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Foods That Power Up Your Spring

Story at-a-glance -

  • The foods you eat can make or break your energy levels, which is why overhauling your diet can lead to profound changes in your quality of life.
  • Artichokes, spinach, asparagus, walnuts, eggs, wild salmon, berries and garlic are examples of foods that can help you to optimize your physical and mental health.
  • Four bonus superfoods – sprouts, fermented vegetables, bone broth and coconut oil – are also discussed

By Dr. Mercola

Spring is naturally a season of new beginnings, making it an ideal time to make healthful changes to your lifestyle.

Your diet is a prime place to start, as about 80 percent of your ability to reduce excess body fat is determined by what you eat. But even beyond weight loss, the foods you eat can make or break your energy levels, which is why overhauling your diet can lead to profound changes in your quality of life.

Do you want to spring out of bed in the morning charged up about the day that is about to unfold? Are you longing for the seemingly endless energy you had as a child?

The nine foods that follow are among the best to help you achieve these goals and, even more so, may help you gain improved mood, focus and performance in virtually all aspects of your life.1

9 Foods to 'Power Up' Your Life

1. Artichokes

These often-overlooked vegetables are rich in magnesium, a mineral found in more than 300 different enzymes in your body, which are responsible for:

Creation of ATP (adenosine triphosphate), the energy molecules of your body Proper formation of bones and teethRelaxation of blood vessels
Action of your heart musclePromotion of proper bowel functionRegulation of blood sugar levels

An estimated 80 percent of Americans is deficient in this important mineral, making magnesium-rich artichokes a veritable superfood. Additionally, artichokes are loaded with antioxidants. Out of over 100 foods tested, artichokes ranked fourth and were found to contain more antioxidants per serving than even blueberries, spinach and broccoli.2

2. Spinach

Spinach not only contains iron, which plays an essential role in energy, but also contains compounds that increase the efficiency of mitochondria, which are like little "powerhouses" in your cells that supply most of your energy. Spinach is also rich in many other vitamins and minerals that your body needs to function, including niacin, zinc, fiber, vitamins A, C, E and K, thiamin, B6, folate, calcium, magnesium, potassium and more.

3. Walnuts

Walnuts are a good source of tryptophan, an amino acid necessary for your body's production of the feel-good chemical serotonin. Walnuts are also good sources of plant-based omega-3 fats, natural phytosterols and antioxidants, and may help reduce not only the risk of prostate cancer, but breast cancer as well. Be sure and soak your nuts, though, as that will help decrease the phytic acid and other "anti-nutrients," which will limit their nutritional value.

4. Asparagus

As a rich source of folate, a B vitamin that helps your body make dopamine, serotonin and norephinephrine, asparagus is a "feel-good" veggie that may support your mood. Asparagus is also high in glutathione, an important anti-carcinogen, and contains rutin, which protects small blood vessels from rupturing and may protect against radiation. Asparagus is also a good source of vitamins A, C and E, B-complex vitamins, potassium and zinc.

5. Wild Salmon

Salmon contains omega-3 fats like eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), which may help protect your skin from UV-induced damage, helping to protect against wrinkles and sagging, as well as give your skin added hydration. Along with helping your skin, research suggests that eating oily fish once or twice a week may increase your lifespan by more than two years, and reduce your risk of dying from cardiovascular disease by 35 percent.3

If you want to maximize the health benefits from fish, you want to steer clear of farmed fish, particularly farmed salmon, and even more specifically genetically engineered farmed salmon. Unfortunately, as much as 70 to 80 percent of the fish marked "wild" is actually farmed. This includes restaurants, where 90-95 percent of salmon is farmed, yet may be inaccurately 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 typically 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 the antioxidant astaxanthin of any food.

6. Strawberries

The antioxidants in strawberries can also help your skin repair damage caused by pollution and UV rays. Along with high amounts of vitamin C, which has been found to help lessen wrinkles and skin dryness, strawberries contain flavonoids known as anthocyanins, which are antioxidants that give the fruits their red color. Anthocyanins are known to benefit the endothelial lining of the circulatory system, possibly preventing plaque buildup in arteries as well as promoting healthy blood pressure.

Due to its fructose content, fruit should be consumed in moderation, especially if you're overweight or have heart disease, cancer or type 2 diabetes.

7. Eggs

Eggs are one of the best dietary sources of choline. Choline helps keep your cell membranes functioning properly, plays a role in nerve communications, prevents the buildup of homocysteine in your blood (elevated levels are linked to heart disease) and reduces chronic inflammation. Choline is also needed for your body to make the brain chemical acetylcholine, which is involved in storing memories. In pregnant women, choline plays an equally, if not more, important role, helping to prevent certain birth defects, such as spina bifida, and playing a role in brain development.

8. Blueberries

Wild blueberries are high in anthocyanin and other antioxidants, and are known to guard against Alzheimer's and other neurological diseases. Blueberries improved learning capacity and motor skills among aged rats in animal studies. Berries of all sorts are also excellent sources of vitamin C, carotenes, zinc, potassium, iron, calcium and magnesium; they're high in fiber and low in sugar.

9. Spring Garlic

Spring garlic, which is milder and sweeter than garlic grown later in the season, is a wonderful superfood to include in your diet. The component of garlic, allicin, which causes the familiar strong smell and flavor, is actually an extremely effective antioxidant. As allicin digests in your body it produces sulfenic acid, a compound that reacts faster with dangerous free radicals than any other known compound. It may also stimulate satiety in your brain, helping to keep you from overeating.

The best way to eat garlic is to take a whole, fresh clove, chop it, smash it or press it, wait a few minutes for the conversion to occur, and then eat it. If you use jarred, powdered, or dried garlic, you won't get all the benefits fresh garlic has to offer.

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Four Bonus Superfoods to Include in Your Diet

If you're interested in revamping your diet to one that will support optimal physical, mental and emotional health, my nutrition plan is a powerful place to start. I have simplified the plan into three phases: Beginner, Intermediate and Advanced. Success comes in steps, and this program is designed to allow you to make your journey to optimal health in a step-by-step manner.

With this plan, you'll learn how to use whole foods to your body's advantage, using sometimes ancient culinary traditions to help you stay healthy in the modern world. Along these lines, here are four "traditional" superfoods that are often overlooked, yet deserve to be a part of virtually everyone's diet:

  1. Sprouts: Sprouts are another superfood that can contain up to 100 times more enzymes than raw fruits and vegetables, which allows you to get more nutrition from the foods you eat. When seeds are sprouted, often the protein and fiber content increases, as does the content of vitamins and essential fatty acids. Minerals such as calcium and magnesium also become more bioavailable.
  2. Sprouts are incredibly easy and inexpensive to grow at home, making them a nutritional powerhouse that virtually everyone can enjoy. I used to grow sprouts in Ball jars over 10 years ago but now I am strongly convinced that growing them in soil is far easier and produces far more nutritious and abundant food. It is also less time consuming. I am in the process of compiling detailed videos to explain this process for future articles but you can see some of my preliminary sprouting photos now.

    I plan on providing a very comprehensive detailed step-by-step guide on how to sprout later this year. There are so many details to get in a row and optimize that I want to make sure I give you the best instructions possible. So I'm doing loads of testing right now to get it right.

  3. 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, 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.

  4. 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.

  5. Coconut oil: Fifty 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 two-thirds medium-chain fatty acids (MCFAs), which produce a whole host of health benefits, including stimulating your metabolism. MCFAs are also immediately converted to energy — a function usually served in the diet by simple carbohydrates — making coconut oil an ideal replacement for unhealthy grain carbs.