Nearly all fruits and vegetables are good for the body, and research has proven that the more servings of fresh fruits and vegetables per day, the lower the risk for cardiovascular disease. One of the largest studies done on nutrition in health was Harvard’s Nurses’ Health Study. After following 110,000 people for 14 years, the study found “those who averaged eight or more servings per day were 30 percent less likely to have had a heart attack or stroke” (Bowden, 2007, p. 255). While any whole, live food is recommended, some foods stand out as especially nutrient rich and anti-carcinogenic.
The Top 10 lists of the nutritional experts in Jonny Bowden’s “The 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth” had many similar entries. Some foods, such as blueberries, broccoli, and spinach were almost unanimously chosen by all. The other common denominator amongst most choices are foods common in the diet and widely known to be healthy. In choosing my own top ten list, I had two main criteria that differed from those of the experts: First, foods that are convenient to snack on; second, to shed light on the unusual foods that people may never think to eat. It is well known that broccoli and spinach are extremely healthy foods--but how many know that dandelion greens are “nature’s richest green-vegetable source of beta carotene” (Bowden, 2007, p. 37); or that a medium jicama has three times the amount of fiber that most Americans eat in a day (Bowden, 2007, p. 45). Instead of listing foods common to people’s shopping lists, I wanted to pick out the nutritional powerhouses that are often overlooked at the grocery store.
My first choice is dandelion greens. Not only are they delicious, versatile greens that can be eaten raw in salads or sauteed with garlic and olive oil, but they are also highly nutritious. Due to it’s cleansing and tonifying affect on the liver, dandelion is often used in cases of Hepatitis C. The inulin in dandelion, which helps balance blood sugar levels, can aid diabetics. Being a soluble fiber, inulin also assists in the absorption of calcium and magnesium which can help prevent osteoporosis. Nutritionally, dandelion is impressive; it is even listed on the USDA Bulletin #8 as one of the top four green vegetables (Bowden, 2007, p. 37). According to Bowden (2007), one cup of cooked dandelion greens contains 147 mg of calcium, 244 mg of potassium, 203 mg of vitamin K, 3 g of fiber, 10,000 IUs of vitamin A, and 4,944 mcg of lutein and zeaxanthin, carotenoids that prevent macular degeneration and cataracts (p. 37). The only precaution for dandelion is for people with gallstones, as dandelion increases production of bile and could aggravate the problem.
Another often overlooked vegetable is Jicama. It is an excellent source of fiber, extremely hydrating and a very low calorie food, making it an ideal snack for people with diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and obesity. Fiber has been shown to lower cholesterol, slow the absorption of sugar in the blood stream, and Bowden (2007) believes fiber is “the number-one supplement for weight loss” (p. 11). Jicama is refreshing and convenient to chop into spears and eat raw as a snack. Compared to high-fat, high calorie chips, jicama is 90% water, low calorie (49 calories per cup) and filling. Snacking on one medium jicama will provide you with vitamins, minerals and 32g of fiber (Bowden, 2007, p. 45).
Although commonly selected for making jack-o-lanterns instead of food, pumpkins are tremendously high in potassium and carotenoids. Potassium is great for controlling hypertension because it helps maintain the body’s water balance, keeps sodium levels in check and is alkalizing. Studies have shown that it can also decrease your risk of stroke and maintain healthy bone density (Bowden, 2007, p. 57). One cup of mashed pumpkin contains high levels of alpha and beta-carotenes (853 and 5,000 mcg), vitamin A (12,000 IU), lutein and zeaxanthin (2,400 mcg) and fiber (2.5 g). Pumpkin also contains beta-cryptoxanthin, a potent cartenoid, that studies have shown reduces the risk of lung cancer by 30 percent and rheumatoid arthritis by 41 percent (Bowden, 2007, p. 58). Pumpkin seeds are a great snack, rich in minerals and beta-sistoserol, which is beneficial for prostate hyperplasia.
Guava is a delicious, nutritious, antioxidant superstar. In a test of antioxidant power, guava outranked strawberries, spinach, and broccoli (Bowden, 2007, p. 118). Guavas are rich in lycopene, which protects against heart disease, prostate cancer, breast cancer and fights free radicals more than any other carotenoid (Bowden, 2007, p. 119). Guavas have more lycopene than any other fruit or vegetable, more potassium than bananas, more vitamin C than oranges and more fiber than apples. According to Bowden, one cup of guava provides 688 mg potassium, 376 mg of vitamin C, 9 g of fiber, 81 mcg of folate, 1,030 IUs of vitamin A and 617 mcg of beta-carotene (p. 120).
Grains can be a great source of vitamin E and fiber, but are hard to digest and through the processing of the germ, many of the nutrients are lost. Quinoa, however, is not processed like other grains and is a great high protein substitute for rice and similar grains used for side dishes, breakfast cereal or salads. Quinoa contains more protein and minerals than other grain and has been found by the Food Agriculture Organization to be nutritionally equivalent to dry whole milk (Bowden, 2007, p. 78). One half of a cup of quinoa contains an impressive 8 mg of iron and 5 g of fiber.
