The Benefits of Superfoods

Have you had the opportunity to taste the fresh strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, arugula, radishes, Swiss chard, beets, cherries, apricots, broccoli, red bell peppers and other brightly colored fruits and vegetables from this season?  Many of these foods are known as “Superfoods,” as they contain high levels of phytochemicals that have been studied for preventing diseases such as cancer, heart disease and diabetes.

Some top “superfoods” include berries, such as blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, cranberries, and elderberries, which are all high in antioxidants that may protect the heart and help improve the functioning of blood vessels. For instance, blackberries have been widely studied for their protection against cancer by aiding in DNA repair and reducing the stress response, among other biological processes. Berries are great blended into smoothies, stirred into yogurt, or enjoyed as a dessert in a warm cobbler or compote.

Beans and legumes, including chickpeas, lentils, black beans, pinto and kidney beans, are all high in fiber, which help lower cholesterol levels, as well as improve blood glucose levels. Beans are versatile and can be used to thicken soups when pureed, made into hummus for an afternoon snack with crudités, or added to vegetable soups to increase the protein and fiber content of the dish.

Pistachios, cashews, walnuts, pecans, hazelnuts, almonds, pumpkin, sunflower, and flax seeds, among others have many phytochemicals that are protective to the heart by improving blood pressure regulation and cholesterol levels. In addition, they are high in many nutrients including zinc, magnesium, vitamin E, copper, potassium, iron, vitamin B6, fiber, and selenium (mainly Brazil nuts). These can be tossed into salads in place of croutons to add texture and flavor, added into baked goods such as muffins or quick breads, or as a trail mix for a mid-afternoon snack.

Broccoli contains a compound known as sulforaphane, which has been studied for its cancer protective effect, along with inhibiting bacteria that may lead to stomach ulcers. Other vegetables and leafy greens including kale, cauliflower, Swiss chard, beet greens, collard greens, cabbage, red bell peppers, eggplant, watercress, spinach, and tomatoes have many phytochemicals that may be cancer protective and improve heart health. Enjoy these vegetables chopped up and added into a salad with your favorite dressing or lightly sautéed over low heat to retain many of the nutrients.

In addition to these foods, there are many other “superfoods” including garlic, onions, scallions, plums, peaches, pineapple, pomegranates, green tea, mushrooms, and dark chocolate that may help to lower blood pressure, improve blood flow, and reduce inflammation. When choosing your meal, opt for vibrant, brightly colored fruits or vegetables to your dish to take advantage of all the nutrients available in these foods.

Dirty Dozen List

When I first started this blog, I wrote about the difference between organic and conventional. How does one know whether to buy organic or conventional produce? What’s the difference between the two? I listed out the best foods to buy organic as they are heavily contaminated with pesticide levels while also listing the foods least contaminated with pesticides.

Well, the Environmental Working Group or EWG recently updated its dirty dozen list naming the top 12 contaminated foods with pesticides, herbicides, etc. By using an analysis of 51,000 tests for pesticide use, the EWG determines the pesticide contamination for 53 popular fruits and vegetables. In addition, these tests are conducted after the produce has been peeled or rinsed. For more information on how the methodology of the testing of the produce visit http://www.ewg.org/foodnews/methodology/.

The top 3 foods with the highest pesticide contamination levels are apples, celery, and strawberries while the cleanest 3 are onions, corn, and pineapples. For a complete list and your own shopper’s guide for your fridge or wallet, visit http://www.ewg.org/foodnews/. In addition, here’s an article discussing pesticide use on the world’s largest strawberry supply, which comes from California. http://www.rodale.com/strawberry-pesticide?cm_mmc=DailyNewsNL-_-645744-_-07212011-_-Top5

Summer Berries

Summer is in full swing…the sun is shining brightly, the sky is a beautiful blue (well, at least several days throughout the week), and the farmer’s market’s are abundant with fresh produce, fruit, and colorful berries.

On Sundays, I have the pleasure to browse a nearby farmer’s market for fresh fruits & veggies for the week and am always amazed at the wonderful choices and varieties of food I have to choose from.  My mind starts churning quite fast with recipes in my head of what I can prepare when I see the beets, zucchini, snap peas, tomatoes, or salad blends. Oh, and the brightly colored fruit, I can already taste a cobbler when I look at the raspberries, blackberries, strawberries, blueberries, and rhubarb.  A little blend of flours to make a biscuit like topping, a combination of fruits heated up on the stove with a bit of tartness from lemons and a cobbler is in the making.

Here is a wonderful gluten free “Berrylicious Cobbler” recipe I received after assisting a cooking class with Tiffany Pollard (a PCC cooks instructor). I hope you enjoy it as much as I do!

Filling:

  • 5 cups berries, apples and/or pears (rhubarb if you like it a bit more tart)
  • 1/3 cup  agave syrup
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 3 to 4 tablespoons arrowroot powder (or kudzu mixed with a tiny bit of water)

Topping:

  • 1 cup gluten free flour (1/3 coconut flour & 2/3 brown rice flour)
  • 1/2 cup almond meal OR gluten free oats
  • 1/4 cup agave syrup
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3 tablespoons organic butter, ghee, or coconut oil
  • 3 tablespoons milk (unsweetened hemp or soy milk works great)
  • 1 beaten egg

Preheat oven to 375. In medium saucepan, heat fruit, agave, lemon juice, & arrowroot powder. Cook until it gets thick (about 10 minutes).

In a mixing bowl, combine the flours, almond meal, agave, baking powder, and salt. Cut in butter until you have small pebble-size bits of butter.

In a small bowl, whisk together milk and egg. Add to the flour mixture and mix.

Pour fruit mixture into an 8 by 8 inch baking dish. Then top the fruit with dollops of the topping mixture, or just crumble it over the top.

Bake 20 to 25 minutes until golden on top. Let cool at least 10 minutes.