Exploring the sense and nonsense of food and health

Superfoods/Superstars – Continued

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Spinach (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

BEANS:  If you want fiber, beans are the best providers.  There are so many varieties of beans, – 1 cup of cooked generic beans, for example, contain 227 calories, 15.2 grams of protein, 40.8 grams of carbohydrate, and an astounding 15 grams of fiber.  They are high in folate, thiamin, magnesium, iron, potassium, copper and zinc.  They are good sources of riboflavin, calcium, and omega-3 fats.  They contain the phytochemicals diosgenin (cancer fighter), saponins, protease inhibitors, and phytic acid which protect cells from damage to DNA.
What’s the evidence?  Beans are legumes so a study from the British Journal of Nutrition studied the effects of ten legumes, mostly beans.  Legumes are a low glycemic food and can lower blood cholesterol due to their high soluble fiber content. From the Nurses Health Study, women consuming the highest level of lentils or beans (two or more times a week) had a 24% lower risk of breast cancer. In another study, men who consumed the most beans had a 38% lower risk of prostate cancer than those consuming the least.

BEETS:  The red color in beets called betacyanin is the phytochemical found to fight cancer..  They are high in folate, and fiber.  1 cup provides 75 calories, 16.9 grams of carbohydrate with 3.4 grams of fiber. They also are high in magnesium, potassium and iron.  They also contain phenols (antioxidants) and betalains.
A 2010 review in the journal Plant Foods in Human Nutrition reported that the betalain has antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anti-cancer properties.  They are loaded with potassium – in the old days, our ancestors ate more potassium and less sodium – just the opposite of the SAD Diet (Standard American Diet).  Two beets come in with 528 mg of potassium. They are pretty high in sugar, so they may not be appropriate for diabetics.

COLD WATER FISH:  Most of the superfoods have been fruits and vegetables – powerful cancer fighters.  But we can digress here and consider fish as a superfood due to its abundant contribution to omega-3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA.  Wild salmon is expensive but using canned salmon is a good alternative, since most of it is wild and not farm-raised.   Other good choices are tuna, mackerel, cod, trout, and herring.
Three ounces of raw salmon contain about 150 calories, about 17 grams of protein, vitamins B6, B12, and E, selenium, potassium and omega-3 fatty acids.   Omega-3 fatty acids have been extensively studied for its heart benefits, anti-inflammatory effects, so no specific study will be cited here.  Wild salmon is preferred even though the farmed -raised appears to contain the most omega-3 fats.  Another reason to choose wild is that farmed salmon is more contaminated with polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs).  Wild salmon may contain some mercury, but the health benefits outweigh the mercury risks (with possible pregnancy precautions). Tuna and trout are other good sources of protein and omega-3 fats and may save some money.  I really feel the jury is still out with fish oil supplements – best to try to consume an omega-3 fish two times a week.

FLAXSEED:  ¼ cup of ground flaxseeds contain 150 calories with 5.1 grams of protein; 8.1 grams of carbohydrates, and 7.5 grams of fiber.  They are high in thiamin, magnesium, copper; a good source of vitamin B6, folate, calcium, potassium, iron, zinc, selenium, and lignans.
The flax plant is native to the area extending from the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea to India.  Flax seed should be consumed in ground or milled form.  Use ground flax seed as a fat substitute in any baked goods recipe: 3 tablespoons of flax replaces 1 tablespoon of solid or liquid fat.  Ground flax can be added to smoothies, using 3 tablespoons of flax to cups of liquid and up to 3 cups of fruit.
The Evidence:  In a 2008 study in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers, and Prevention reported on a study of flax seed consumption by men.  They found that the flax caused changes indicative of protection against prostate cancer.  Flax seed provides us with a plant source of omega-3 fats as alpha linolenic, an essential fatty acid.  Alpha linolenic acid can be converted to other omega-3 fats, EPA and DHA in the body.
Suzanne Hendrich, from Iowa State University, and colleagues enrolled 90 men and women, suffering from elevated cholesterol but otherwise healthy, in a twelve-week long study.  Subjects were divided into three groups and randomly assigned to daily consume tablets that contained zero, 150, or 300 milligrams of flaxseed lignans. Men who consumed either quantity of flaxseed lignans reduced their cholesterol levels by 10%.

SPINACH:  One cup of spinach gives us only 41 calories, 5.4 grams of protein, only 6.8 grams of carbohydrate and 4.3 grams of fiber.  It is extremely high in vitamins K and A.  It is a great source for vitamins B6, C, E, folate, iron, magnesium, calcium, potassium and a good source for thiamin, zinc, and omega-3 fatty acids.  The best way to cook spinach is to lightly sauté in olive oil with some onions and garlic.
The Evidence?  There are numerous studies about the benefits of spinach.  A 2010 study in the International Journal of Molecular Medicine reported improvement with a high spinach intake in inflammation caused by asthma.  It has about 13 phytochemicals called flavonoids that act as antioxidants and anticancer effects.  Studies have shown protective effects against breast cancer and prostate cancer.
Get some spinach for your brain – one study with rats in 2005 in Journal of Experimental Neurology fed spinach and blueberries and found that the animals lost less brain cells after a stroke and recovered more quickly than those rats eating none of these superfoods.
Spinach also contains lutein, a carotenoid that protects against eye disease and vision loss from macular degeneration and cataracts.  Lutein needs fat to be absorbed, so always sautéed with some olive oil or coconut oil.
Pesticide Alert:  Buy Organic

Phytochemicals work in groups and act together.  Since the optimal combinations of the different types are not yet determined, it is recommended at the present time to not rely on supplements containing extracts from plants.  And so far, studies on these supplements have been disappointing in disease prevention.

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