As the shine of the new year starts to fade, many of us are trying desperately to cling to our resolutions to “eat better,” “be healthier,” etc. However, sometimes this can be hard to do just based on the sheer amount of conflicting information out there. One minute something is dubbed a “superfood,” and you’re being told to eat it every day, with every meal, take it in pill form if you have to; and then next it pops up as number one on a list of “Things You’re Eating that are Making you Fat, Giving you Cancer, and Destroying your Ability to Form Long-term Relationships.” So, how do you know what’s what? Well, as with all food, it’s best to eat in moderation and vary your diet often. However, here are a few good ol’ fashioned staples of a healthy diet that we can assure you are great for you to eat. No açaí berries here, guys.
Let’s jump right into the thick of it shall we, and start with every five year old’s nemesis: broccoli. Broccoli is one of many cruciferous vegetables that have been shown in studies to prevent certain cancers. Not only that, but broccoli is rich in vitamins B1, B2, B3, B6, iron, magnesium, potassium, and zinc. Oh yeah, and a cup of the stuff has as much vitamin C as an orange. And, as if all this wasn’t enough to win you over to broccoli’s side, it’s low in calories. So go on, get noshin’ on some broc.
You may remember the adults in your life telling you as a child that fish was “brain food.” Turns out, they were spot on. However, the benefits of salmon are so vast, you could also call it “heart food,” “joint food,” “prevent many chronic diseases food”… you get the picture. Salmon is a great source of protein and contains many useful vitamins and minerals. But the real benefit comes from the omega-3 fatty acids prevalent in oily fish like Salmon. Omega-3 fatty acids basically help everything in your body (OK, not literally everything, but lots and lots of things). Our body can’t make omega-3, so we need to get it from our food and salmon is a great choice.
Ah, the unsung hero of healthy foods. Sweet potatoes aren’t just delicious (especially when topped with marshmallows and brown sugar), they’re extremely nutritious as well. Sweet potatoes have high levels of Vitamin B6 (which supports heart health), Vitamin A (great for healthy skin and hair), Vitamins C and E (which boost your immune system), and carotenoids (that help fight cancer). And guess what, purple sweet potatoes (guys, there are purple sweet potatoes!) contain even more cancer preventing carotenoids than their orange counterparts. Though higher in calories than, say broccoli, they have much less than regular potatoes. And though they are high in sugar, sweet potatoes actually have a low glycemic index, meaning they release sugar more slowly into your bloodstream. Unlike starches like pasta that release sugar quickly and cause spikes in blood sugar levels, sweet potatoes can actually help to maintain even blood sugar levels and give you a steady stream of energy throughout the day.
The incredible, edible egg. Eggs are basically little nutrient packed balls of amazingness. Think about it, the egg contains enough nutrition to turn a single cell into a baby chick, so it’s gotta be packing a powerful punch nutrition-wise. Here’s a list of great stuff you get from a single egg: Vitamins (A, B2, B12, B5, D, E), Biotin, Choline, Folic Acid, Iodine, Iron, Lutein, Zeaxanthin, Phosphorous, Selenium, and lots of protein. They help you maintain a healthy heart, brain, and immune system, along with helping out your eyesight, muscle tone, skin and hair. And if you’re pregnant, eggs are essential to the healthy development of your baby and have been proven to help reduce birth defects like spina bifida.
An apple a day may keep the doctor away, but oranges ain’t nothing to sniff at either. They lower your risk for stroke, lower blood pressure, help diabetics maintain healthy blood-sugar levels, and even help prevent the occurrence of childhood leukemia. A single orange contains over 170 phytochemicals and more than 60 flavonoids, which have great anti-inflammatory properties and antioxidant effects. Additionally, the high levels of vitamins A and C can help prevent hair loss and keep your skin looking amazing. And you don’t just have to eat oranges to reap the benefits, many face creams, serums and masks contain oil from orange skins. Plus, you don’t even have to spend money on the fancy face-cream –take a piece of orange peel, bend and crack it to release the orange extract, and rub it on your face. Seriously, it’ll make your skin look luminous.
Quinoa has been cultivated for over 5,000 years and has long been considered an excellent source of nutrition. It contains iron, Vitamin E, a whole bunch of B vitamins, magnesium, phosphorous, and calcium. It is also considered a “complete protein,” meaning its contains all the essential amino acids –not many plant foods can say that. Eating quinoa often has been proven to reduce the risk of high blood pressure, colon cancer, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and obesity. Additionally, it’s naturally gluten-free, so it’s a great choice for those with Celiac disease or other types of gluten intolerance.
Though high in calories, when eaten in moderation nuts are incredible for you. Walnuts have high levels of alpha linoleic acid, which has been shown to help heart arrhythmias. They also help reduce inflammation. Walnuts, along with peanuts, contain lots of neuroprotective compounds, like vitamin E, folate, melatonin, and omega-3 fatty acids, which support brain health. Brazil nuts are excellent for men, as their high levels of selenium protect against prostate cancer. Almonds, which contain high levels of fiber as well as vitamins C and E, help with inflammation as well as age-related cognitive decline. And cashews contain high levels of copper and magnesium which can diminish the frequency of migraines, lower blood pressure, prevent heart attacks, and increase bone strength. So, you know, go nuts.
Of course, there are many other foods that are highly nutritious (carrots, spinach, blueberries and avocados come to mind), so be sure to vary your diet to include all manner of healthy foods. But, hopefully, this list will help jump start your grocery shopping and get you on your way to a happy, healthy 2015.
Anything you think we should add to this list?
Lauren is a New York based actor/singer/writer. She is a graduate of the American Repertory Theater/Moscow Art Theater School Institute for Advanced Theater Training at Harvard University as well as the College of the Holy Cross. She’s a fan of beer, pasta, and academic establishments with unnecessarily long titles. Find her on stage, or online– she’s there often.