By Dr. Mercola
Does your health food repertoire consist of salads, baked chicken and broccoli? Are you looking for a way to add some excitement to your meals while maximizing their nutritional punch?
There's absolutely no need to be bored when eating healthy, but many believe this to be the case because they are missing out on some of the tastiest and healthiest options of all.
I encourage you to peruse the list below to take advantage of some of the healthiest foods on earth. Before we can talk about the best foods, we need to perform some nutrition "mythbusting" and address two major dietary myths that have permeated Western culture for decades:
- Fat is bad for you—especially saturated fat
- All microorganisms are dangerous
Myth #1: Fat is BAD for You
Conventional medical "wisdom" continues barking that consumption of saturated animal fats is bad for you and causes heart disease. Most medical "experts" believes this to be true. But a hundred years ago, fewer than one in one hundred Americans were obese, and coronary heart disease was unknown and we had FAR more fat intake then we do today.
The demonization of saturated fat began in 1953, when Dr. Ancel Keys published a paper comparing saturated fat intake and heart disease mortality. His theory turned out to be flimsy, to say the least, but the misguided ousting of saturated fat has continued ever since. Fortunately, the truth is finally starting to come out, as medical scientists have finally begun to question Keys' findings. The truth is, it's the trans fat found in margarine, vegetable shortening, and partially hydrogenated vegetable oils that is the true villain, causing a multitude of health problems.
Coconut oil also fell into the "bad for your heart health" as a result of the saturated fat disparagement. This is most unfortunate as it is one of the healthiest fats on the planet. It is mostly medium chain triglycerides with over half of those belonging to lauric acid, which is an essential fat to regulate your immune system, and is also very prevalent in breast milk. It can curb hunger and help provide lasting energy.
I personally consume about one quart of coconut oil a week. It is the ideal fat to use when you are using intermittent fasting and seeking to replace calories from grains and sugar, and excessive protein.
Myth #2: When It Comes to Bacteria, Be Afraid... Be Very Afraid
We have become one of the most germophobic cultures in the world, attempting to sterilize ourselves into a bubble—and our children as well. We haven't done ourselves any favors here. We live in a world of microorganisms... bacteria, viruses, and fungi, and our lives depend on living with them, rather than avoiding them. Literally.
Microorganisms are everywhere. You swallow them, breathe them, and they form invisible colonies on your skin. Your gut is home to approximately 100 trillion bacteria, both good and bad. These bacteria outnumber the cells in your body by about 10 to one, and maintaining the ideal balance of healthy and disease causing microflora forms the foundation for your health—physical, mental and emotional.
In fact, this microscopic zoo in your gut is the first-line defense of your immune system. While a few of these microorganisms can wreak havoc with your system, most of these little "bugs" are good, helping you digest your food, stay protected from infections, and even helping to prevent autoimmune diseases like asthma, allergies, and diabetes. An imbalance in your gut flora can be a major contributor to many serious illnesses, including autism, Parkinson's and Alzheimer's diseases.
Your body's microbial community is so crucial to your health that researchers have compared it to "a newly recognized organ" whose function is so important that you simply cannot be optimally healthy without it. In addition to avoiding unnecessary antibiotics and antibacterial soaps, balancing your gut flora may be one of the most important steps you can take to improve your health. This requires "reseeding" your gut with naturally fermented foods and probiotics.
Are You Eating These 10 Healthiest Foods?
So, having dispelled two pervasive food myths, let me now focus on ten of the most healthful foods you could be consuming. Remember these are general recommendations. Not everyone will do well with these foods, but the vast majority will have health improvement by regularly consuming them. As always, it is important to listen to your body and let it guide you in making that determination. With some foods though, like fermented vegetables, you will need to start with very small amounts and work your way up to a healthy dose over a few months.
1. Fermented Vegetables
Fermented, or cultured, vegetables are teeming with essential enzymes and good bacteria needed for optimal digestion and they are easier to digest than raw or cooked vegetables. When you eat raw cultured vegetables loaded with enzymes, you give your body an opportunity to use its bodily stores of enzymes to rejuvenate itself instead of exhausting them trying to digest overly processed and otherwise dead food. Cultured foods also offer a multitude of medicinal rewards by:
- Alleviating digestive disorders - the flora in living cultured foods form a "living shield" that covers your small intestine's inner lining and resists pathogenic organisms like Escherichia coli, Salmonella and an unhealthy overgrowth of yeast
- Strengthening immunity with increased antibodies that fight off infectious disease
- Helping pregnant and nursing mothers transfer beneficial bacteria to their infants
- Effectively impacting the behavior of children with autism,ADD/ and ADHD
- Regulating weight and appetite by reducing cravings for sugar, soft drinks, bread and pasta -- all foods I strongly advise against
Fermented foods are also among some of the best chelators available. The beneficial bacteria in these foods are very potent detoxifiers, capable of drawing out a wide range of environmental toxins, including pesticides and and heavy metals. And you don't need to consume huge amounts either. Caroline Barringer recommends eating about a quarter to a half a cup of fermented vegetables, or cultured food such as raw yoghurt, per day. In the following video, she discusses the process of fermenting your own vegetables in some detail, so for more information, please listen to that interview.
