Many foods that we perceive as nutritional lightweights actually are just as healthy as — and, for many people, more enjoyable than — the so-called superfoods, such as broccoli and spinach. Here, some of the best…
The light green color of iceberg lettuce suggests that it isn’t rich in nutrients.
Fact: Iceberg contains lutein and zeaxanthin, carotenoids that reduce the risk for cataracts and age-related macular degeneration, the leading causes of blindness in older adults.
Bonus: Eat a salad at the beginning of a meal. It is low in calories and, like any food, stimulates the release of cholecystokinin (CCK), a satiety hormone that reduces appetite and causes people to consume fewer calories overall.
It contains more water than most fruits. The high liquid content, along with the sugars and fiber, make watermelon the perfect snack before workouts. But it’s more than a snack food.
Fact: Watermelon contains 40% more lycopene than fresh (uncooked) tomatoes. Lycopene is a potent antioxidant that strengthens the immune system and may lower the risk for breast and prostate cancers.
Helpful: When you take a watermelon home, keep it on the counter even after cutting it open. Room-temperature watermelon continues to produce antioxidants for about two weeks. It will contain up to 40% more lycopene and up to 139% more beta-carotene than cold watermelon.
Fresh, minimally processed vegetables are presumed to be the healthiest. Not always.
Fact: One study found that women who ate at least four weekly servings of fermented cabbage, better known as sauerkraut, were 72% less likely to develop breast cancer than those who ate less.
Eating fermented cabbage changes gut metabolism and may help to protect the intestinal tract. Isothiocyanates, which are naturally present in all the cruciferous vegetables, appear to inhibit the proliferation of cancer cells and accelerate the death of these cells.
Korean kimchi, a spicy form of fermented cabbage, appears to have similar effects.
Most people use onions mainly as a seasoning ingredient in soups and stews and on burgers and salads. For good health, use a lot of them.
Fact: Onions are high in vitamin C, fiber, vitamin B-6 and folate. They also are rich in quercetin, a flavonoid with powerful anticancer effects, and allyl sulfides, the same protective compounds that are present in garlic.
Studies have found that people who eat between 14 and 22 servings of onions a week can reduce their risk for oral cancer by 84%. They have a 56% reduced risk for colon cancer, a 25% reduced risk for breast cancer and a 71% reduced risk for prostate cancer.
Red onions have the most quercetin. However, pink shallots contain the richest mix of chemical compounds and more antioxidants than other onions.
They’re work to eat, but the payoff can be better digestive health.
Fact: One study found that people who took an artichoke leaf extract had a 26.4% reduction in symptoms from irritable bowel syndrome. One of the chemical compounds in artichokes, silymarin, is reputed to improve liver health in patients with hepatitis, but this hasn’t been proved.
I advise patients to eat whole, natural foods rather than depending solely on supplements. Artichokes contain a mix of antioxidants, including narirutin and apigenin-7-rutinoside, that aren’t necessarily included in supplements.
Helpful: Look for artichokes with long stems. When cooked, the stems are almost as tasty as the hearts. Peel the stems to make them more tender. Canned, frozen and jarred artichoke hearts are good, too.
Avocados have the distinction of being higher in fat than any other fruit or vegetable. One medium Hass avocado, for example, has about 29 grams of fat and about 320 calories.
Fact: Nearly all of the fat in avocados is the healthful, monounsaturated form. In a study of patients with high cholesterol, those who included avocado in their daily diet had a decrease in total cholesterol, along with an 11% increase in beneficial HDL cholesterol.
As a source of healthy fat, avocado is better than butter and is delicious when spread on toast or a sandwich.