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Super Foods: What's All the Fuss?

11.06.2012 / Blog Posts Health and Wellness

For the past 2 weeks we have been discussing Kale, a food often labeled a “super food”. This week I would like to look more closely at this theme of “Super Foods” by inviting back our guest blogger, Christine Turpin. She offers great tips on making your holiday meals Super Bowl caliber. Enjoy!

Jane Jakubczak MPH, RD, CSSD, LDN
Washington Redskins Team Dietitian

Super foods, are they foods which wear capes, face masks and have magical powers? What is all the fuss about super foods? According to Merriam-Webster's Open Dictionary: New Words & Slang, a super food is “a super nutrient-dense food, loaded with vitamins, minerals, fiber, antioxidants, and/or phytonutrients.”

Let’s decipher those fancy words: antioxidants and phytochemicals.

Antioxidants are substances such as vitamins and minerals that protect the cells of the body from damage, increase the immune system and help fight diseases such as heart and cancer. Phytochemicals are a wide variety of compounds produced and found in plants. Evidence suggests these compounds can improve health and decrease the risk of chronic diseases. Together, antioxidants and phytochemicals are the cape and tights of the super food superhero costume.

Many super foods are plant based. I am always so sad to say good-bye to summer produce but my husband reminds me each year that we would not appreciate the cyclic foods if they were around all the time. So, it’s time to move on. Fall is here and the holidays are right around the corner – yikes! 

To prepare for the upcoming feast(s), I have put together a short list of super foods to enjoy over the holiday!

Turkey is a lean source of protein and contains iron, zinc and B-vitamins. Arm wrestle with your siblings for the white and skinless pieces of turkey to reduce calories and fat (dark and skin-on meat have more of both).

Sweet potatoes are jam-packed with beta carotene (think orange), vitamin A & C, fiber and potassium. Vitamin A is essential for skin health and vision while beta carotene is an antioxidant – there is that fancy word again. These vibrant potatoes make a tasty substitution for regular french fries. Sweet Potato Fries: Peel and cut two sweet potatoes into long slices and toss with 1 tablespoon of olive oil and a sprinkle of garlic salt, cumin and chili powder. Arrange potatoes on a foil lined cooking sheet and bake at 375 degrees until tender. Enjoy a healthy replacement with a kick!

Apples are crispy, crunchy, juicy and sweet! This time of year there are so many varieties to choose from. This fruit is useful, portable and has its own package, the skin. Before you dig your teeth into the skin, wash it first! You won’t even know you are treating yourself to a healthy snack that contains vitamins A & C and fiber to boot!

Butternut Squash may be daunting, but it can be used for much more than a gourd centerpiece this time of year. Butternut squash is bursting with potassium and magnesium, an excellent source of vitamins A and C and a good source of fiber. Puree it for soups or roast it with olive oil and a dash a salt for a side dish. Cooking this vegetable is not as hard as you think; check out your favorite food website for recipes.

Green beans are a good source of fiber and vitamin C and provide a powerful crunch to any main dish. For a potent dish full of nutrients, slice some almonds and toss with cooked beans for a dose of vitamin E, manganese, magnesium and little crunch. You’ll get high protein antioxidants, a good source of fiber and healthy fats!

Cranberries can be eaten raw, cooked or dried for a good source of vitamin C and fiber. Cranberries provide zest to any dish. Instead of waiting for this turkey sidekick at Thanksgiving dinner, start off your day by throwing a splash of dried cranberries in your oatmeal, toss a handful in your trail mix as an afternoon snack and pitch a few in your salad at dinner!

Pumpkin is likely the most decorated vegetable, especially at Halloween. Cook it, mash it, slice it and carve it, but don’t forget to roast the seeds for a crunchy, salty snack. Pumpkin is low in calories but high in antioxidants and is also a good source of vitamin A and C. Canned pumpkin can be found all year around with the same benefits as fresh without the mess. Unfortunately, a serving of pumpkin beer does not count as a vegetable serving (Nice try, though!).

Whether or not they are super foods, a diet rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains can improve health and decrease chronic disease. I challenge you to consume a variety of foods and create a colorful plate at each meal. Portion your plate with sources of lean protein, low-fat dairy, whole grains, fruits and vegetables. Incorporate at least two-servings a week of fish for those omega-3 fatty acids, limit red meat consumption to two-servings a week, and include more plant-based foods in your diet. Visit www.myplate.gov to find more information on how to build a healthy plate!

Healthy Eating,

Christine Turpin, RD, LDN, CSCS
www.nourish2perform.com
Christine is owner of Nourish2Perform and consults with competitive and recreational athletes and law enforcement agencies. Nourish 2 Perform specializes in integrating fitness and dietary education to maximize performance for athletes of all ages, recreational exercisers and other professionals engaged in competition or physically demanding occupations.

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