Eat Right to Stay Healthy

- February 9, 2012

'' 'We should optimally survive on vegetables that are bright and colorful, and you should have a couple of platefuls of beautiful, fresh vegetables every day' "

A steady diet of processed food, junk food, fast food  and soda makes you fatigued, depressed, obese and even downright sick. These foods cause weight gain, heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol and other serious health problems.

It's easy to change your diet by substituting foods loaded with chemicals, sugar and calories with fresh fruit and vegetables, wild seafood and other foods known as superfoods because they're loaded with antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, amino acids and other beneficial ingredients.

"We should optimally survive on vegetables that are bright and colorful, and you should have a couple of platefuls of beautiful, fresh vegetables every day," says Dr. Russ Canfield, a board-certified family physician who practices integrative medicine in Santa Fe at 360 Medicine, www.360medicine.com. (Full disclosure: he's my family physician) "If your food is bright and colorful, and it's not an M&M, it must be good for you."

Canfield's patients experience dramatic shifts in just a few weeks after switching to a diet of colorful, whole foods that are largely organic. "And we see profound shifts in a matter of months," he says. "There are centers that devote themselves to this, such as the Tree of Life Rejuvenation Center in Arizona, treeoflife.nu, which offers detoxification programs and  a program to reverse diabetes and often get off your diabetes medicine in 30 days."

In the last three decades, physicians and other health care providers have advocated a low fat diet. "But if we look at what's happened to the standard American diet in the last 30 years, the amount of saturated fat in a typical person's diet has gone down," Canfield says. "But now, instead of healthy saturated fats, people are eating massive amounts of high fructose corn syrup—the cheapest thing out there. High fructose corn syrup tends to be in everything and it's causing major medical problems. Despite doctors' good intentions, we are, as a group, partially to blame for the fact that America has this epidemic of obesity, metabolic syndrome and diabetes. The way to undo that is to eat colorful, whole organic foods, or superfoods. They are critical."

Not only are these fast, processed foods full of chemicals and sugars that are toxic for your body, they also play havoc with your mental health. "These toxic foods are dumbing us down, and they are a huge factor in the epidemic of mental health problems, from depression to hyperactivity and even autism," Canfield says. "Without adequate minerals, amino acids, essential fats and antioxidants that we get from healthy foods, our brains simply do not develop normally and our nervous system shifts way out of balance."

Here are some of the superfoods readily available at your local grocery store and farmers market. Most of these should be familiar and easy to prepare. Many of them can be eaten raw. Keep them on hand for meals and snacks and make them a regular part of your diet.

Acai berries come from the acai palm tree and are loaded with antioxidants that protect cells from oxidative stress caused by free radicals, which are harmful byproducts produced by our bodies. These antioxidants, known as anthocyanins and flavonoids, quench free radicals, slowing the body's aging process, and protect against cancer, heart disease and other health hazards.

Almonds are loaded with calcium, magnesium, fiber, omega-3 fatty acids and protein, which stabilizes blood sugar and helps rid the body of toxins. And because almonds and other nuts contain fiber and healthy fats, they fill you up quickly, aiding with weight loss.

Avocados lower your cholesterol and detox chemicals from your liver. They also contain glutathione, a nutrient that can block at least 30 carcinogens.

Beets contain phytochemicals and minerals that protect against infection and cleanse your liver by promoting bile flow, allowing for healthy detoxification. Beets also stabilize the blood's acid-alkaline balance, or pH, purifying your blood.

Blueberries are one of your best sources of antioxidants. They're packed with elagic acid, which lowers your risk of cancer, and tannins, which prevent urinary tract infections and promote healthy brains and vision. Blueberries contain a natural aspirin that reduces pain and decreases tissue damage caused by chronic inflammation. They're also loaded with fiber and vitamin C.

