Super Foods: Everyday Foods Packed with Nutrients (cont.)

Quinoa is now readily available in many supermarkets and is one of the best whole grains you can eat, according to Zied. "It is an ancient grain, easy to make, interesting, high in protein (8 grams in 1 cup cooked), fiber (5 grams per cup) and a naturally good source of iron," she says. Quinoa (pronounced keen-wa) also has plenty of zinc, vitamin E, and selenium to help control your weight and lower your risk for heart disease and diabetes, she says. Quinoa is as easy to prepare as rice and can be eaten alone or mixed with vegetables, nuts, or lean protein for a whole-grain medley. Try to make at least half your daily grain servings whole grains. In addition to quinoa, try barley, oats, buckwheat, whole wheat, wild rice, and millet.

Beans, beans, good for your heart -- really! Beans are loaded with insoluble fiber, which helps lower cholesterol, as well as soluble fiber, which fills you up and helps rid your body of waste. They're also a good, low-fat source of protein, carbohydrates, magnesium, and potassium. Bauer favors edamame (whole soybeans) because they also contain heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Beans can easily substitute for meat or poultry as the centerpiece of a meal, says Bauer, but they also work as a side dish, or tossed into soups, stews, or egg dishes. The U.S. Dietary Guidelines recommend 3 cups weekly.

Salmon is a super food because of its omega-3 fatty acid content. Studies show that omega-3 fatty acids help protect heart health. That's why the American Heart Association recommends eating fatty fish like salmon twice weekly. Salmon is low in calories (200 for 3 ounces) has lots of protein, is a good source of iron, and is very low in saturated fat. You can simply grill or bake it, top it with salsas or other low-fat sauces, or serve it on top of salad greens. If you don't like salmon, Lichtenstein recommends eating other kinds of fish, like canned tuna. And what about the mercury content? (Mercury is known to accumulate in fish.) "The benefits of eating salmon or other fatty fish twice weekly far outweigh any risks, but if you are concerned, check with your doctor," says Zied.

Broccoli is one of America's favorite vegetables because it tastes good and is available all year long. It's a rich source of vitamin A, vitamin C, and bone-building vitamin K, and has plenty of fiber to fill you up and help control your weight. "Some people think beta-carotene (vitamin A) is only found in orange and yellow vegetables, but broccoli is an excellent source," says Ward. You can eat broccoli raw, lightly steamed, stir-fried, roasted, or grilled. Eat it as a side dish, or toss into grains, egg dishes, soups, and salads.

Sweet potatoes are a delicious member of the dark orange vegetable family, which lead the pack in vitamin A content. Substitute a baked sweet potato (also loaded with vitamin C, calcium, and potassium) for a baked white potato. And before you add butter or sugar, taste the sweetness that develops when a sweet potato is cooked -- and think of all the calories you can save over that loaded baked potato. "If we eat more foods like sweet potatoes that are rich sources of potassium, and fewer high-sodium foods, we can blunt the effect of sodium on blood pressure and reduce bone loss," says Zied. Other dark orange vegetable standouts include pumpkin, carrots, butternut squash, and orange bell peppers.

Berries pack an incredible amount of nutritional goodness into a small package. They're loaded with antioxidants, phytonutrients, low in calories, and high in water and fiber to help control blood sugar and keep you full longer. And their flavors satisfy sweets cravings for a fraction of the calories in baked goods. Blueberries lead the pack because they are among the best source of antioxidants and are widely available. Cranberries are also widely available fresh, frozen, or dried. All can add flavor and nutrition to numerous dishes, from salads and cereals to baked goods and yogurt.

Published November 19, 2007.


SOURCES: Robert P. Heaney, MD, John A. Creighton University Professor, Creighton University. Joy Bauer, MS, RD, author, Joy Bauer's Food Cures; nutritionist, the Today Show. Elizabeth Ward, MS, RD, author, The Pocket Idiot's Guide to the New Food Pyramid. Elisa Zied, MS, RD, spokeswoman, American Dietetic Association; author, Feed Your Family Right! U.S. Department of Agriculture's 2005 U.S. Dietary Guidelines. Alice Lichtenstein, DSc, Stanley N. Gershoff Professor of Nutrition Science and Policy, Friedman School of Nutrition Science, Tufts University. Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition, June 2002; vol 11, issue 2: pp164-168.

©2007 WebMD Inc. All rights reserved.