Autumn's Super Foods
Summer, with its berries and veggie gardens, usually gets all the press when it comes to superfoods, but autumn has its fair share of nutritional gems, too. And, with the stress of holidays and cold weather upon us, these foods might just be the ticket for helping you stay calm and healthy. Elizabeth Somer, registered dietitian and author of Eat Your Way to Happiness, gave us the scoop!
Super Food #1: Pumpkin, Butternut Squash, and Sweet Potatoes
Even a small serving of deep-orange vegetables, such as pumpkin, supplies five times the Daily Value for beta carotene, an antioxidant that protects the brain from damage. The more richly-colored vegetables you eat, the more brain protection you get and it’s hard to get more colorful than pumpkin. Bright orange veggies also supply hefty amounts of vitamin C, potassium, and iron, and more fiber than a slice of whole wheat bread or a bowl of oatmeal.
Besides, the more colorful fruits and vegetables you eat, the sharper your mind and the easier it is to lose weight and keep it off. Ask anyone successful at permanent weight loss and they will tell you, the absolutely, tried-and-true habit along with exercise is to load the plate with produce! The more produce you include in the daily diet and the longer you eat that way, the longer you will live healthy and the sharper your mind. If that doesn’t make you happy, nothing will!
How Much? 1+ cup a day.
Eat More: Microwave and top sweet potatoes with maple syrup and pecans. Puree cooked pumpkin and add to soups as a thickener. Use sweet potatoes instead of potatoes in salads. Slice sweet potatoes into wedges, salt, and bake at 425 degrees for 15 minutes for golden fries. Cook, mash, and use winter squash instead of noodles or rice as a base for any dish. Add roasted butternut squash cubes to canned soups. I roast butternut squash cubes and toss into salads. Or steam and use pumpkin or squash as a base for risotto.
Super Food #2: Greens: Kale, Chard, Collards
As a dietitian, it’s difficult to understand how anyone can be happy without dark green leafies in the daily diet. From spinach, chard, and collards to kale and broccoli, these are the very best sources of the B vitamin, folate. Your brain cells won’t turn on without it. It’s no wonder that poor intake of folate increases the risk for depression, fatigue, poor memory, and possibly even more serious mental problems like schizophrenia. People battling the blues who boost their intake of greens say they feel better and happier as a result. People who are clinically depressed only respond to antidepressant therapy if their blood levels of folate are high. Need I say more?
Packed with vitamins and minerals, one serving of dark greens supplies an entire day’s requirement for vitamin A, more than 3 milligrams of iron, almost a third of your daily need for folate, and hefty amounts of calcium and B vitamins, all for about 20 calories. A one-cup serving of cooked Swiss chard supplies more than half of a woman's daily recommendation for magnesium, a mineral that helps her cope with stress, curbs symptoms of PMS, and aids in sleep. Phytonutrients, such as sulforaphane in broccoli and the carotenoids in kale, clear toxins from the body and strengthens your resistance to colds and infections.
How Much? 2 servings a day (1 serving is 1 cup raw or ½ cup cooked)
Eat More: Replace head lettuce in salads and sandwiches with leaf lettuce or spinach, layer greens into lasagna, use large spinach leaves instead of a tortilla to wrap around cheese, beans, and salsa. Lightly steam chopped collards and mix into mashed potatoes. Add greens to stir frys, soups and stews. Saute them in a little olive oil and garlic.
Super Food #3: Nuts
Many people are much more successful when they add a few healthy fats, such as nuts and olive oil, to their weight-loss diets than if they try to stick with very-low-fat diets. There are three reasons why nuts help you stay happy and skinny.
1. Nuts are fiber-rich, so even an ounce is enough to take the edge off hunger. (Their phytochemical and antioxidant scores are high, too.
