We are very lucky here in Oregon’s Pacific Northwest, since we are surrounded by an abundance of healthy foods in our own backyards. In fact, according to Elizabeth Somer, registered dietitian and author of Eat Your Way to Sexy, the Oregon diet is loaded with super foods and gives the Mediterranean diet a run for its money when it comes to healthy!
1. Whole grains
The claim that carbohydrates make you fat is partly right. In the past few decades, our appetites have dramatically increased for thousands of highly-refined, calorie-dense grain-based foods, including doughnuts, cookies, white pasta, sweetened cereals, white bread and bagels, sports bars, and snack foods. Along with our increasingly sedentary lives, these carbs have packed on the weight, especially with the super-sized portions we’ve so grown accustom. Along with the pounds have come an escalating risk for disease.
The main paradox in the controversy over grains is that refined grains cause the same diseases that whole grains help to prevent. Fiber-rich whole grains lower our risks for everything from heart disease and cancer to diabetes, and they fill us up without filling us out, so they help keep us svelte. Unlike processed refined grains, whole grains are low-fat, high- fiber, and packed with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidant phytochemicals. In short, making sure at least half the grains you eat every day are whole grains, along with loading the plate with tons of vegetables and fruit, is the smartest thing a woman can do for her health and waistline. The good new is, Oregon is producing a wealth of nutritious, whole grain items. So, choose local when you can
From blueberries, raspberries, and strawberries to Oregon’s own Marion and Katata berries, it doesn’t get any more nutritious than this. These sweet and juicy fruits are the perfect water and fiber combination for weight loss. They also are loaded with B vitamins, vitamin C, and antioxidants, such as the flavonoids, resveratrol, and more than 40 different anthocyanins. The potent antioxidants in berries strengthen tissue defenses against oxidation and inflammation, which are underlying factors in most age-related diseases, from heart disease and cancer to memory loss, Parkinson’s, and Alzheimers. The antioxidants in berries might even help reverse memory loss. Best of all, frozen is just as antioxidant-packed as fresh, so enjoy these nutrient gold mines all year around.
Berries are more than just antioxidants. Research from Tufts University shows that these little fruits regulate our genes! They turn on the cells’ production of disease-fighting chemicals that then work 24-7 to protect the brain and all the body’s tissues from damage. No wonder they improve cell communication, stimulate nerve cell growth, and enhance brain cell connections.
Switch from ice cream to frozen blueberries for an after-dinner snack, blend into smoothies, add to homemade salsa, dip strawberries in fat-free chocolate syrup, layer with yogurt for a parfait, add to tossed salads or muffin and pancake batters or briefly cook blueberries with a little Splenda, lemon juice, and corn starch and use as a topping for pancakes, French toast, waffles, and ice cream.
Yogurt is a rich source of mood and mind-boosting nutrients, including protein, calcium, B vitamins, magnesium, potassium, and zinc. Nancy’s yogurt contains Lactobacillus acidophilus, Bifidobacterium, and L. rhamnosus (called probiotics), the most researched probiotics shown to improve immune function, and reduce the risk for certain allergies, intestinal problems, ulcers, cancer, urinary tract infections and candidiasis infections in women. The healthy bacteria in yogurt promotes vaginal health, lowers blood pressure, and also help lower cholesterol levels, thus lowering heart disease risk. The combination of protein and calcium also might aid in weight loss. Researchers at the University of Tennessee found that obese adults who ate 3 servings daily of fat-free yogurt lost 22% more weight and 61% more fat than those who ate the same calories without the yogurt. Again, Oregon makes some of the best yogurts on the market
4. Wild Salmon
When it comes to salmon, it doesn’t get any better than the Pacific Northwest! Salmon is high in protein, B vitamins, potassium to keep the heart pumping in rhythm, and astaxanthin, a potent antioxidant. The omega-3s in fatty fish, especially docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), improve mood, sharpen the mind, keep blood vessels squeaky clean, and reduce inflammation. They lower heart disease risk, raise HDLs - the good cholesterol, help stabilize the heartbeat, reduce blood clots so lower the risk for heart attack and stroke, and lower the chances of getting high blood pressure, cancer, vision loss, arthritis, depression, attention deficit, dementia, and a host of other ills. These omega-3s even improve fertility in men. Include at least two 4-ounce servings weekly, or take a supplement. Choose wild salmon when it is affordable, since it is higher in omega-3s and vitamin D and lower in contaminants, such as PCBs and pesticides found in farmed salmon. (If the package says, Atlantic salmon, it’s farmed.). Canned salmon is good, too.
