranging from diarrhea, certain allergies, and lactose intolerance symptoms to irritable bowel syndrome and colorectal cancer. The best place to get the right bacteria is in plain, nonfat yogurt, with recent studies also showing that women who include the right kind of yogurt into their daily diets are less likely to suffer from bladder or vaginal infections. Surprise! Korean Kimchi also is a good source of that healthy bacteria – lactobacilli, while the cabbage itself lowers breast cancer risk.
Sweet potatoes supports healthy skin. A serving of sweet potatoes supplies five times the Daily Value for beta carotene, which might lower your risk for cancer, boost defenses against colds and infections, and protect the skin from sun damage. Beta carotene accumulates in the skin providing partial 24-hour protection against sun damage. The more carotene-rich produce you eat, the more skin protection you get. Bright orange veggies also supply hefty amounts of vitamin C, potassium, and iron, and more fiber than a slice of whole wheat bread.
If you are concerned with heart disease, cancer, cataracts, skin or aging, then increase your intake of organs. Oranges are the number one source of vitamin C in our diets, which is the most important water-soluble antioxidant in the body, associated with lowering risks for a number of diseases, from heart disease and cancer to cataracts and premature aging of the skin. Oranges also are an excellent source of folate, the B vitamin that helps lower risk for birth defects, heart disease, cancer, and even memory loss. They are an excellent source of potassium, especially for those women battling high blood pressure or who are on diuretic medications that cause potassium depletion (sometimes just increasing potassium-rich foods, such as citrus, in the diet is all it takes to lower medication dosages!). In addition, oranges supply both soluble and insoluble fibers. The soluble fibers, such as pectin, are especially important in lowering risks for disease like heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. For example, one study found breast cancer risk decreased 84% when vitamin C intake was high. But that’s just the tip of the nutritional iceberg. The humble orange also houses more than 170 phytochemicals known to lower risk for breast cancer, heart disease, and inflammatory conditions in women.
Concerned with diabetes, weight control or heart disease? Try gold old fashioned oatmeal. This simple, old-fashioned favorite helps maintain a healthy weight thanks to the magic combo of fiber and water, which fills you up on fewer calories and digests slowly so you are satisfied between breakfast and lunch and less likely to be grazing at the fridge or vending machine. In addition, the type of fiber in old fashioned oats, called beta glucan – a soluble fiber, when mixed with liquid forms a viscous gel that helps decrease cholesterol absorption and lowers blood sugar levels, lowering the risk for both diabetes and heart disease. Old fashioned oats have much more fiber and staying power than instant or quick-cooking oats.
Why it’s good for you: Alzheimers and dementia, breast and ovarian cancer.
A colorful spice popular in Indian cuisine, turmeric (it gives curry powder its bright orange color) contains powerful antioxidants, called polyphenols, that fight inflammation much like aspirin does. A recent study from UCLA showed that turmeric might have potent anti-plaque forming effects that could slow, stop, and maybe even reverse Alzheimer’s disease. Turmeric in curry powder is also associated with improvements in inflammatory bowel disease, ulcerative colitis, colon cancer, pancreatic cancer, breast cancer, psoriasis, and arthritis.
Great is you have nausea and motion sickness. Fresh ginger is as effective as some medications in relieving nausea and vomiting during pregnancy and after surgery. Naval officers in one study reported less seasickness when they took ginger root powder before leaving port. Evidence that ginger also helps with arthritis symptoms needs further research.
Why it’s good for you: Irregularity, heart disease, weight management
Women average only about a cup a year, a pittance compared to the 50 pounds of pork we gobble at the same time. Like most legumes, black beans are cholesterol-free, almost fat-free, and rich in fiber and nutrients, supplying more than half a day’s requirement for folic acid and hefty amounts of calcium, magnesium, iron and zinc in every serving. They also are loaded with phytochemicals, such as saponins and phytosterols, that lower cancer and heart disease risk, and they are low in the glycemic index, so help regulate blood sugar, as well as appetite. A study from Tulane University School of Public Health in New Orleans found that people who included beans in their diets at least four times a week lowered their heart-disease risk by 22% compared to people whose diets included a serving or less each week. Finally, black beans are the magic combo of water and fiber, so they fill us up on fewer calories than other proteins and are an excellent addition to any weight-loss diet.
This humble vegetable is a winner, thanks to research that suggests the chemicals in cruciferous vegetables, especially broccoli, may help prevent breast cancer by fighting excess estrogen. Rich in vitamin C and a good source of vitamin A, broccoli helps you feel full on less than 30 calories per serving. And it gets bonus points for fiber, folate (folic acid), calcium, iron, and potassium.
Why it’s good for you: Heart disease, cancer, and weight management
Women who drink about 4 cups of tea a day lower their risk for heart disease, stroke, and breast, colon, and brain cancers. Phytochemicals and possibly caffeine in tea also help with weight management, if combined with a low-fat, calorie-controlled diet and exercise.