2. Nuts raise the metabolic rate by up to 11%, thus helping to burn more calories.
3. Nuts help regulate blood sugar. They have a low glycemic index (GI). Compared to potatoes or corn flakes, which rank in the 80s on the GI scale, peanuts and other nuts rank as low as 14, meaning they don’t raise blood sugar levels, so don’t stimulate appetite or fat storage. Peanuts also contain a compound called arginine, that helps regulate the hormone, insulin, which helps maintain normal blood sugar levels. When people keep their blood sugar steady, they typically consume fewer calories, because their energy level and mood are stable and they aren’t as hungry. The more you control blood sugar, the easier time you’ll have managing your weight, which explains why an ounce of nuts a day helps slim waistlines. A recent study from Purdue University found that adding an ounce of almonds to the diet helped with weight management, reduced hunger, and boosted nutritional status.
Speaking of peanuts. These nuts are weird, since you think of them as a nut, but they really are a bean. In fact, they straddle the fence between nuts and legumes, which is a good thing. That means they have all the good stuff of a nut, such as the healthy fats, magnesium, and vitamin E, but they also have all the nutrition advantages of a bean, such as folic acid, potassium, and phytonutrients (called saponins and sterols). All of those nutrients improve mood, aid in sleep, and/or help us better cope with stress. They even have something in common with red wine - resveratrol - an antioxidant that helps keep your arteries elastic and squeaky clean. (Roasting destroys resveratrol.)
How Much? 1 ounce a day.
Eat More: Eat nuts plain or toss them into salads, cereals, or yogurt. Add nuts to meatless stir frys or to pancake and muffin batters. Make homemade trail mix with equal parts nuts and dried fruit (such as dried cherries). Replace pine nuts with other nuts, such as pistachios, when making pesto sauce. Add nuts to salads or to desserts. Combine nuts with yogurt, apples, and celery to make a quick Waldorf salad. Dip baby carrots in peanut butter. Coat fish or chicken with a nutty flavor before cooking. Mix equal parts seasoned whole wheat bread crumbs and finely chopped or toasted mixed nuts. Top favorite casseroles or soups with finely chopped nuts. Add nuts to grain dishes.
Super Food #4: Soup
The ultimate trick to permanent weight loss and not gaining weight during the holidays is to feel satisfied on fewer calories. That trick includes two accomplices: fiber and water.
We all push back from the table when we have eaten a given weight of food, according to research from the Pennsylvania State University. Since a pound of celery supplies fewer calories than a pound of chocolate, it’s no surprise that happy, skinny people who design their diets around fiber- and water-packed foods, such as vegetables, soups, stews, and smoothies, fill up on fewer calories, feel satisfied between meals, and have an easier time managing their weights, compared to those who snack on chips and cookies. In one study, women who started a meal with a bowl of soup cut back on calories for the rest of the meal and stayed full longer throughout the day compared to women who skipped the pre-meal soup.
In fact, people average about 135 calories less when the meal contains soup. That might not sound like much, but over the course of a year it equates to a 14 pound loss! Weight-loss experts predict that if Americans cut just 100 calories a day it would halt the obesity epidemic in this country. That’s three bites of food, 10 minutes of walking, or a daily bowl of soup.
To get the biggest nutritional bang for your buck, include some omega-3 DHA-rich food in your soup, such as a salmon chowder. Research shows this omega-3, and this omega-3 only, helps improve mood and side-step seasonal affective disorder (SAD), otherwise known as Winter Blues. If you don’t like salmon, then use low-fat milk fortified with DHA for your chowders.
The trick is to make calorie-dilute foods, such as broth-based soups, stews, smoothies, and fruits and vegetables (other than fried potatoes) the basis of a meal plan, not the whole diet. To boost the antioxidants, the soup should be loaded with colorful vegetables, such as carrots, green peas, sweet potato chunks, and spinach. (Hint: Soup-only diets don’t work, but soup added to a healthful diet does.)
How Much? Serve a broth-based soup for one meal (lunch or dinner) on most days.
Eat More: Make a big batch of homemade vegetable soup to use throughout the week. Season with Mrs. Dash or True Lemon to make the flavor pop without salt. Serve Campbell’s Healthy Request soups, such as Beef Barley, Chicken Noodle, Old Fashioned Vegetable Beef, Minestrone, or Vegetable, and add extra frozen peas and carrots or chopped spinach. At restaurants, make a broth-based soup your main course.
