Califonia Bountiful

Harnessing the power of superfoods at the grocery store

A dietitian tells how eating California-grown superfoods can help improve your health.

First off, what is a "superfood?" Well, according to registered dietitian Earline Bennett Griffith, the term "superfood" is used to describe "food with lots phytonutrients, which are believed to confer special properties for improving health, preventing disease and/or promoting longevity."

Earline adds that, ideally, you want to include superfoods in your diet on a regular basis. Here are a few of her favorite California-grown superfoods:

1. Berries (blueberries, strawberries, raspberries and blackberries)
Berries are great for your heart and brain and a wonderful antioxidant—packed with vitamin C, too. According to a U.S. Department of Agriculture study, wild blueberries top the list of antioxidant-rich fruits, followed by cranberries, blackberries, raspberries and strawberries. The color of berries comes from the pigment anthocyanin, an antioxidant that helps neutralize "free radicals," the cell-damaging molecules that can increase the risk of chronic diseases such as cancer and heart disease.

2. Garlic, onions and shallots (alliums)
Alliums can bring tears to your eyes because when you cut into one, a burst of sulphuric compound is released. When cooked and eaten with other foods, alliums help lower your insulin peaks, reduce inflammation and protect you against cancer. Alliums are high in antioxidants and are anti-inflammatory, antibiotic, anti-allergic and antiviral. They contain high levels of quercetin, a potent flavonoid.

3. Extra virgin olive oil
Extra virgin olive oil is high in monounsaturated fatty acids and antioxidants—particularly vitamin E and polyphenols—so it's protective against heart disease.

Remember to keep olive oil in a cool and dark place, tightly sealed. Olive oil can easily go rancid when exposed to air, light or high temperatures. If you're not sure which one to buy, look for oils certified by the California Olive Oil Council. Requirements for certification include: olives mechanically extracted without chemicals or excessive heat; less than .5 percent free oleic acid; and positive taste elements and no taste defects, as determined during a blind tasting.

4. Nuts
Grab a handful for a snack or add to a salad for extra crunch! Nuts are a convenient and easy way to get the "good" types of fat—monounsaturated and polyunsaturated. Nuts lower blood levels of triglycerides and LDL ("bad") cholesterol and raise HDL ("good") cholesterol. In addition, they are a good source of protein, fiber, selenium, vitamin E and vitamin A. Small portions of nuts (one small handful) can boost energy and beat hunger, helping dieters stay on track.

5. Fish, especially fresh salmon or tilapia
Fish consumption is an important part of a healthy diet because it can decrease the risk of coronary heart disease and certain cancers. Fish is filled with heart-healthy omega 3's. Studies have found additional health benefits of omega-3 oils for individuals with arthritis, psoriasis, colitis, lupus, asthma and certain cancers. Salmon is also a good source of vitamin E, a powerful antioxidant.

6. Sweet potatoes and pumpkin
One of the easiest ways to make a healthful dietary change is to think "sweet" instead of "white" potatoes. These luscious orange tubers are one of the healthiest vegetables, boasting a wealth of antioxidants, phytochemicals including beta-carotene (good for healthy eyes), vitamins C and E, folate, calcium, copper, iron and potassium. The fiber in sweet potatoes promotes a healthy digestive tract, and the antioxidants play a role in preventing heart disease and cancer. Its natural sweetness means a roasted sweet potato is delicious without any additional fats or flavor enhancers.

7. Yogurt
Yogurt is a super snack. It is a great source of protein and has more than most people realize. An important thing to remember when buying yogurt is to buy a brand that is not full of sugar or additives.

8. Tomatoes
These fruits are bursting with flavor and are packed with nutritious ingredients such as lycopene, an antioxidant that may help protect against certain cancers and improve heart health. They also deliver an abundance of vitamins A and C, potassium and phytochemicals. Enjoy tomatoes raw, cooked, sliced, chopped or diced as part of any meal or snack.

9. Leafy greens, such as spinach and kale
Dark, leafy greens—everything from spinach, kale and bok choy to dark lettuces—are loaded with vitamins, minerals, beta-carotene, vitamin C, folate, iron, magnesium, carotenoids, phytochemicals and antioxidants. A Harvard study found that eating magnesium-rich foods such as spinach can reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

10. Beets
The purple-red color in beets comes from betacyanin, a powerful cancer-fighter also known to help decrease inflammation. Beets are an excellent source of folate, which is essential for normal tissue growth and is especially important for women during pregnancy.

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