#281 Superfoods

Tell a friend

"Man cannot live by bread alone;
he must have peanut butter."

James A. Garfield

10 Foods You Should Eat

By Steve Edwards

Healthy EatingWe've all heard about superfoods—consumables with mystical powers to cure whatever it is that ails you and that will help you live forever. This list will be different. Today we'll look at some common items that should be on your menu, even though you probably haven't heard them touted as the next great miracle cure. In fact, some of these you probably thought were bad for you.

I begin this list with a caveat; we're all different. One person's superfood is another's trip to the emergency room (soy comes to mind here). There are some nutritional factors we all share, such as the need to eat a certain amount of calories that come from fats, proteins, and carbohydrates to keep our bodies functioning as they should. Beyond this, our exact dietary needs begin to diverge.

RunnersThere are some obvious reasons for this. Lifestyle and activity level are pretty easy to understand. That someone who is pregnant or training for an Ironman needs more calories than a computer programmer who sits for 14 hours a day isn't difficult to fathom. Neither is the fact that a 90-pound ballerina uses less fuel than a 350-pound lineman. That we all eat a different number of calories and a different percentage of fats, proteins, and especially carbs is obvious, or at least should be, since the bigger you are and the harder you work the more fuel your body needs to recharge itself.

What's more subtle are body type differences. These can be difficult to understand, and many people never figure them out. Blood type, heredity, and other factors come into play and make each of us unique individuals. When it comes to eating, most of us spend a fair portion of our lives figuring out just what we should be eating to maximize our life experience (which doesn't necessarily mean we choose the healthiest options). For this reason, there is no true "superfood." There are, however, helpful foods that are specific to each of us. By experimenting with our diets, we will all find a course of eating that makes us feel better than anything else.

To help you begin your self-experiment, here's a list of common foods that you'll want to try. Most of these are very healthy for almost everyone, even though some have been vilified by society. This doesn't mean that they'll transform you into an epitome of health, but they're certainly worth a try.

  1. Peanut ButterPeanut butter. I'm leading with this because I'm fairly certain peanut butter single-handedly kept me from getting chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) during the no-fat 90s. In the early 90s, the average amount of fat in our daily diets plummeted while the incidence of CFS* skyrocketed. This was particularly true among the otherwise healthy endurance sports sect. In the early 90s, my body fat was once recorded at 2 percent. Sure, I was ripped. Healthy? Not so much. I'm pretty sure that only my adherence to peanut butter as a healthy fat source kept my athletic obsession intact.

    * CFS is the colloquial veil for debilitating disorders marked by chronic mental and physical exhaustion.

    A bevy of modern studies now vindicates my opinion with science. Peanuts are high in both fat and calories but their fat has been associated with decreased total cholesterol and lower LDL and triglyceride levels. It's also high on the satiation meter, meaning that a little can fill you up.

  2. Cabbage. Every Asian culture, as well as European, eats more cabbage than we do and it's time we thought about it more often than when we happen to splurge on P.F. Chang's. Cabbage is absurdly low in calories and very high in nutrients. Among these is sulforaphane, which a Stanford University study showed as boosting cancer-fighting enzymes more than any other plant chemical.

  3. QuinoaQuinoa. This "grain" isn't technically a grain at all. It just tastes like one. It's actually a relative of spinach, beets, and Swiss chard. All of these are extremely healthy from a nutrient point of view, but quinoa is the only one that can fool you into thinking you're eating a starch. It's high in protein, minerals, vitamins, and fiber.

  4. Spelt. This one is actually a grain but its origin is slightly mysterious. Some claim it comes from wheat while others say it's a different species. Regardless, it has a high nutritional profile and can be eaten by many people with gluten intolerance, making it a good alternative to wheat products. Spelt can be found in many products, but as it's still considered a "health food," it's off the major processing radar. Unlike wheat, if spelt is on the ingredients list, it's probably good for you.

  5. WalnutsWalnuts. All nuts, really, but walnuts seem to be the king of the nut family. Used in Chinese medicine for centuries, walnuts are becoming more associated with Western health than ever before. A 2006 study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology found that eating walnuts after a meal high in bad fat could reduce the damaging effects of the meal.