Super Food #5: Legumes
We all know that beans are mind-boggling good for you. Whether they are lentils, chick peas, split peas, or black, kidney, navy, or pinto beans, legumes are packed with nutrients that improve mood, such as folate, calcium, copper, magnesium, iron, and zinc. The folate in beans protects against a memory-destroying compound called homocysteine. The antioxidant phytonutrients in legumes, such as saponins and phytosterols, lower cancer and heart disease risk.
Beans are the perfect diet food. They are almost fat-free, but high in protein, water, and fiber - the magic combo for feeling full and satisfied on few calories. One cup of cooked legumes has up to 16 grams of fiber! You would have to eat eight slices of whole wheat bread, five bananas, or four cups of corn to get that much fiber! Legumes are very low on the glycemic index, so help regulate blood sugar, as well as appetite.
Yet, bean cuisine is low on people’s priority lists - most of us average only about a cup of beans year, a pittance compared to the 50 pounds of pork we gobble at the same time. What’s up with that?
It is hard to get excited about “the musical fruit,” no matter how nutritious, tasty, and antioxidant-packed it is. That is until you start listing specifics.
How Much? 1 cup at least four times a week.
Eat More: Use beans in salads and burritos, or sprinkle with cilantro and serve hot on top or rice. Add extra canned beans to soups. Skip the ranch dip and dunk vegetables in hummus.
Super Food #6: Quinoa and Wheat Germ
Gluten-free and rich in vitamins, minerals (like iron, zinc, potassium, and magnesium), fiber, and protein, while low in fat and cholesterol-free, there are few grains on the market that compare to quinoa. One cup of quinoa has the protein equivalent of a glass of milk.
You don’t get much better on the cal-a-nut ratio than with wheat germ. The heart of the wheat kernel is a gold mine of nutrition. Half a cup of toasted wheat germ supplies 100% of your daily need for folic acid and 50% of your magnesium, zinc, and vitamin E requirements. Vitamin E-rich diets help prevent and slow the progression and might even lower the risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease by up to 70%. Wheat germ also supplies decent amounts of trace minerals, such as iron and zinc. You also get a truckload of phytonutrients, including octacosanol, a compound that improves endurance and helps the body cope with stress. 1,2,3,4
How Much? 1 cup of quinoa several times a week and 1/4+ cup of wheat germ a day.
Eat More: Use quinoa in place of rice or other grains in most recipes. Choose pasta products made with quinoa. Sprinkle wheat germ on oatmeal or yogurt, add to cookie and pancake batters, mix into muffin or meatloaf recipes, or blend with honey and peanut butter for a sandwich spread.
Super Food #7: Pomegranates
There is something super sexy about clusters of densely-packed, ruby-red kernels bursting with juice. No wonder the 800+ garnet-colored jeweled seeds inside this fruit have long been the symbol of longevity, immortality, and abundance in China, and fertility in Greece. Called the “love apple,” some suspect it was a pomegranate, not an apple, that tempted Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, while legend has it that humans become immortal by eating these seeds. They are not likely to turn a couch potato into Casanova; but they are rich in potassium, vitamin C, fiber, B vitamins, and phytonutrients like polyphenols, anthocyanins, and procyanidins.
How Much? Sprinkle a tablespoon or more into foods at least four times a week from Fall through Winter when these fruits are available, or use pure pomegranate juice throughout the year. Packaged seeds (POM Wonderful Arils) are available in the refrigerator section of select stores from October through January.
Eat More: Sprinkle seeds into salads, desserts, and fruit, rice, and pasta dishes. Add juice to sauces, dressings, and marinades. To seed, put in a bowl of water, peel away the white and allow seeds to sink, which makes separating the pith from the fruit easier.
This is just the tip of the iceberg. Other foods this time of year, from carrots, beets, and cranberries to apples, figs, and spices such as cinnamon, turmeric, and thyme all have a wealth of nutritional assets that can curb your waistline, boost mood, and keep you healthy. Bon appetit!