Johns Hopkins Health - Superfoods to the Rescue
Issue No. 25
Superfoods to the RescueDate: July 8, 2014
Change some of your meal choices and boost your body’s ability to fight disease
Looking for the perfect food? The one that meets all your nutritional needs, protects you against serious disease, is readily available and tastes great, too?
Sorry, it doesn’t exist. “There’s no one perfect food or diet that will guarantee 100 percent we won’t develop disease,” says Lynda McIntyre, a Johns Hopkins nutritionist. “But there is overwhelming research showing that the quality of foods we eat dramatically decreases our risks for disease.”
Particularly if those foods are high in antioxidants.
You’ve probably heard that term. It refers to a natural process, oxidation, that occurs when a substance or a chemical combines with air to form a free radical. This is a highly unstable molecule that, like a thief in the night, bumps into healthy cells and robs a molecule from those cells. “When that damage occurs, our bodies start a process that creates inflammation at the cellular level,” McIntyre says, “and that leads to disease.”
Antioxidants fight back against those free radicals so that they can’t do harm to our healthy cells. You can find them in brightly colored fruits and vegetables. “Color is not just there for decorative purpose,” McIntyre says. “It’s an indicator of its antioxidation potency.”
Choose at least three colorful fruits and at least four servings of colorful vegetables in your diet every day. The deeper, the darker in color, the better: dark, leafy greens and berries, broccoli and carrots, bright oranges, red peppers, kale.
If that sounds like you need to spend half your life in the produce section, think again. McIntyre says these antioxidant-rich foods can be incorporated into your diet quite easily. “Start out with one fruit or vegetable every time you eat,” she says. So, for example, you could include a half-cup of blueberries on your cereal or low-fat yogurt for breakfast, and a dark, leafy green and a half-cup of broccoli as part of your dinner.
Some argue that it would be easier to get all this from a pill. They’re wrong. “Supplements do not provide the same benefits as those derived through food,” McIntyre says. Nor do they taste as good.
Granted, eating like this involves a little planning. But consider the benefits: “You can decrease your risk of heart disease, cancer, stroke, diabetes,” she says. “We also see that people who follow this kind of diet have clearer skin and less wrinkles and potentially more energy, and an improved immune system.”
In other words, although you may not achieve perfection, you’ll feel better and you’ll look better, thanks to the power of healthy eating.
Three Foods to Supercharge Your Diet
Like Clark Kent ducking into a phone booth and coming out as the Man of Steel, some of the most humble and easily available foods are nutritional powerhouses in disguise. Gerard Mullin, M.D., director of Integrative Gastrointestinal Nutrition Services at Johns Hopkins, recommends incorporating these deceptively powerful foods into your diet.
Broccoli. “Rich in fiber, rich in antioxidants, it’s good for detoxifying the liver and helps in cancer prevention. It should be top of the list.”
Raspberries. “They have a whole series of compounds that are cancer fighters, and they offer heart protection. They’re high in antioxidants and rich in fiber.”
Wild salmon. “Fish oils fight heart disease, cancer, depression. Salmon is also rich in vitamin D. And the pink pigment, in particular, is an anticancer agent. But stick with wild salmon, even if it’s frozen, over farm-raised, even if that’s fresh.”
Find Recipes That Are Good for Your Health
Search the Johns Hopkins Health Library by dietary considerations and food categories. Visit hopkinsmedicine.org/healthlibrary/recipes.
Food as Medicine with Lynda McIntyre
Johns Hopkins experts explain that getting good nutrition can make you feel better and help you dodge disease. Take a video trip to the grocery store with nutritionist Lynda McIntyre to learn how to shop for maximum personal health.