  6. Avocado. Another villain in the old no-fat movement, avocados are now thought to be one of the healthiest fat sources available. Beyond this, they have very high amounts of cancer-fighting antioxidants, and recent research seems to indicate that avocados' phytonutrients may also help with the absorption of nutrients from other sources.

  7. MushroomsMushrooms. The more we learn about phytonutrients—those that come in a small enough quantity to be missed on a food label (this is a layman's definition only)—the more we should admire ancient cultures. These culinary delights have been feuded over for decades until, for some reason, we'd decided they were pretty much empty calories. The study of phytonutrients has taught us that warring over fungi may have held some rationale after all. Mushrooms are loaded with antioxidants and are thought to boost the immune system, help ward off some cancers, and have high amounts of potassium. Furthermore, researchers at Penn State University have found that mushrooms may be the only food to contain an antioxidant called L-ergothioneine.

  8. Tea. Despite a ton of positive press over the last, oh, century, tea and coffee are still the devil's brew in some circles. Perhaps even worse is how many coffee and tea restaurants have bastardized these natural brews into sugar- and fat-filled dessert items. Both tea and coffee, in their basic states, have no calories and many healthy benefits. Between the two, coffee is arguably more popular, most likely due to its higher caffeine content. But tea is probably healthier. Both have a high amount of antioxidants but stats on tea are almost off the charts. A recent study on calcium supplementation in elderly women, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, showed that bone mineral density at the hip was 2.8 percent greater in tea drinkers than in non-tea drinkers.

  9. CinnamonCinnamon. Maybe the novel Dune was more prescient than we've given it credit for. After all, the plot revolves around an entire solar system at war over a cinnamon-like spice. Nowadays, we think of this as little but the flavoring in a 1,100-calorie gut bomb we find at the mall. But Frank Herbert knew a thing or two about history and cinnamon has long been the prized possession of the spice world. It has a host of benefits, but perhaps none more important than this one: USDA researchers recently found that people with type 2 diabetes who consumed one gram of cinnamon a day for six weeks significantly reduced their blood sugar, triglycerides, and LDL cholesterol. "He who controls the spice controls the universe!"

  10. Natto. This is on the list because, for one, it's one of the few foods I've eaten that I truly don't like. But mainly, it's here because we've really messed up the way we eat soy. Natto is fermented soybeans and very popular in Japan, which is where I had it. It's becoming more popular here and this is most likely due to its health benefits. Nearly all the soy options we're offered in the U.S. are non-fermented. The list of health benefits of fermented soy is a mile long. It's associated with reducing the risk of cancer, minimizing the likelihood of blood clotting, aiding digestion, increasing blood circulation, an improved immune system, improving bone density, lessening the likelihood of heart attacks, more vibrant skin, and reducing the chance of balding. And it also has strong antibiotic properties, among other things. So you might want to ditch the soy crisps, soy ice cream, and your iced soy mochas and add some natto to your diet.

Related Articles
"10 Scariest Fast Food Dishes"
"6 Ways to Boost Your Antioxidant Levels"
"Nutrition 911, Part VII: The Best Food on the Planet"
"12 Teas to Brew Up Better Health"

Steve Edwards If you'd like to ask a question or comment on this newsletter article, just email us at mailbag@beachbody.com.

Check out our Fitness Advisor's responses to your comments in Steve Edwards' Mailbag on the Message Boards. If you'd like to receive Steve Edwards' Mailbag by email, click here to subscribe to Steve's Health and Fitness Newsletter. And if you'd like to know more about Steve's views on fitness, nutrition, and outdoor sports, read his blog, The Straight Dope.

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Fat Stance: Presidential Candidates on Obesity (Part II)

By Joe Wilkes

RepublicanLast week we took a look at the Democratic slate of presidential contenders and how each will confront the nation's obesity problem if elected president. This week, we take a look at the Republican platforms. Unlike the Democrats, many of whom are proposing government-run healthcare systems, the GOP plans are a little slighter on approaches to obesity as most of the plans rely on private plans for healthcare. Here's what we learned from their campaign sites and public statements.


