Eight Healthy Foods for 2012 Print
Written by Dee McCaffrey, CDC   
Sunday, January 01, 2012

If you're making a commitment to eat more healthfully in 2012, you'll want to know about some of the top foods that will help you achieve your goal.  From reducing cancer risk and heart disease, to aiding in weight loss and boosting your immune system, incorporating the following foods into your meals this year can help you live a longer, healthier and happier life.

Parsley
You should think of parsley as a vegetable and eat it often.  Parsley contains two classes of unusual components that provide unique health benefits. The first type are volatile oil components and the second type are antioxidants called flavonoids.  Parsley's volatile oils - particularly one called myristicin - have been shown to inhibit tumor formation in animal studies, and particularly, tumor formation in the lungs. Myristicin has also been shown to activate glutathione, the powerfully helpful compound involved in liver detoxification. The activity of parsley's volatile oils qualifies it as a "chemoprotective" food, and in particular, a food that can help neutralize particular types of carcinogens (especially those found in cigarette smoke and charcoal grill smoke). Parsley's volatile oils are also what gives it its legendary ability to freshen your breath at the end of your meal.

The flavonoids in parsley are strong antioxidants that protect against free radical damage to the cells. In addition to its volatile oils and flavonoids, parsley is an excellent source of two other antioxidant nutrients, vitamin A and vitamin C, that are also important for the prevention of many diseases, including lowering the risk of heart disease and stroke, and alleviating rheumatoid arthritis.

Enjoy raw parsley sprigs added to salads or soups, or sprinkle chopped parsley on top of scrambled eggs. Toss it into rice or quinoa, and use dried parsley in recipes.

Chia Seeds
These tiny brown seeds are packed with omega 3 fatty acids, great for maintaining healthy energy levels. They are also said to help lower blood pressure and the risk of inflammation, as well as helping slow down premature ageing by reducing the risk of free-radical damage to the skin.

Sprinkle Chia seeds on salads, include them in your dipping sauces or salad dressings, throw them in stews or heat them up until they go soft and gel-like and then use as a spread for sandwiches or include in baking recipes.

Raw Cacao and Dark Chocolate
Raw cacao is the number one antioxidant food in the world: thirty times higher than red wine and twenty times higher than green tea. It provides good amounts of magnesium, chromium, and iron, which are the top three mineral deficiencies in the United States. It is also extraordinarily high in vitamin C, and is one of the best sources of natural fiber.

An immense amount of research has demonstrated that the antioxidants in raw and dark chocolate can prevent heart disease, reduce blood pressure, enhance brain function, lift depression, improve blood sugar levels, ease chronic fatigue syndrome, suppress coughs, and more.

 

The form of cacao with the highest antioxidant power is raw cacao powder.  Blend it into smoothies or drink as hot cocoa. Next best is raw cacao nibs. These can be added to yogurt or smoothies. They also work great as an alternative to chocolate chips in trail mix or cookies.  Unsweetened cocoa powder and unsweetened baking chocolate also have high amounts of polyphenols, as does dark chocolate that has at least 80 percent cacao content and not more than 6 grams of sugar per serving.

 

Avocadoes
Avocadoes contain the vitamins and minerals of green vegetables, the protein of meat, and provide one of the healthiest forms of beneficial fat. One medium size avocado contains a whopping 15 grams of fiber, making it one of the most fiber-rich fruits on the planet.

Avocadoes are high in fat, but it's the good kind of heart healthy monounsaturated fat, which helps to lower bad (LDL) cholesterol. Avocadoes are also high in beta-sitosterol, a phytochemical that reduces the amount of cholesterol absorbed from foods. The fat and fiber in avocadoes also helps you lose weight. Add avocadoes to sandwiches, salads, smoothies, or mash up an use as an alternative to mayonnaise.

Asparagus
Known for its use in the treatment of arthritis and rheumatism, as well as its cancer-fighting abilities, asparagus is also a very powerful detoxifying vegetable.  Asparagus contains high concentrations of a compound called asparagine. This compound quickly cleanses the body of toxins, leaving asparagine's distinct odorous residue in the urine.  For this reason, it was once thought that asparagus itself was toxic, but we now know that when the urine smells funny, the vegetable is doing its job well!

 

Raw or cooked asparagus can be added to soups, stir-fries, scrambled eggs, omelets, and casseroles.  It can also be tossed into pasta or rice, and makes a great pizza topping.

 

Legumes (beans, peas, lentils)
One of the more interesting nutritional qualities legumes have is their high amount of a special type of carbohydrate called "resistant starch." A "resistant starch" is so named because it resists the enzymes that normally break down starches during digestion, allowing it to move all the way down to the large intestine without being digested.  Once it arrives in the large intestine, probiotics (good bacteria) feed on the starch and produce a compound called butyrate which has been shown to prevent colon cancer. 

But there is another interesting effect of resistant starch that is important for those who want to lose weight. Resistant starch reverses the order in which the body typically burns food for energy.  Usually when you eat a meal that contains carbohydrates and fat, the carbohydrates are burned for energy first, and the fats get stored for energy later (typically on our butt, hips and thighs!).  But because resistant starch doesn't get digested until it gets to the colon, the fat gets burned for energy first, before it has a chance to be stored. Because of this digestive anomaly, eating foods that contain the highest amount of resistant starch will help your body resist the accumulation of fat. Research shows that just by eating one meal a day containing resistant starch, a person can burn 20 to 25 percent more fat, and this increase is sustained throughout the day: even if only one meal contains resistant starch.  Also, this fat burning effect is sustained as long as you keep eating foods containing resistant starch on a daily basis.

 

Classic meals such as beans and rice, a bean burrito or taco in a whole wheat or corn tortilla, split pea or lentil soup, bean dips (hummus), hearty mixed-bean chili, and bean salads are great ways to enjoy legumes.

 

Cruciferous Vegetables
This special family of vegetables consists of  cabbages, broccoli, bok choy, cauliflower, collards, kale mustard greens, radishes, rutabega, turnips, and Brussels sprouts.  These vegetables, alternatively called the "Brassica" family, contain multiple nutrients and phytonutrients that are essential in helping to burn fat, especially the dreaded belly fat. 

The cruciferous vegetables contain more phytochemicals with impressive and powerful anticancer properties than any other vegetable family.  These vegetables are also high in fiber, making them a serious nutritional weapon against high cholesterol and colon cancer.

Carrots
Carrots provide the highest amount of vitamin A than any of the other vegetables.  Two carrots provide roughly 4,050 RE (retinol equivalents), or roughly four times the recommended daily allowance of vitamin A.  In a study of 1,300 elderly Massachusetts residents, those who had at least one serving of carrots each day had a 60 percent reduction in their risk of heart attacks compared to those who ate less than one serving of these carotene-rich foods each day. Extensive studies suggest that a diet including as little as one carrot per day could conceivably cut the rate of lung cancer in half. In addition to cancer and heart disease, diets rich in beta carotene also appear to offer protection against developing type 2 diabetes.

Carrots are wonderful either raw or lightly cooked, and make a great addition to muffins, salads and soups.