We all know that improving our diet can improve our health, helping us look and feel better. However an abundance of new research is demonstrating that with minimum effort we can make a good diet ‘really’ good simply by munching on specific ‘super foods’ on a daily basis. These foods are packed with nutrients powerful enough to increase physical performance, lower cholesterol, reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer, and, for an added bonus, put you in a better mood. Surprisingly, many of these foods are old favourites that are available right in your local supermarket and green grocers and are easily incorporated into delicious meals.
To ensure a spring in your step from morning until evening it is vital that your diet is packed with foods high in the B vitamins, such as oats, brown rice, mushrooms, pulses, lean meats, liver, sunflower seeds and Brewer’s yeast. That’s because compounds in B vitamins are vital for helping us release energy from our foods, by breaking down carbohydrates, fats and protein into energy and other vital chemicals to keep us going. They also help our nervous systems cope with stress, one of the major causes of fatigue. Many common problems such as fatigue, irritability and poor concentration can be signs of a deficiency, as we cannot store these vitamins in the body so they need constantly supplying by our diet.
For those wishing to keep active it is vital that your muscles can keep up with your desire to stay fit. Magnesium is a hugely important nutrient for muscle function and for helping minimise and relieve painful and debilitating cramps. Tucking into green leafy vegetables, nuts, seeds, pulses and whole grains both before and after exercise can minimise muscle pain or cramping. Antioxidants are also vital to help minimise the ageing effects of the free radicals generated by intense aerobic exercise
Your joints work hard during exercise so it is no surprise that they can get creaky and stiff as you age. However a diet rich in particular fruits and vegetables can help increase flexibility and prevent aching joints, as their natural plant compounds can protect against damage and reduce inflammation. Foods especially beneficial are those containing nutrients called flavonoids, such as cherries, blackberries and strawberries. Also important are sulphur-containing foods, such as onions, Brussels sprouts, and cabbage. Ginger also contains anti-inflammatory compounds called gingerols. Ginger root can be chopped into stir-fries, porridge and stews to add a delicious zing, or sliced up and put in hot water to make a tea.
Brain Power Foods
Your brain is the greediest organ in your body. So it is not surprising that what you eat can affect how you think. Brains are around 60 percent fat, so the essential omega-3 and 6 fats found in oily fish (such as salmon and mackerel), seeds, and vegetable cooking oils are some of the best brain food. Unfortunately fats are easily damaged so your brain needs constantly protecting by nutrients called antioxidants. High levels of some antioxidants are found in the foods mentioned above but vitamin C, found in peppers, green leafy vegetables, citrus fruits, strawberries and papaya is particularly good at protecting the brain.
Feel good Foods
There are certain foods that can be termed ‘feel good’ foods (and we don’t mean chocolate cake!). These contain a substance called tryptophan, which produces the brain chemical serotonin. Serotonin levels have a direct effect on mood and behaviour. If levels get too low, the imbalance can result in anxiety and depression. The best way to keep that balance is to eat tryptophan rich foods. Chicken, turkey, eggs, avocados, and soya all help to boost the production of serotonin. And the great news? Chocolate also triggers the release of feel good chemicals called endorphins – but keep it dark and eat sparingly to avoid post binge blues!
Immune System foods
Garlic is one of the best known natural antibiotics and can be used for preventing everything from the common cold to gastrointestinal infections. It is the compound called allicin it contains that is thought to deliver its medicinal properties. Unfortunately it is also responsible for garlic’s characteristic odour! Allicin exhibits its strongest effects when eaten raw but alternatively can be added to dishes towards the end of cooking if preferred. Other great antibiotics include cloves, thyme and manuka honey.
When it comes to a diet rich in cancer-fighting substances, most experts agree that it should be predominantly plant-based. This is due to the high levels of cancer fighting phytonutrients found only in plants. These substances are antioxidants and help protect the body from potent free radical toxins. Free radicals attack all cells of the body and can cause them to mutate into cancer cells. The best sources include highly coloured fruits and vegetables particularly pomegranates, blueberries and goji berries. The ever popular green tea is also an antioxidant powerhouse.
Suzanne Laurie is a Nutritional Therapist and Director of Studies at the Institute of Health Sciences (IHS). IHS run industry recognised and accredited nutrition training courses from general interest to full practitioner training level.
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