By Dr. Mercola
One of your most basic health principles is to eat a diet of whole, nutritious foods rather than processed fare. Cutting out grains and sugar (particularly fructose) — which happens more or less naturally once you ditch processed foods from your diet — will take you a long way toward normalizing your weight and improving your health.
But what are the best foods to eat in place of foods you shouldn't eat?
In her new book The Drop 10 Diet, Lucy Danziger, editor-in-chief of Self Magazine, describes how focusing on so-called "superfoods" might change the way you look at weight loss. And she certainly has a good point.
Feeding your body the right nutrients rather than stuffing it with "empty" calories will not only help you lose unwanted pounds, it's a key ingredient for living a long and healthy life. Believe it or not, many people who are obese are actually profoundly malnourished.
"At the end of the day, you invest in your wardrobe and your hair and your car and everything else. So invest in your body. Because it's supposed to last for 100 years," she recently told CNN Health.1
According to the featured article, the term "superfood" was coined in 2004 by Dr. Steven Pratt, author of Superfoods Rx: Fourteen Foods That Will Change Your Life. He, like Danziger, points out that this kind of eating goes beyond the idea of dieting. It's really a way of life. "It's the non-diet diet. It's food you can eat for a lifetime," he tells CNN.2
According to Pratt, a superfood fulfills three qualifications:
- Are readily available
- Contain nutrients known to enhance longevity, and
- Have health benefits backed by peer-reviewed, scientific studies
Pratt's website SuperFoodsRx.com lists a total of 20 examples, which include:
- Wild-caught salmon
- Berries, and
- Green tea
Four "Superfoods" that are Actually Best Avoided...
While I agree with the vast majority of Pratt's selections, especially the five listed above, I disagree with the following four, as I believe these may have more harmful than beneficial effects for most people:
- Beans. The primary concern with beans is that they are relatively high in carbohydrates and are loaded with lectins that may be incompatible with many people. It is also high in phytic acid which is a potent mineral chelator. If you are going to use beans they need to be soaked for 24 hours or longer and frequently changing the water. They are not perniciously deadly foods, but they in no way shape or form qualify as a superfood.
- Low-fat yoghurt: Not only is the low-fat ideology completely false, low-fat yoghurt is also pasteurized and typically loaded with added fructose. Taken together, these three factors put commercial low-fat yoghurt squarely on my list of items to avoid.
To reap the benefits that real yoghurt can provide, opt for homemade fermented yoghurt, using either raw, ideally pastured organic raw milk, full fat organic milk (not low fat or skim).
- Soy: If you were to carefully review the thousands of studies published on soy, I strongly believe you would reach the same conclusion as I have — which is, the risks of consuming unfermented soy products far outweigh any possible benefits. Furthermore, genetically engineered soy pose additional health hazards over and beyond the damage caused by unfermented soy itself. The only type of soy I recommend is traditionally fermented organic soy products
- Dried fruits: While whole fruits are excellent sources of nutrients and antioxidants if consumed in moderation, they also tend to be high in fructose, and dried fruits even more so. If you are in the minority of people who are not struggling with insulin resistance, then small amounts of dried fruit would probably be fine, but if you have type 2 diabetes, are pre-diabetic, obese, hypertensive, or have symptoms of heart disease, you're better off avoiding dried fruits until your weight and insulin levels have normalized
Four Commonly Overlooked Superfoods
Avocado made Pratt's list, and its status as a superfood cannot be overemphasized. Besides being rich in potassium (twice as much as that of a banana), avocados are a great source of healthful monounsaturated fat, which is easily burned for energy. This makes it an excellent replacement for grain carbs and other sources of sugar. Remember, when cutting out carbs, you need to replace those calories with healthy fat, which is actually a far better source of energy for your body and brain than carbohydrates.
Four additional superfoods not on Pratt's list, which I believe most people could benefit from, are:
- Coconut oil: 50 percent of the fat content in coconut oil is a fat rarely found in nature called lauric acid that your body converts into monolaurin, which has anti-viral, anti-bacterial and anti-protozoa properties. Coconut oil is about 2/3 medium-chain fatty acids (MCFAs), which produce a whole host of health benefits, including stimulating your metabolism. MCFA's are also immediately converted to energy — a function usually served in the diet by simple carbohydrates — so like avocados, coconut oil is an ideal replacement for unhealthy grain carbs.
