There has been a vast amount of medical research indicating that eating a healthy diet produces a more disease-free life.
Based upon this research, dietary guidelines set forth by the R.D.A. (recommended dietary daily allowances) have been established so that the general population knows what to eat to maintain good health and to lower their risk of disease.
What foods should we eat and is one food better than another?
Current dietary guidelines recommend a diet that restricts saturated fat and emphasizes whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, fresh fish, lean animal meat and dairy. A diet containing five to eight servings of fresh fruits and vegetables per day, complex carbohydrates from whole grains and lean proteins, including two servings of blue water fish per week, continues to be an effective strategy to reduce the risk of many diseases.
Yet, are there some foods that are better than others? Through recent medical studies, it has been established that there are "super foods" that contain higher nutrient values as well as higher antioxidant levels. These super foods are found in all food groups: fruits, vegetables, protein, dairy and grains.
Which foods contain the highest level of protection?
The majority of antioxidants are found in fruits and vegetables. It is suggested that tomatoes, grapes, blueberries, oranges, carrots, spinach, sweet potatoes, kale, apricots and cantaloupe are the richest in beta-carotene, which helps destroy the formation of free radicals.
The best sources of Vitamin C, which guard against harmful reactions in the cells, are: kiwi, citrus fruits, broccoli, green and red peppers and strawberries. These antioxidants are responsible for neutralizing free radicals produced by the body during everyday wear and tear. Free radicals, if left alone, will cause tissue damage in the body and are believed to play a role in over 60 diseases, including heart disease and many cancers.
Stress, pollution and poor eating habits can bring more of these free radicals into the body. Therefore, we should focus our attention on eating foods that have higher levels of antioxidants, enabling the body to clean up the free radicals from our system before they cause major damage.
The super foods that provide protein sources are: peanut butter -- the kind that has "made with peanuts only" on the ingredients list, soy milk (fermented is best), raw nuts and seeds, almonds and sunflower seeds, organic or free range eggs (two or three per week), lentils, organic yogurt, fresh wild fish (not farm raised), extra lean cuts of meat (such as turkey, chicken and beef, which should also be organic or Angus certified) and tofu (fermented).
When calculating your protein needs, use this formula: Your body weight x 0.6g/lb = amount of protein needed per day. For example: 140 lbs x 0.6g/lb = 84 grams of protein per day.
Safe and optimal intakes of antioxidants are as follows:
- Beta--carotene 10,000 -- 25,000 units per day
- Vitamin E 100 -- 800 units per day
- Vitamin C 200 -1000 mg per day
- Selenium 200 -- 250 mcg per day
- Zinc 15 -- 30 mg per day
Fresh fruits and vegetables are the best sources of these antioxidant super foods, and organic poultry, beef and dairy are the best protein sources. Complex carbohydrates are the number one choice for proper insulin balance and sustained energy in the body.
Remember, the body has what is called a "thermic effect" when digesting food -- the more complex the carbohydrate (whole grains), the longer it takes the body to break it down. This burns more calories and regulates the release of sugar and insulin into the blood stream. With the high rate of diabetes in our society, this is a very important fact to remember.
Eating 1-3 servings of fruit, 3-5 servings of vegetables, 4-6 servings of grains and 2-3 servings of protein per day of these nutrient rich foods (remember a serving is the size of the palm of your hand) will saturate the body's tissues and encourage healthy cells.
Think of your body as a fine-tuned automobile, fill it with the best fuel available and it will run well for a very long time.
Your body repairs and rebuilds itself everyday -- and proper nutrition encourages a healthy, lean, disease-free body. Proper rest, a variety of fresh foods, lean meats and complex carbohydrates are your super heroes to ensure optimum health.
Linda Moeller has over 25 years of experience as a fitness and nutrition consultant and certified Pilates instructor, with specialties including lifestyle and weight management, children's fitness and personal training. Linda promotes "complete" programs to encourage sound nutrition and increase vitality, longevity and overall health goals. Visit her Web site at www.completelyfit4life.com/.
By Linda Moeller