Rudy GiulianiFormer Mayor Rudy Giuliani (R-New York)

Discouragingly, healthcare doesn't make an appearance on the "Issues" portion of Giuliani's campaign site. However, in his "12 Commitments," Giuliani pledges to "propose new initiatives to promote healthy lifestyles and wellness programs, and tie Medicaid payments to a state's success in promoting preventative care and tracking obesity for children." His site is a bit vague on what the specific initiatives might be, but it's clearly on his radar. Additionally, Giuliani's wife, Judith, is a registered nurse and is involved in many charitable health-related causes.

Mike HuckabeeFormer Governor Mike Huckabee (R-Arkansas)

Former Governor Huckabee has the most personal experience with obesity of any candidate in either party. At one point, he weighed over 300 pounds. He suspects it may be more, but his bathroom scale topped out at 280. After being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, he lost 120 pounds and has been a major presence in the discussion of obesity. He even wrote a book about his battle with obesity, entitled Stop Digging Your Grave with a Knife and Fork. As governor of Arkansas, he implemented several anti-obesity initiatives, including reporting the body mass index of public school students to their parents; paying for preventive healthcare for people too wealthy for Medicaid and too poor for private insurance; scheduling exercise breaks for state employees; and proposing financial incentives for those who use food stamps to purchase healthier food. He created the Healthy Arkansas initiative to encourage better nutrition, exercise, and smoking cessation in Arkansas, and as chairman of the National Governors Association, he expanded the initiative to Healthy America. Surprisingly, there wasn't much on his campaign site about obesity. He takes a small-government approach to healthcare, advocating policies to encourage private insurers to adopt more preventive-care measures, but he is light on specifics about those policies.

Duncan HunterRepresentative Duncan Hunter (R-California)

While he has a lot of information on his Web site about his healthcare proposals in general, Representative Hunter has very little specifically related to combating obesity. In Congress, he voted YES on The Personal Responsibility in Food Consumption Act (aka "The Cheeseburger Bill"), which would have prevented civil lawsuits against the food industry for obesity claims. Fellow candidates Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) and Ron Paul (R-TX) both voted NO.

Alan KeyesAlan Keyes

There was nothing on his campaign site regarding the obesity epidemic, but Keyes has gone on the record elsewhere stating that insurance rewards should be given to people who avoid alcohol, tobacco, and obesity.

John McCainSenator John McCain (R-Arizona)

Senator McCain's Web site was also a bit light on details for combating the obesity epidemic. In his healthcare proposals, most of his ideas for obesity come under the heading "Personal Responsibility." He says, "Childhood obesity, diabetes, and high blood pressure are all on the rise. We must again teach our children about health, nutrition, and exercise—vital life information" and, "Public health initiatives must be undertaken with all our citizens to stem the growing epidemic of obesity and diabetes, and to deter smoking."

Ron PaulRepresentative Ron Paul (R-Texas)

Representative Paul holds the distinction of being the only candidate who was formerly a physician, specializing in ob/gyn. However, his campaign site mentions very little about healthcare and virtually nothing about the obesity epidemic. He was the only Republican to vote against the Personal Responsibility in Food Consumption Act ("The Cheeseburger Bill").

Mitt RomneyFormer Governor Mitt Romney (R-Massachusetts)

Former Governor Romney is perhaps best known for signing into law the Massachusetts healthcare reform law which requires all Massachusetts citizens to carry health insurance coverage. He believes that childhood obesity should be dealt with at the state school level, without federal involvement.

Tom TancredoRepresentative Tom Tancredo (R-Colorado)

Representative Tancredo's campaign Web site offered nothing about the obesity epidemic, and not much has been said in the media regarding his views. In Congress, he voted YES on The Personal Responsibility in Food Consumption Act ("The Cheeseburger Bill").

Fred ThompsonFormer Senator Fred Thompson (R-Tennessee)

Former Senator Thompson states on his Web site that he is "committed to a healthcare system that . . . improves the individual health of all Americans by shifting to a system that promotes cost-effective prevention, chronic-care management, and personal responsibility."

