Are you ready for the cheat sheet? These are the Top Ten Foods for Optimum Long-Term Health!
Top 10 Food Choices from our Dietitian for Optimal Health!
- Leafy Greens- Dark green, leafy vegetables are considered a functional food because their benefits go far beyond that of providing energy as a food source. Leafy greens are a great source of fiber, iron, Vitamins A, C, K, folate and potassium! One study with nearly 1000 participants published by the American Academy of Neurology (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5772164/) showed that the cocktail of nutrients found in this superfood are clinically shown to help slow cognitive decline with aging. And the great news is, it only takes a one-cup serving of leafy greens per day to tap into this cognitive fountain of youth! Leafy greens can easily be used in salads and added to foods like wraps, pasta and soups.
- Blueberries- Blueberries are packed with phytochemicals, with the most impactful being anthocyanin pigments. In combination with their fiber content, these unique phytochemicals pack a powerful punch of benefits including reducing the risk for heart disease and type 2 diabetes, as well as reducing degenerative health diseases risk because of their anti-inflammatory effects. In addition, blueberries have incredible antioxidant effects, helping to slow the aging process and reduce risk for cancer (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31329250/). With just a half-cup serving of blueberries each day, you are on your way to enhancing your health! Blueberries are a delicious addition to yogurt parfaits, oatmeal and desserts!
- Salmon: Salmon is packed with two forms of omega-3 fatty acids, DHA and EPA (https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Omega3FattyAcids-HealthProfessional/#h1). These two healthy fats are only found in animal-based foods and offer protective heart health benefits including a reduced risk of heart attack and stroke. In addition, these two omega-3s contribute to reduced effects of aging by enhancing brain health and reducing inflammation. Rather than consuming omega-3s in supplement form, choosing to eat salmon provides not only healthy fats, but a great source of protein as well. Salmon can be baked, smoked or made into tasty salmon cakes!
- Ground Flaxseed: The introduction of ground flaxseed into your diet will have very little effect on the taste or texture of your food, but will make a significant impact on your health due to its omega-3 fatty acid content (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6567199/). Unique to the DHA and EPA omega-3s found in fish, the ALA in flaxseed is only found in plant products. It is important that flaxseed is ground in order to draw the flaxseed oil from the tiny seeds. Benefits include reducing cholesterol, blood pressure and overall heart disease risk, as well as reductions in cancer risk. The fiber found in ground flaxseed will also promote a reduced risk for diabetes and enhance digestive health. It is easy to sneak ground flaxseed into your diet by tossing it into smoothies, mixing it with peanut butter or sprinkling a chia-hemp-flax combo on avocado toast!
- Yogurt: As highlighted by a systematic review published by the National Library of Medicine (Yogurt, cultured fermented milk, and health: a systematic review - PubMed (nih.gov), daily yogurt intake is a powerhouse in promoting gut health because the probiotics found in yogurt enhance the body’s microbiome, which is our good bacteria arsenal. If tolerated and in line with one’s lifestyle choices, dairy-based yogurt is ideal because of its leucine content. This amino acid is the driving force behind muscle building and recovery, which helps to promote reduced body fat and muscle toning. Yogurt is a great source of protein, calcium and phosphorus, which all enhance bone health. Rounded out by its B-vitamins content, yogurt helps to fuel the body by promoting optimal energy levels. Yogurt is an easy food to include daily in smoothies, yogurt parfaits and can be substituted for foods like sour cream!
- Carrots: A review of over 130 studies published in Foods (Phytochemicals in Daucus carota and Their Health Benefits—Review Article (nih.gov)) consistently demonstrated the health benefits of carrots related to their rich composition of phytochemicals, which are compounds that protect cells from cancer-causing damage. Included in the list of phytochemicals are carotenoids, which give carrots their orange color and promote optimal eye health, as well as Vitamin C, a well-known antioxidant. The blend of these phytochemicals and others creates health benefits including enhanced immune health with antibacterial properties, reduced cancer risk, reduced inflammation, heart healthy changes in the blood and mood regulation. Carrots, being extremely versatile, can be eaten as a steamed dinner side or popped into a breakfast smoothie with a half-cup serving.
- Broccoli: A new study published by Nutrients (Biomarkers of Broccoli Consumption: Implications for Glutathione Metabolism and Liver Health (nih.gov) focused on the mechanisms of how broccoli benefits health illustrated a relationship between the gut microbiome, or healthy bacteria, and protection from cancer-causing damage, as well as improving liver health. Just one cup of broccoli provides more than 100% of an adult’s Vitamin K and Vitamin C needs for the day and packs in a great deal of potassium and folate as well! Throw in the fiber content found in broccoli and now you have a reduced risk for type 2 diabetes and improved digestive health as well! Broccoli is found everywhere and easy to add to a healthy diet! Broccoli is a familiar and inexpensive food, so it is easy to include it in meals and snacks!
- Sweet Potatoes: These vibrant root vegetables are packed with beta carotene, a form of Vitamin A that has been shown to significantly reduce the risk for lung and breast cancer. As illustrated in an article published by Food Science & Nutrition (Review on nutritional composition of orange‐fleshed sweet potato and its role in management of vitamin A deficiency (nih.gov), with two additional antioxidants, Vitamin C and Vitamin E, this sweet vegetable helps to build a strong arsenal of defense against cancer! The calcium, magnesium and phosphorus found in sweet potatoes play an important role in bone health. As a rich source of carbohydrates and potassium, sweet potatoes pack a powerful punch for athletes and exercisers by providing fuel and enhancing muscle function. Sweet potatoes add a pop of color to any meal and pair well with foods from a variety of cultures!
- Garlic: Though it may be bad for your breath, garlic is incredible for your heart health as it reduces the risk of blocked arteries, high blood pressure, diabetes, heart attack and stroke! This powerful root vegetable has been shown in over 80 human trials discussed in an article published in Antioxidants (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7402177/) to reduce oxidative stress, cancer risk and inflammation. In addition, garlic plays an important role in reducing the risk for metabolic syndrome, which is a clustering of symptoms that results in chronic disease. So have your pack of gym handy and embrace the way that garlic can contribute not only flavor to your meals, but outstanding benefits to your health!
- Whole Grains: Whole grains, which come in the form of brown rice, granola, oatmeal, wheat pasta, bran cereal and may other similar foods, are loaded with health benefits. High in fiber, these foods help to regulate blood sugar levels and reduce the risk for type 2 diabetes, as well as help to prevent heart disease and colorectal, pancreatic and stomach cancers. And great news! It only takes 2-3 servings per da to achieve this benefit, which is easily done by incorporating food meals like rice bowls, granola bars and pasta bowls. Health Benefits of Dietary Whole Grains: An Umbrella Review of Meta-analyses (nih.gov)
Crystal Zabka-Belsky, MS, RDN, CSSD, LMNT, LDN
Resident Dietitian, Clean Eatz Kitchen