Kale contains fiber and antioxidants, and is one of the best sources of vitamin A, which promotes eye and skin health and may help strengthen your immune system. A one-cup serving has almost as much vitamin C as an orange and as much calcium as a cup of milk. It's simply an excellent source of multiple vitamins and other nutrients, including:
Vitamin A Vitamin B Vitamin C Calcium Lutein (helps protect against macular degeneration) Zeaxanthin (helps protect against macular degeneration) Indole-3-carbinol (may protect against colon cancer) Iron Chlorophyll
3. Kefir and Other Fermented Beverages
Kefir is a fermented milk beverage that contains beneficial probiotics that may help give your immune system a boost, among other health benefits. One of the best and least expensive ways to get healthy bacteria through your diet is actually to obtain raw milk and convert it to kefir yourself. All you need is one-half packet of kefir starter granules in a quart of raw milk, which you leave at room temperature overnight. By the time you wake up in the morning you will likely have kefir. If it hasn't obtained the consistency of yogurt you might want to set it out a bit longer and then store it in the fridge.
A quart of kefir has far more active bacteria than you can possibly purchase in any probiotic supplement, and it is very economical as you can reuse the kefir from the original quart of milk about 10 times before you need to start a new culture pack. Just one starter package of kefir granules can convert about 50 gallons of milk to kefir. This is also a far healthier, and far more economical, way to nourish your body with probiotics than buying any of the commercial probiotic beverages on the market, as these typically contain added sugars and are made using pasteurized milk, which I don't recommend drinking.
Kombucha, a fermented drink, is another great addition to your diet. The key is variety. The greater the variety of fermented and cultured foods you include in your diet, the better, as each food will inoculate your gut with a variety of different beneficial microorganisms.
4. Wild Alaskan Salmon
Research1 suggests that eating oily fish once or twice a week may increase your lifespan. But do the benefits of eating fish really outweigh the risks of toxic contamination? In my view, I believe the benefits CAN outweigh the risks, provided you make really wise choices. There are few uncontaminated fish available these days so you need to know what to look for.
Wild Alaskan salmon is really the ONLY fish I'll eat on a regular basis, and the only one I feel comfortable recommending as a good source of healthful fats.
Unfortunately, salmon are often mislabeled (and genetically engineered foods don't require any labeling at all as of yet). Studies have shown that as much as 70 to 80 percent of the fish marked "wild" are actually farmed. This includes restaurants, where 90-95 percent of salmon is farmed, yet may be mis-listed on the menu as "wild."
So how can you tell whether a salmon is wild or farm-raised?
The flesh of wild sockeye salmon is bright red, courtesy of its natural astaxanthin content. It's also very lean, so the fat marks, those white stripes you see in the meat, are very thin. If the fish is pale pink with wide fat marks, the salmon is farmed. Avoid Atlantic salmon, as all salmon labeled "Atlantic Salmon" currently comes from fish farms.
The two designations you want to look for are: "Alaskan salmon," and "sockeye salmon," as Alaskan sockeye is not allowed to be farmed. So canned salmon labeled "Alaskan Salmon" is a good bet, and if you find sockeye salmon, it's bound to be wild. Again, you can tell sockeye salmon from other salmon by its color; its flesh is bright red opposed to pink, courtesy of its superior astaxanthin content. Sockeye salmon actually has one of the highest concentrations of astaxanthin of any food.
5. Whey Protein Concentrate
Whey protein, a by-product of cheese production, was promoted for its health benefits as early as 420 B.C. As you age, your body gradually loses its ability to produce critical amino acids -- the essential proteins you need for energy production, immune actions and protein buildup in your muscle. Therefore, the need to supplement with these amino acids increases with age, and increases even more in times of high physical stress, like after a workout, or when recovering from injury or illness.
Whey protein concentrate (not to be confused with the far inferior whey protein isolate) is an ideal choice as it's a rich source of highly bioavailable amino acids that many are unaware of. Whey protein has been linked to a variety of health benefits, including:
Helping your insulin work more effectively, which helps maintain your blood sugar level after a meal -- This is important as research suggests lowering your blood sugar levels after meals may be more beneficial for your health than lowering fasting blood sugars. Promoting healthy insulin secretion, which is essential for optimal health. This is one of the foremost reasons for avoiding sugars and grains, as their overconsumption has a negative impact on both, and is a prime factor in developing type 2 diabetes. Helping to promote your optimal intake of proteins, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals needed for your overall wellness. Helping you preserve lean body tissue (particularly during exercise) as it delivers bioavailable amino acids and cysteine. Supporting your immune system, as it contains immunoglobulins. Maintaining blood pressure levels that are already within the normal range.
