How many of these healthy foods are in your diet?

Image of several healthy food options

There are many foods you could be eating to enhance your overall health and well-being. We will not go into every one of them, but here are a few that you should try to include in your daily diet. You’ll see some significant improvements in your health over time if you incorporate even a few of these into your regular routine.

Flaxseed

Flaxseed is a wonderful vegetarian source of omega-3 fatty acids, and is the richest food source of a substance called lignans—compounds that give flax its cancer-fighting ability. Once ingested, plant lignans can be converted by your intestinal bacteria into mammalian lignans, which have a chemical structure that blocks estrogen activity. Soy and the anticancer drug tamoxifen work in much the same way.

Flaxseed can make other contributions to your health. It’s beneficial in the treatment of high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol and triglycerides, and atherosclerosis (clogging of the arteries). Flaxseed has also been one of the premier constipation treatments for centuries.

Whole flaxseeds are inexpensive, and grinding them is the best way to enjoy all the benefits of flax because if the seeds aren’t crushed, ground, or broken, they will pass straight through your system intact. Grind the seeds just prior to using them. Finally, because of flaxseeds’ gum-like quality, be sure to drink plenty of water with your ground flax.

Raw Nuts

Nuts are one of nature’s best-kept secrets. Research has shown over and over that simply by eating nuts, you can improve your cholesterol and triglyceride levels, significantly reduce your risk of heart disease, and lose weight. Many of their benefits come from their rich essential fatty acid (EFA) content, particularly the omega-6 fatty acids and the omega-9 monounsaturated fatty acids.

Another benefit of whole nuts is that they release oils in a way that makes them behave differently than oils that have been extracted. When whole nuts are consumed, the oil from the nut enters the bloodstream more slowly, peaks about an hour later, and is rapidly flushed out of the bloodstream. This beneficial characteristic is important, because the longer digested fat circulates in the bloodstream, the greater the risk of developing heart disease. Nuts are like “time release” pills of beneficial fatty acids, which helps explain how adding nuts to your regular diet can help lower cholesterol levels.

Nuts are also one of the best sources for natural vitamin E, and a relatively good source for minerals like magnesium and potassium. They also contain the amino acid arginine, which the body uses to make nitric oxide. Nitric oxide improves blood flow to the heart muscle in times of low oxygen levels and also acts as a powerful antioxidant.

Stock up on healthy raw nuts like walnuts, pecans, almonds, hazelnuts, and Brazil nuts. To obtain good results, you need roughly 3 ounces of nuts a day—though less can still be helpful. A handful weighs roughly 1 ounce. Make sure you are also getting adequate amounts of omega-3 in the form of fresh-ground flaxseed or fish oil each day to counterbalance the omega-6 fats in the nuts. The ideal balance of omega-6s to omega-3s is around 3:1 or 4:1.

Sulfur-Containing Foods

Sulfur has strong antimicrobial and antioxidant properties. Winemakers use it to selectively rid wines of certain bacteria, and at the turn of the 20th century, mothers used a little sulfur and molasses each spring as the standard tonic. It was also used as a laxative, and as a remedy for a long list of health problems. But with the arrival of prescription medications, the use of plain elemental sulfur for human complaints took a back seat.

Your body requires 850 mg of sulfur each day for normal activities. Most of the intake comes from the amino acids cysteine, cystine, taurine, and methionine. L-cysteine is a very effective antioxidant, and like taurine and methionine, much of its strength appears to be related to its sulfur content.

Egg yolks are probably one of the best food sources of sulfur, and if you still eat eggs (and I hope you do; they’re close to being the perfect food), two a day will provide enough sulfur for your body’s needs.

Green Tea

Green tea leaves are processed with either steam or dry heat, and are not allowed to ferment. Black tea, on the other hand, undergoes fermentation to strengthen its flavor. Fermentation destroys practically all of the epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), the substance in green tea that gives it so many of its health benefits.

EGCG has insulin-enhancing properties—and the more efficient insulin is, the less your pancreas has to produce. EGCG also has anticancer and fat-burning properties. Studies have shown that green tea can help treat and prevent a number of health conditions, including acne, prostate enlargement, reproductive and other various cancers, and osteoarthritis. Drinking green tea has also been found to boost your immune system so it is better prepared to fight off infections.

By the way, don’t add milk, non-dairy creamer, or soy milk to your tea, because they lessen the insulin-enhancing effect of EGCG. Lemon juice is okay.

Healthy Oils

I’m always asked what are the best oils to use for eating and cooking.

The use of olive oil in a dip or dressing certainly isn’t a problem. Any possible problems that arise stem from the chemical changes that take place when the oil is heated. That’s when harmful trans fatty acids are formed.

Based on the research I’ve seen, brief pan-frying is fine when you use olive oil, butter, coconut oil, or lard. (As I’ve stated before, I love coconut oil and eat a tablespoon or two every day, but the taste it imparts when used to cook food becomes a little too much for my preference.) I try to steer clear of the polyunsaturated oils (the vegetable oils) and deep-frying (except for those very rare occasions when we make fried shrimp…using peanut oil, which I think is one of the safer oils for deep frying). I wouldn’t recommend using the other nut oils for high-heat cooking, but rather to add flavor to cooked dishes, salads, dips, et cetera.

If there’s one thing to remember, it should be that there’s no one oil that’s perfect for every use. I’d recommend keeping one oil with a higher smoke point on hand for cooking, and let taste and health benefits guide you to an oil for making dressings or other non-heat uses around the kitchen.

It’s worth noting, too, that shorter cooking times and lower temperatures result in fewer toxic byproducts and less rancidity. Also, once oil has been heated, its smoke point drops—and with each use the amount of accumulated trans fatty acids, free radicals, and other byproducts increases. This is one of the reasons frying oils from restaurants and fried-food outlets are a problem.

 

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