Holiday Feast of Super Foods

Crudités tray of fresh veggies with yogurt dip
Roast turkey
Apple-raisin dressing of whole grain bread and bulgur
Mashed sweet potatoes sprinkled with walnuts & flaxseed margarine
Roasted butternut squash, onions, & turnips
Broccoli al dente with fresh lemon
Cranberry relish
Pumpkin pie (or pudding) topped with pecans

Although holidays are traditionally times of feasting and overindulgence, this year you can at least overindulge in healthy foods. The menu we have put together features the very best of superfoods, yet clings to the traditions we all cherish. Maybe those Pilgrims knew what they were doing, so many years ago.

For munchies ahead of time to calm your appetite, the super food to serve is a crudités tray of colorful fresh vegetables with yogurt dip. Cherry tomatoes, carrots, and red and green bell pepper strips are all loaded with vitamins but low in calories and fat. The yogurt dip has more protein and less fat than dips based on mayonnaise or sour cream.

The foundation of our feast is the time-honored roast turkey. Although talking about nutrition seems a bit pointless as we gorge ourselves at such meals, turkey is a good source of niacin, vitamin B6, phosphorus, and zinc, and a very good source of protein and selenium. It’s relatively low in calories and fat, especially if you pass up the opportunity to eat the crispy skin it develops as it roasts.

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Avocado – Super Food for May 2012

Ah, avocado! Not so long ago, people living outside the Sun Belt knew little about avocados. They might have been available in the grocery stores, but the quality left much to be desired. Many shoppers looked at them and thought, “Ee-ewww!” But that has changed today. Rapid transport and commercial growers have found quicker ways to get them to market and fans have reacted positively to the opportunity to make their own guacamole at home.

Guacamole is almost certainly the most common way to consume this creamy, delicious super-food. About half a cup of avocado chunks, one small fruit or perhaps what you might eat in a feast of chips and guacamole, has a surprising 5 grams of fiber, about 20% of your daily needs. Most creamy foods don’t have nearly that much fiber.

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Beans and Lentils – Super Foods for April 2012

I guess I could just say “legumes” instead of beans and lentils, because black-eyed peas fall into the superfood category, as well. However you refer to them, beans qualify as a superfood based on their high protein, high fiber, and easy fit in the family budget. Beans are probably best known for their fiber—and its side effects. Beans are loaded with insoluble fiber, which helps manage blood sugar and lower cholesterol, as well as soluble fiber, which fills you up and helps rid your body of waste. A serving of 100 grams, or just a smidge over a half cup, provides 9 grams of fiber, about a third of your daily requirement.

Black beans and kidney beans are among the most nutritious of beans because of their dark colors. Other varieties have a tad more or less fiber, iron, or other nutrients, but they are all within a close range. Beans have an enviable 9 grams of protein in that half-cup serving and they make an excellent substitute for meat. With physicians and dieticians increasingly warning us of the health risks of eating too much red meat, beans and lentils are ideal substitutes. When mixed with rice or other grains, beans form a complete protein with all the amino acids your body needs.

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Spinach – Super Food for March 2012

Spinach used to get a bad rap with children, but back then, moms often cooked it to death and then served it with bitter vinegar. Today, spinach appears in homes more often as fresh, tender leaves served raw in salads or briefly sautéed with other veggies in stir-fries. A salad of about three cups of young spinach is a treasure of nutrition, with six times your required vitamin K for the day, to help build strong bones and healthy blood. Spinach additionally has twice your vitamin A and almost half of your vitamin C and folate, a powerful B vitamin that helps prevent birth defects, heart disease, colon cancer, and dementia.

Lutein is a compound that fights cataracts and macular degeneration, a leading cause of blindness as people age, and that spinach salad is packed with over 12,000 micrograms of it, as well as a bit of protein and 3 grams of fiber. In fact, the attributes of spinach sound like a laundry list of nutrients: spinach is a very good source of dietary fiber, protein, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin K, thiamin, riboflavin, vitamin B6, folate, calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, copper, and manganese. Popeye knew what he was talking about!

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Kiwifruit – Super Food for February 2012

This unassuming fuzzy fruit, named for the kiwi bird of New Zealand, is a surprise as the most nutrient-dense fruit. Just one large kiwi, peeled, has as much potassium, which may help control blood pressure, as a small banana (about 10% of your daily needs) and as much vitamin C, important for a healthy immune system, as an orange, about 1½ times your daily needs. A kiwifruit has about three grams of fiber, 10% of your fiber for a day, and triple that if you eat the skin, which is completely edible. Many people are put off by the stickery fuzz, but you can use a soft brush to scrub that off if you find it objectionable.

Kiwis contain no cholesterol or saturated fat and have about half your recommended vitamin K, all for 56 calories, about 2/3 of the calories of an equal size banana. The surprising nutrient in kiwifruit is the powerful antioxidant vitamin E, and kiwi is just about the only nonfat source of that vitamin. A large kiwi has 7% of your vitamin E for a day, a real nutrition bonus. Kiwi are also a good source of copper and they’re rich in lutein, a carotenoid essential for vision health that can also help reduce the risk of heart disease.

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Yogurt – Super Food for January 2012

January is the time for New Year’s resolutions, and on top of almost everyone’s list is to lose weight. To lose weight and keep it off, you need a plan, and yogurt should be a part of that plan. The yogurt we’re talking about here is plain, lowfat yogurt. Yogurt comes in a huge number of varieties, including sweetened with lots of fruit, artificially sweetened with some fruit, thick and creamy Greek style, nonfat, full fat, and endless numbers of flavors. But for simplicity, we’re going to stick with the basics.

An 8-oz. serving of yogurt has 154 calories, so it’s not calorie-free, but that serving is packed with nutrition. It provides you with 13 grams of protein, over a quarter of your needs for a day, which makes it a very filling food that stays with you. You also get nearly half your recommended calcium—great for women—and about a third each of your recommended riboflavin and phosphorous. Each cup provides over 20% of your vitamin B12 and about 15% each of potassium and zinc.

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Mixed Nuts – Super Food for December 2011

Late fall is the time stores fill bins to overflowing with piles of mixed nuts: walnuts, pecans, hazelnuts (filberts), almonds, and brazil nuts. It’s the right time to stock up on these crunchy treats for holiday snacking. A handful of nuts, about a quarter cup, satisfies the desire for a munchy snack and provides a nutrition bonus you won’t find in any bag of salty chips. Their high protein content (about 10% of your daily needs in that quarter cup) fills you up more quickly than a handful of most any other snack, and by cracking your own shells, you eat fewer and avoid the landmine of salt in chips or jarred nuts. If you don’t want to shell your own nuts, purchase them in the baking aisle of your store, not the snack aisle, to avoid the salt and other additives. We’ll give you a quick rundown on the nutrition in the varieties.

Walnuts: This traditional favorite is what many people think of first when they think about in-shell nuts. They are large, easy to crack, and come out in big, satisfying pieces. Walnuts are a great source of manganese, providing half of what you need each day in a quarter cup, and they have a quarter of the copper you need. They are rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, with over 2500 mg in a handful. You still have to be careful snacking, though, because that handful also contains over a quarter of your recommended fat for a day.

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