Related Articles
"10 Ways to Put Your Appetite on Cruise Control"
"Super Carbs: The New Wonder Foods for Weight Loss"
"8 Foods to Boost Your Metabolism"
"10 Reasons to Fast"

Joe Wilkes If you'd like to ask a question or comment on this newsletter article, just email us at mailbag@beachbody.com.

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Test Your Superfood IQ!

By Monica Gomez

True or False?

  1. Apple with Peanut ButterTrue: Over 75 percent of the fat in peanut butter is unsaturated. That's the good, heart-healthy kind (read Steve's article above for more positive and encouraging news on peanut butter). A two-tablespoon serving of creamy peanut butter has approximately 190 calories (other types will vary slightly in fat and calorie content), 1 gram of fiber, 4 grams of protein, and no cholesterol. That serving also contains a total of 16 grams of fat (25 percent of your daily recommended fat), 3 of those grams saturated. Although peanut butter is good for you, it's best to use it sparingly. Spread it over a sliced apple for a nutritious and filling snack.

  2. True: Tea leaves can be used as effective deodorizers. You can rub your hands with wet green tea leaves to rid them of fish and garlic odors. Tea contains plenty of catechins, the polyphenolic substances known as antioxidants. Catechins have antibacterial properties, thus making tea leaves effective odor fighters. Dried tea leaves can be crushed and lightly sprinkled over your carpet (allow them to sit for 10 minutes). Vacuum the leaves up, and your carpet will be refreshed and your vaccum cleaner and bag will be deodorized. Other effective deodorizing uses: used green tea leaves in kitty litter for eliminating odor, and to help deter fleas from both dogs and cats; used green tea bags or leaves uncovered in a small bowl in your refrigerator to absorb onion and garlic odors for approximately three days; and green tea to stop the growth of bacteria that cause bad breath.

  3. AvocadosFalse: California produces about 60 percent of the nation's avocado crop. Actually, California produces 90 percent of the nation's avocado crop, with San Diego County being the "Avocado Capital of the U.S." (60 percent of the avocados grown in California are produced in San Diego County). One California avocado tree can produce approximately 500 avocados per year—Haas being the most popular of the seven varieties grown commercially. A cup of fresh avocado contains about 234 calories, 21.4 grams of total fat (3.1 grams saturated), no cholesterol, 2.9 grams of protein, 17.5 milligrams of calcium, and 708.1 milligrams of potassium. With all those benefits, have a nutritious serving of guacamole!

  4. False: There are over 10,000 varieties of mushrooms available. There are over 38,000 varieties of mushrooms available, over 3,000 are available in North America, in myriad colors, textures, and flavors. Some varieties only grow for one week during the year. The honey mushroom, a species of Nova Scotia, actually glows in the dark. It produces light through a chemical reaction called bioluminescence—people once used pieces of fungus-infested wood to light their way in the woods. Recent studies indicate that shiitake and reishi mushrooms can potentially fight cancer (shiitake mushrooms contain a compound called lentinan, which is being used in Japan as a cancer treatment). White mushrooms are a good source of potassium, a mineral essential for maintaining heart rhythm, fluid balance, and muscle and nerve function (a serving contains more potassium than an orange or a tomato).

  5. Tea with CinnamonTrue: Cinnamon has been used for embalming and meat preservation. The ancient Egyptians used cinnamon in their embalming process. By the Middle Ages, cinnamon was commonly used in Europe to mask the taste of rotten meat. Research shows that the spice's antibacterial properties (phenols in cinnamon inhibit the bacteria responsible for spoilage) may help explain its historical use as a preservative. Cinnamon was so highly prized that it was once used as currency. This versatile spice reportedly soothes indigestion, controls blood sugar in diabetics, prevents stomach ulcers, wards off urinary tract infections, fights tooth decay and gum disease, and prevents vaginal yeast infections. One single teaspoon of ground cinnamon has 28.2 milligrams of calcium and 11.5 milligrams of potassium. Enjoy a cup of cinnamon tea or sprinkle some cinnamon over a bowl of fruit.

If you'd like to ask a question or comment on this newsletter article, just email us at mailbag@beachbody.com.

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