Our diets can literally “make or break” our bodies. Choosing foods that not only provide essential nutrients, but help us avoid inflammation and excess insulin response will help us cultivate optimum health. Knowledge is key.
Adopting a Mediterranean-style diet that is both alive with colorful, organic, low-glycemic and antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables and complemented with moderate amounts of essential omega-3 fats can help us accomplish this goal. Conversely, if we consume processed foods, refined carbohydrates, and saturated or trans fats, especially in large amounts and on a regular basis, we subject ourselves to chronic inflammation, which kick-starts the degenerative aging process.
Best foods for health:
A snack of a small handful is a good source of protein and monounsaturated fat, a healthy fat which won’t provoke an insulin response or cause excess LDL cholesterol build-up in the blood. Almonds also are a great source of Vitamin E (via gamma tocopherol) and glutathione, antioxidants which ultimately improve health by preventing oxidative damage to cellular membranes.
Not only is asparagus a low-glycemic and low-calorie source of valuable antioxidants such as glutathione and Vitamin C, its stalks are full of fiber, of which we need at least 30 grams per day for healthy digestion and elimination. Asparagus also provides cardiovascular protection because it contains alpha-linoleic acid and folic acid which prevent hardening of the arteries. Watch Healthy Cooking Video: Quick and Easy Asparagus.
Avocados contain an abundance of healthy monounsaturated fat, and antioxidants Vitamin E and glutathione, which together assist your body in defending against free radical damage, synthesizing essential components, and absorbing other nutrients such as fat-soluble carotenoids. So, go ahead and eat your guacamole (here’s a great recipe), especially if made with onions, and be sure to replace the fried tortilla chips with baked chips or crackers, or even sliced, raw veggies (keeping those high-sugar margaritas to a minimum will help prevent inflammation too).
Filled with proanthocyanidin flavonoids, blueberries are a great low-glycemic food with powerful antioxidant properties, offering a double-dose of anti-inflammatory action. Cultivated without toxic chemicals, wild blueberries strengthen our eyes, specifically our retinas and maculas, and help us preserve brain function as we age; try a morning shake of blueberries with organic yogurt and crushed flax to jump start your brain and your day.
Cruciferous broccoli, which can be eaten in abundance with very little production of insulin, is a rich source of Vitamins C and E, as well as calcium, iron, magnesium, and potassium, making it one of the most anti-inflammatory foods. Broccoli is also a powerful cancer combatant, full of phytonutrients such as sulforaphane and indole-3 carbinol compounds, which promote the production of healthy enzymes and assist in detoxification. Not sure how to prepare broccoli? Try my Steamed Vegetables recipe.
Grass-fed buffalo is an outstanding source of lean animal protein that can be substituted for beef in most recipes. Free-range buffalo is an even better anti-inflammatory food choice, as it generally contains higher levels of beta-carotene, selenium, and omega-3 fatty acids. Watch: What’s Cooking? Buffalo Tenderloin.
Rich in EPA and DHA, two primary essential fatty acids, flax is a fabulous vegetarian source of anti-inflammatory omega-3. Adding freshly ground and unheated flax seed to meals will help lower blood pressure and cholesterol, support the immune system, and facilitate elimination, which results in a healthier gastrointestinal tract and skin.
Once known for keeping vampires away, garlic’s modern protective benefits include repelling bacteria, fungi and even parasites, and helping you get rid of heavy metals already in your system. When consumed in raw form, it also provides your body nutrients that will help lower your cholesterol and blood pressure.
Natto, a Japanese dish made of fermented soybeans, contains an enzyme called nattokinase, which fortifies bones with Vitamin K2 and acts as a blood thinner to ultimately help lower blood pressure and improve circulation. As a soy product, natto also contains isoflavones, which promote heart health by raising HDL and lowering LDL cholesterol levels.
Not only a monounsaturated fat that facilitates the lowering of LDL cholesterol, olive oil also provides cardiovascular protection because it contains powerful antioxidants: polyphenols and Vitamin E. Olive oil, which loses its protective health benefits if heated, is also associated with a lowered risk of colon, skin, and breast cancers; the squalene content in olive oil provides immune system support.
Though sliced, raw onions may give your breath some character, they can also help provide protection from heart disease, or CVD. Onions, when combined with other nutrients such as Vitamin E or folic acid, significantly lower blood pressure; they also contain allicin, which lowers LDL cholesterol, as well as powerful cancer-fighting flavonoids, specifically quercetin, which also prevents LDL oxidation.
Pomegranates and pomegranate juice are replete with antioxidants that help prevent inflammation, high blood pressure, and even help stave off cancer. By preventing plaque build-up and blood clotting within the arterial endothelium, or inner blood vessel wall, pomegranate polyphenols preserve blood vessel integrity and promote healthy blood circulation, which is of vital importance for the nourishment all cells and tissues within the body. I like to add pomegranate juice to my Sinatra-Smart Smoothie.
Wild, Alaskan salmon is a wonderful source of anti-inflammatory omega-3’s, which our bodies need to synthesize hormones and other necessary substances, as well as maintain endothelial integrity. Wild salmon, which is considered less toxic than the farm raised variety, also contains astaxanthan, a powerful carotenoid that packs a serious antioxidant punch to free radicals, as well as CoQ10, an absolutely essential nutrient for cardiac health. Watch: What’s Cooking? Wild Alaskan Salmon.
Leafy green spinach, brimming with antioxidants Vitamins C and E, reduces oxidative stress and benefits the cardiovascular and pulmonary systems. Best consumed raw, spinach is rich with fiber, calcium and lutein; substitute spinach for lettuce in salads to help preserve your eyesight, as well as strengthen your immune system!
Chock full of health-enhancing minerals, chlorophyll, and alginates, seaweed helps suppress inflammatory responses and creates anti-inflammatory substances within our bodies. An acquired taste for many, seaweed can help us lower our blood pressure, as well as maintain healthy thyroid function; sample a seaweed salad or miso soup (here’s a recipe) next time you’re waiting for sushi rolls… you might just like it!
Watch my Healthy Cooking video series, where my son, Step, and I show you how to make our favorite dishes and drinks while explaining the health benefits associated with consuming them.
- Basu A, Penugonda K. Pomegranate Juice: a Heart-Healthy Fruit Juice. Nutr Rev.2009 Jan;67(1)49-56.
- Matiello T, Trifiro E, Jotti GS, Pulcinelli FM. Effects of Pomegranate Juice and Extract Polyphenols on Platelet Function. J. Med Food. 2009;Apr 12(2):334-339.
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