Fats are extremely important for the body, without which we could not survive. The type of fat we ingest, however, is the most important aspect. Bowden overwhelmingly emphasizes the importance of omega-3 fatty acids, monounsaturated fats and the healthy medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) in saturated fat. While most of the experts picked avocados as their source of healthy saturated fat, number six on my list is coconut oil. Aside from the fact that it is ideal for cooking due to it’s high smoke point, it is an incredibly beneficial oil, both internally and externally, with antimicrobial and antibacterial benefits. The MCTs in coconut oil, mainly lauric acid, are known to kill the viruses that cause pneumonia, sinusitis, UTI, meningistis, gonorrhea, PVD, and stomach ulcers (Bowden, 2007, p. 301). The important thing to remember when consuming coconut oil is to find unrefined, extra virgin coconut oil, and never hydrogenated or partially-hydrogenated oil which contains dangerous trans fats.
My next two choices have to do with thyroid support. To function properly, the thyroid needs selenium and iodine. Brazil nuts are one of the richest sources of selenium, which enables the thyroid to convert T4 (the inactive hormone) into T3 (the active hormone)(Bowden, 2007, p. 149). In addition to assisting the thyroid, selenium is also a potent antioxidant, anti-carcinogenic, eliminates toxic metals from the body, and improves sperm quality. A handful of Brazil nuts can provide 544 mcg of selenium, some calcium, fiber and healthy monounsaturated fats (Bowden, 2007, p. 150). Make sure your nuts have white flesh, as the high fat content easily turns them rancid, causing yellow flesh. If you have any nut allergies, proceed with caution.
Sea vegetables are a great supplement to thyroid health. The kelp family, in particular, is rich in iodine, another component of thyroid hormones T3 and T4. Iodine is essential for a properly functioning thyroid and these sea vegetables contain 100-500 times the amount of iodine found in shellfish (Bowden, 2007, p. 236). In addition to iodine, sea vegetables contain an abundance of calcium, iron, protein and trace minerals that are essential for growth and cell health. They can detoxify the body and prevent the absorption of heavy metals and environmental toxins like radiation. Steven Schecter, N.D. is quoted as stating: “There is no family of foods more protective against radiation and environmental pollutants than sea vegetables” (Bowden, 2007, p. 236).
Although unpopular in our culture, liver (calf or chicken) is one of the richest supplies of iron, protein and B vitamins than any other food. In fact, liver puree was used as the treatment for anemia and B12 deficiency before iron pills were manufactured. According to Bowden (2007), a 3 ounce portion of braised calf liver provides 100 percent of the RDA for vitamin A, B12, riboflavin, and copper; 93 percent of selenium; 55 percent of zinc; 50 percent of niacin and folate; 40 percent of thiamin and B6 and one third of the RDA for iron (p. 200). There are two precautions for ingesting liver. First, because the liver processes and stores toxins ingested by the animal, make sure you buy young, organic liver whenever possible. Secondly, pregnant women are advised to avoid liver due to it’s high content of vitamin A. However, Bowden (2007) points out that studies have shown dosages of 30,000 IUs per day posed no threat of birth defects (p. 200). One serving of liver provides slightly more vitamin A than two carrots (21,000 IUs). Therefore, an occasional serving of liver should be harmless for pregnant women, and is an excellent supplement for those with anemia.
My final choice had to include a great snack food that can provide precious, beneficial bacteria to the intestines. Our entire immune system and overall health depends on properly functioning intestines. Yogurt is one of the few food sources of probiotics that can maintain healthy flora in the intestines. The organisms in probiotics include bifidobacteria and Lactobacillus acidopholis, two of the most common strains found in yorgurt. These bacteria keep the balance of good and bad bacteria in check and are extremely important for people battling Candida overgrowth and ulcers from Heliobacter Pylori (Bowden, 2007, p. 183). Probiotics also help control inflammation and increase antibodies and Natural Killer cells. Yogurt also provides a good amount of protein, potassium, calcium, B vitamins and selenium. When choosing yogurt, pick the ones that contain “Live and Active Cultures” (or the LAC seal), not just “made with active cultures”, as the bacteria can easily be destroyed during processing (Bowden, 2007, p. 183). Most commercial yogurt is heavily sweetened. If you are diabetic or have a sensitivity to sugar, choose plain yogurt or a more natural brand made without sugar.
My selection of top ten foods covers a broad spectrum of essential nutrients while maintaining my prerequisites of convenience and uncommonality. I chose foods that provide well rounded nutrition from vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, fiber, protein, healthy fats and probiotics. I have also included foods that are anti-carcinogenic, anti-microbial and boost the immune system. If you were to incorporate all these foods into your diet at least once a week, your body would become healthier and more resilient.
Bowden, Johnny. (2007). The 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth. Beverly: Fair Winds Press.