Fresh herbs are a rich sources of antioxidants. Researchers at the University of Oslo, Norway analyzed 1,113 foods to identify those foods richest in total antioxidants. The results showed that spices and herbs, nuts and seeds, berries, fruit, and vegetables all were high in antioxidant. Of the 50 foods highest in antioxidants, 13 were herbs and spices. One study found that oregano had 42 times more antioxidants than apples! That means that one tablespoon of fresh oregano has the same free-radical fighting power as one medium-sized apple. In contrast, some of the antioxidants are lost when herbs are processed and dried.
Chocolate is the ultimate comfort food and good for heart disease. Chocolate’s botanical name is theobroma cacao, which appropriately translates to “Food of the Gods.” Besides the fact that nothing curbs a craving for chocolate, except a bit of this melt-in-your-mouth delight, the cocoa powder in dark chocolate outranks just about any food studied when it comes to antioxidants. The level of antioxidants can be measured in any food by a test called Oxygen Radical Absorption Capacity or ORAC. A serving of dark chocolate measures 9,000 units on the ORAC scale, compared to an average of about 2,000 units found in typical servings of fruits or vegetables. This might explain why dark chocolate lowers heart disease by 20%, probably because it lowers total cholesterol, reduces blood clots and inflammation in arteries, and keeps arteries elastic. Chocolate also might lower the risk for hypertension and diabetes.
Vitamin D Fortified Low-fat Milk
Drink at least 400 IUs of vitamin D daily. It’s essential to helping the bones absorb calcium from the gut. Vitamin D helps reduce the risk of osteoporosis and may be vital in reducing the risk of diabetes, multiple sclerosis, and tumors of the breast, colon, and ovary. Studies from the University of California San Diego suggest that vitamin D has the potential to prevent up to one–half of all breast, colon, and ovarian cancer in the United States as well.
This petite fruit contains about 70 milligrams of vitamin C—more than an orange and just 5 milligrams short of the daily recommendation for women. Research links C to improved eyesight, lower cancer risks, and better heart health. A high intake of C makes wrinkles less noticeable, according to Melina Jampolis, MD, a San Francisco–based physician who specializes in nutrition and is the author of The Busy Person’s Guide to Permanent Weight Loss.
The heart-healthy monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs) in avocados can actually help you lose belly fat, a risk factor for heart disease and even some fertility problems. Avocados also pack high amounts of potassium, magnesium, folate, protein, and vitamins B6, E, and K. Add to that fiber and cholesterol-lowering plant sterols, and you have one nutrient-dense food.
No list would be complete without this flavorful oil. A staple of the Mediterranean diet, it has long been linked to heart health and longevity. But mounting evidence shows that olive oil may be good for your brain, too. A study from Columbia University suggests that sticking to a Mediterranean diet not only protects against Alzheimer’s disease but also helps with mild fuzzy thinking. And that’s not all; findings from a 2008 study in Spain suggested that compounds in extra-virgin olive oil seem to fight certain kinds of breast cancer. Want to get more of this healthy staple in your diet? Substitute olive oil for other fats: use it on bread instead of butter and in the place of less-healthy cooking oils.
Packed with protein, zinc, magnesium, and selenium, pumpkinseeds help protect against depression and heart disease, and may ease motion sickness.
An excellent source of protein, quinoa is also high in bone-boosting minerals like copper, phosphorous, iron, and magnesium. Plus, it’s a good source of PMS-fighting manganese.
Here’s a great snack with energy-boosting carbs, in addition to fiber, iron, and vitamin C. Raisins are high in natural sugar, yes, but their special phytochemicals help fight tooth decay.
Soybeans are a terrific vegetarian source of protein. And eating moderate amounts of natural soy foods may lower the risk of breast cancer and keep bones strong after menopause.
Ring on the walnuts! Walnuts are an excellent source of protein, fiber, vitamins, minerals, and omega-3s. Eating just a handful of walnuts a day can help you lower cholesterol, boost brain power, sleep better, cope with stress, prevent heart disease, fight cancer, and more. In fact, a new study showed that walnuts appeared to lower the risk of breast cancer in mice.
Bored with spinach? Consider switching to Swiss chard. “It’s a fabulous brain food, helpful in fighting Alzheimer’s and improving mental function,” Dr. Jampolis says. A Tufts University study found a strong association between a higher intake of B-vitamin-rich foods—like chard—and decreased risk of cognitive decline. Swiss chard is also a good source of vitamin E and folate, nutrients believed to protect the brain.
If your favorite dark chocolate treat boosts your mood—but you hate its fat and calories—have a handful of pumpkinseeds instead, Dr. Jampolis says. “Like chocolate, they’re a good source of the amino acid tryptophan, which is a mood elevator—nature’s healthy Prozac.”
I hope this list is as helpful to you as it was for us.
V. De’Vonne Williams
“What comes from the heart, reaches the heart…”