Broccoli is another mighty superfood. This cruciferous vegetable is loaded with folate, fiber, bone-building calcium, vitamins C, B, D, E and A and antioxidants that keep breast and prostate cancer at bay. Adding broccoli to your diet can lower cholesterol, detox estrogenic chemicals from your body, reduce inflammation and decrease reactions to allergic substances. Broccoli can also prevent heart disease and birth defects.

Cabbage can soothe your stomach and cleanse your digestive tract as well as detox your body, neutralizing cigarette smoke's damaging compounds. This cruciferous vegetable is packed with antioxidants and anti-cancer compounds and aids your liver in producing enzymes for detoxification.

Cacao has more antioxidants than any other plant food, protecting against free-radical damage. It's also loaded with iron, magnesium, zinc, fiber and healthy fats. Cacao also is a good source of anandamide, a chemical that induces a feeling of bliss.

Cherries are the most potent weapon against arthritis, inflammation and gout. Eaten daily, cherries control  your uric acid levels, preventing gout. They contain anthocyanins, which reduce inflammation and eliminate pain and swelling

Cranberries are full of potent antiviral and antibiotic substances that aid the body in removing viruses and unhealthy bacteria from your urinary tract.

Flaxseed oil and flaxseeds contain omega-3s, essential fatty acids that support the body's immune system and brain as well as aid with cleansing.

Garlic is a powerful food that lowers blood pressure, removes build-up in the arteries and rids mucous from lungs and sinuses. Garlic also removes harmful bacteria, viruses and intestinal parasites. Be sure that you eat fresh garlic, as garlic powder does not offer nearly the same benefits.

Goji berries, also known as wolfberries, contain antioxidants that ward off cancer and heart disease, boost your immune system and lower cholesterol. These berries are also high in vitamin A, which offers anti-aging benefits and protects your vision. Early studies indicate that goji berry juice could increase your mental well-being, happiness, calmness, sleep quality and athletic performance. However, if you take warfarin (a blood thinner) or medicine for diabetes and blood pressure, avoid goji berries, as they may interact negatively with these drugs.

Kale is an extremely phytonutrient-dense food, full of antixodants and cancer-fighting compounds, which rid your body of toxins. It also contains fiber, which helps keep your intestinal tract healthy.

Legumes (beans, lentils and peas) are a great source of vegetable protein. Black beans, one of the darkest of the legumes, are particularly nutrient dense. Legumes fight cholesterol and cancer, clean your intestines and stabilize blood sugar levels.

Lemons are high in vitamin C, which helps your body create glutathione to fight the effects of pollution and cellular damage while protecting against cancer. Lemons also contain disease-fighting antioxidants and balance your pH levels.

Onions pack a powerful punch full of chemical compounds such as sulfur, phenols and flavonoids, which prevent cancer, inflammation, high cholesterol and osteoporosis.

Pomegranates and pomegranate juice are high in antioxidants and phytochemicals that reduce your risk for heart disease, lower cholesterol and blood pressure and protect against cancer, Alzheimer's Disease and even dental plaque. Pomegranates also promote anti-aging properties.

Wild Alaskan Salmon is full of healthy omega-3s, which lower your risk of cardiovascular disease, keep your brain healthy and reduce inflammation. Salmon also contains bioactive peptides, molecules that support joint cartilage and insulin effectiveness and keep inflammation in the digestive tract under control. Wild Alaskan salmon is packed with vitamin D and healthy protein. Be sure to eat only wild Alaskan salmon, as farmed salmon is full of chemicals and antibiotics, is often genetically modified and lacks omega-3s.

Seaweed is amazingly powerful, binding to heavy metals and radioactive waste in order to eliminate them from your body. Seaweed also is brimming with health-inducing minerals, including iodine.

Spinach is full of beneficial fiber and cancer-fighting flavonoids. These leafy greens also contain vitamins C and E and other antioxidants that protect against osteoporosis, high blood pressure, inflammation, macular degeneration and infection. The high amount of vitamin A in spinach can keep your skin moist and protect against wrinkles, acne and psoriasis, while vitamin K supports the brain and nervous system.