6. Organic, Free-Range Eggs
While many people do eat eggs, many neglect to eat them raw, which is the healthiest way. Raw free-range or "pastured" eggs are an excellent source of high-quality nutrients that many people are deficient in, especially high-quality protein and fat.
A single egg contains:
- Nine essential amino acids
- One of the highest quality proteins you can find. Proteins are nutrients that are essential to the building, maintenance and repair of your body tissues such as your skin, internal organs and muscles. They are also the major components of your immune system and hormones
- Lutein and zeaxanthin (for your eyes)
- Choline for your brain, nervous- and cardiovascular systems
- Naturally occurring B12
Why is raw better? Heating the egg protein actually changes its natural biochemical shape, and this distortion can easily lead to allergies. If you consume your eggs in their raw state, the incidence of egg allergy virtually disappears. Eating eggs raw also helps preserve many of the highly perishable nutrients such as lutein and zeaxanthin, which are powerful prevention elements for age-related macular degeneration, which is the most common cause of blindness.
Fresh raw egg yolk actually tastes like vanilla, in my opinion. The egg white is usually what most people object to when they say they don't like the texture of raw egg. If this is an issue, consider blending the whole raw egg into a shake or smoothie.
Beware of consuming raw egg whites without the yolks as raw egg whites contain avidin, which can bind to biotin. If you cook the egg white the avidin is not an issue. Likewise, if you consume the whole raw egg (both yolk and egg white) there is more than enough biotin in the yolk to compensate for the avidin binding.
If you choose not to eat your eggs raw, soft-boiled would be your next best option. Scrambling your eggs is one of the worst ways to eat eggs as it actually oxidizes the cholesterol in the egg yolk. If you have high cholesterol this may actually be a problem for you as the oxidized cholesterol may cause some damage in your body.
7. Organic Coconut Oil
Often shunned for its high saturated fat content, the naturally occurring saturated fat found in coconut oil has some spectacular health benefits such as promoting heart health, weight loss, immune system health, thyroid function and more. Half of the fat content in coconut oil is lauric acid—a fat rarely found in nature—that could easily qualify as a "miracle" ingredient because of its unique health promoting properties. Your body converts lauric acid into monolaurin, which has anti-viral, anti-bacterial and anti-protozoa properties.
And, because your body sends medium-chain fatty acids like those in coconut oil directly to your liver to use as energy, this makes coconut oil a powerful source of instant energy to your body, a function usually served in the diet by simple carbohydrates.
Coconut oil is also the ideal choice for all types of cooking. In fact, it's the only oil stable enough to resist mild heat-induced damage. So, whenever you need an oil to cook or bake with, use coconut oil instead of butter, olive oil, vegetable oil, margarine, or any other type of oil called for in recipes.Even though I don't fully recommend frying foods, if you must fry, by all means use coconut oil -- it's your smartest choice.
Also shunned by many due to their fat content, avocados are actually incredibly healthy for this very reason. Healthy raw fat is a nutrient many are severely deficient in. I eat a whole avocado nearly every day. Avocados also provide close to 20 essential health-boosting nutrients, including:
- Potassium (more than twice the amount found in a banana)
- Vitamin E
- Folic acid
9. Raw Grass-Fed Butter
Another type of healthy fat that many people do not eat is butter made from raw organic grass-fed milk. I typically eat about a half-pound to a pound of raw organic grass-fed butter per week, as it's an excellent source of high-quality nutrients, including:
Vitamins, such as vitamin A, needed for a wide range of functions, from maintaining good vision to keeping the endocrine system in top shape, and all the other fat-soluble vitamins (D, E and K2), which are often lacking in the modern industrial diet. Trace minerals, including manganese, chromium, zinc, copper and selenium (a powerful antioxidant). Butter provides more selenium per gram than wheat germ or herring. It's also an excellent source of iodine. Healthful fats, including short- and medium-chain fats, which support immune function, boost metabolism and have anti-microbial properties, as well as the perfect balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fats, and arachidonic acid, which is important for brain function, skin health and prostaglandin balance. Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA), a compound that gives excellent protection against cancer and also helps your body build muscle rather than store fat. Glycospingolipids, a special category of fatty acids that protect against gastrointestinal infections, especially in the very young and the elderly. Wulzen Factor, a hormone-like substance that prevents arthritis and joint stiffness, ensuring that calcium in your body is put into your bones rather than your joints and other tissues. The Wulzen factor is present only in raw butter and cream; it is destroyed by pasteurization.
The primary source of this fruit's benefits is its antioxidant content, particularly ellagitannin compounds like punicalagins and punicalins, which account for about half of the pomegranate's antioxidant ability. The juice and pulp of pomegranates have previously been studied for their potential heart- and joint health benefits.
Aim to incorporate as many of these foods into your diet on a daily or weekly basis as you can, and you'll be off to a great nutritional start. For even more advice on how to eat right by focusing your diet on whole, unprocessed "superfoods," see my nutrition plan.