- Bone broth: Simmering leftover bones over low heat for an entire day will create one of the most nutritious and healing foods there is. You can use this broth for soups, stews, or drink it straight. The "skin" that forms on the top is the best part. It contains valuable nutrients, such as sulfur, along with healthful fats, so just stir it back into the broth.
- Fermented vegetables: Almost everyone has damaged gut flora these days, unless you're part of the minority that eats a strict organic whole foods diet and avoids antibiotics. Fermented vegetables are one of the most palatable fermented foods that can provide you with a robust dose of beneficial bacteria, known as probiotics, which are critically important for optimal physical and mental health. Additionally, fermented foods are very potent detoxifiers, capable of drawing out a wide range of toxins and heavy metals, including some pesticides.
- Raw macadamia nuts are a powerhouse of a nut, containing a wide variety of critical nutrients,3 including high amounts of vitamin B1, magnesium, manganese and healthful monounsaturated fat, just to name a few.
Gastrointestinal Cancers Likely Reduced by Consumption of Green Tea
In related news, green tea has once again demonstrated why it deserves being ranked as a superfood. Research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition4 found that regular green tea consumption, defined as drinking green tea at least three times a week for more than six months, was associated with a 17 percent reduced risk of all digestive cancers combined.
The study included approximately 75,000 middle-aged and senior women enrolled in the Shanghai Women's Health Study. Mean follow-up was 11 years. The digestive cancers most strongly reduced by regular green tea consumption were stomach/esophageal and colorectal cancers. (Women who had ever smoked or who drank alcohol were excluded from the study.)
Women with higher rates of consumption, drinking two to three cups per day, had an even greater risk reduction — 21 percent — for for all cancers of the digestive system, and, those who had been drinking green tea for at least 20 years had a reduced cancer risk totaling 27 percent.
"These results suggest long-term cumulative exposure may be particularly important," lead researcher Sarah Nechuta, Ph.D., MPH told Medical News Today.5
This certainly isn't the first time green tea has been associated with reduced cancer risk. Previous tests of one of the active ingredients in green tea, called epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG), showed it could kill cancer cells in samples of skin, lymph system, and prostate tissue taken from both humans and mice, while leaving healthy cells unharmed. Previous studies have also indicated that EGCG may be helpful in preventing:
- High blood lipid
- Cerebral thrombus
- Pain and inflammation related to rheumatoid arthritis
Green Tea Lowers Blood Sugar Spikes and May Aid Weight Loss
Yet another study, published in the journal Molecular Nutrition & Food Research,6 found that EGCG found in green tea had a significant impact on blood glucose levels in rats when consumed in combination with starchy foods. Blood glucose levels in rats given the equivalent of one and a half cups of green tea for a human were about half as low as in the controls that received the same food but no EGCG. Interestingly, the compound was most effective when given simultaneously with corn starch. No effect was seen when administered with glucose or maltose.
The research raises the possibility that green tea might help you control blood sugar spikes associated with starchy foods when consumed simultaneously. Keep in mind that adding sugar to your tea will likely negate this beneficial effect. And, besides that, no amount of green tea in the world will ever negate the overall detrimental impact of donuts and bagels...
That said, green tea has repeatedly been shown to have a beneficial impact on weight by improving fat burning and metabolism. A couple of the proposed mechanisms for this effect include the activation of hepatic lipid catabolism, which involves the release of energy resulting in the breakdown of complex materials, and increased levels of fat oxidation and thermogenesis, where your body burns fuel such as fat to create heat.
My personal favorite is Matcha green tea, as it has a wonderful flavor and superior nutrient content as it has not been damaged through processing. The best Matcha green tea comes from Japan and is steamed, rather than roasted or pan-fried. As a result, Matcha green tea retains all the nutrient-rich value possible from the tea leaf.