Fight Disease with Common Plant Based Foods
The oft-repeated quote by Hippocrates, “let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food,” is well supported by these nutrient dense plant-based super foods. “Super” doesn’t mean fortified. Rather, the following plant-based foods are notable for yielding a high nutritional bang for your buck–naturally.
They qualify as super because they contain large amounts of not one but many key nutrients and antioxidants—including fiber, ascorbic acid (Vitamin C), carotenoids, folate, omega 3s, phytonutrients, and magnesium; nutrients which have been found to help protect against some forms of cancer and heart disease. The best news is that healthy eating can be easy: nearly all of these foods are available at the typical American grocery store.
1) Berries: Low-calorie, high-fiber and packed with antioxidants, it’s hard to find fault with berries whether you choose exotic acai or goji berries, or more common blackberries, raspberries, strawberries, cranberries, or blueberries. There’s a wide variety of taste and texture between these berries, as well as varying amounts of vitamin A, C, E, folate, selenium; calcium; and antioxidant-rich flavonoid compounds (one type of flavonoid responsible for the bluish-purple color in berries, called anthocyanin, has been linked to anti-tumor benefits). You can’t go wrong whichever berry variety you choose. Nutritionists recommend eating four helpings of berries each week to reap their many benefits. Whether fresh, frozen or dried, buy unsweetened and unsulphured berries to add to cereal, blend into smoothies, or enjoy in their natural state.
2) Nuts and seeds: Nutrient and calorically dense, a small serving of walnuts, almonds, or pumpkin seeds will fill you up and provide you with fiber, omega-3s essential fatty acids, vitamin E, selenium, and magnesium. Based on these nutrients and others, nuts have been shown to have numerous heart-health benefits. Use raw nut butters in place of cheese or meat on sandwiches, or fortify green salads and side dishes with a small handful of nuts to boost nutrition.
3) Chocolate: Mineral and antioxidant rich, the amount of flavonoids and magnesium found in chocolate rivals berries. Magnesium is essential to metabolic, skeletal, and cardiovascular health. While chocolate’s health benefits are a boon to taste-conscious foodies, eating chocolate with a high percentage of cocoa has been linked most clearly to cardiovascular benefits (sorry, white chocolate!). Choose dark chocolates with a high percentage of cocoa (>60%), or try adding cacao nibs to smoothies, desserts, and sauces. The key with chocolate is that a little goes a long way: you need less than 1 oz per day to reap its health benefits…so don’t let your zeal for good health contribute to weight gain!
4) Pumpkin: Pumpkin’s bright orange color is the tip-off to the amount of health boosting beta-carotene it contains. Beta-carotene converts to vitamin A in the body and has been linked to protecting against heart disease, cancer, and degenerative diseases. Raw foodists grate, puree, and swirl pumpkin into desserts and salads for healthy eating, while those who favor consuming cooked foods can even derive benefit from pre-cooked and canned pumpkin. Either way, pumpkin is low calorie and vitamin rich.
5) Sea vegetables: Immune boosting and rife with vitamins and minerals, sea vegetables have long been used in traditional Asian diets. Among the many essential components found in seaweed are full spectrum vitamins, and minerals like zinc, boron, tin, selenium, chromium, iodine, and iron. And it’s easy to branch out beyond the commonly known nori. Add dulse, wakame, kelp, or kombu to soups or salads to boost a meal’s flavor and health food level.
6) Oranges: Replace prepared and packaged snack foods with a simple orange and enjoy satisfying flavor as well as health boosting fiber, folate, vitamin C, and potassium. Save on calories further by choosing whole fruit rather than juice.
7) Broccoli: A member of the power-packed cruciferous family of vegetables, which contains cabbage, kale, and cauliflower, broccoli is known for its cancer fighting properties and is a key component of a healthy diet. Available year round, broccoli boasts high levels of folate, vitamin C, fiber, and calcium. Peeling away its tough outer stems, pureeing and thin slicing go way toward making raw broccoli more versatile and digestible. Steam lightly if you prefer it cooked.