5. Olive Oil
While the “bad” fats - that is saturated fats and the trans fats - increase blood cholesterol levels and your risk for heart disease, mono-unsaturated fats in olive oil are healthy fats. Olive oil lowers total cholesterol and the “bad” cholesterol called LDLs, while holding constant or even raising the good cholesterol, called HDLs, thus lowering heart-disease risk. It also protects LDLs from damaging compounds called free radicals that otherwise make them sticky and more prone to clog arteries. They also reduce blood clots that can lead to heart attack and stroke, and they possibly lower the inflammation in the arteries associated with heart-disease risk. In fact, following the Mediterranean-style diet that includes the monounsaturated fat, olive oil, can lower heart disease risk by up to 70%! Beyond just heart disease, these good fats also show promise in lower the risk for other health problems, such as hypertension, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, angina, and certain forms of cancer, such as breast, colon, and prostate cancers.
A word of warning here: Any fat, be it olive oil or butter, supplies about 120 calories and 14 grams of fat for every tablespoon. In the U.S., where more than 6 in every 10 people are already seriously overweight, we are not recommending anyone add more calories to their diet. These heart-healthy fats need to replace the fats in burgers, fries, cheese, and pizza, not be added to an already fatty diet. And, these fats won’t single-handedly lower heart-disease risk, you also have to follow the other guidelines of the traditional Mediterranean diet, such as load the plate with vegetables, whole grains, fish, legumes, and nuts.
[PROPS: samples of local olive oils]
There are lots of different types of olive oil. Can you explain the differences between say ‘extra-virgin,’ ‘virgin,’ and ‘light’?
*Like wine, olive oil varies in quality, character, and price. The grade is determined by the International Olive Oil Council and is categorized by taste, color, and the amount of acid (the more acid, the more bitter the taste and the lower the grade). The flavor depends on the olives used (more than 50 different varieties), ripeness, climate and soil where grown, and methods used to extract and refine the oil.
Extra-Virgin olive oil: is the most expensive. It is the end result of cold-pressing the olives just once. It has the least amount of acid, and is a dark yellow to green oil with a fragrant, full-bodied taste. You will even find people describe the various flavors as fruity, rustic, peppery, flowery, full-bodied, earthy, and of course olivey. Extra-virgin is richest in the antioxidants and polyphenols. It’s best used straight from the bottle, drizzled over cooked vegetables or salads.
Virgin olive oil: is slightly higher in acid content and is not as flavorful or as deep in color. It contains some of the antioxidants found in extra virgin, but not as many because they are lost in the filtering process. This oil often has some extra-virgin oil added back to give it flavor.
Olive oil: this has even more acids and is obtained through chemical extraction, rather than pressing. It is less flavorful and contains fewer antioxidants.
Light olive oil: This is a tricky one. In most cases, when a food label says “light” it means the food has half the fat or sodium and 2/3 the calories. Not with olive oil. Light only refers to color, not calories. It is sold only in the U.S. to accommodate our preference for colorless, flavorless oils, such as corn and soy oils. This oil is very refined, contains few of the characteristics of olive oil and almost none of the antioxidants.
Should we only buy extra-virgin olive oil?
Not necessarily. Extra-virgin is the most flavorful, but those flavors also breakdown quickly with heat. This type of olive oil is best used in salad dressings, as a dip for bread, and drizzled over already cooked foods, where it isn’t heated. The pure olive oil or virgin olive oil is a more all-purpose oil that can be used for sauteing and in cooking. The light olive oil has no flavor, so it works well even in baking. You might want to aim for 3 bottles of olive oil in your cupboard: the inexpensive light for cooking and baking, the virgin oil for cooking, and the extra-virgin for salads and other delicate dishes where it will add flavor.
When buying olive oil, don’t go just by price. It’s really a matter of taste preference. Sample different varieties to find the one that best suits your likes. Also, don’t be too concerned with color. The riper the olives used for that particular oil, the paler the color, but color doesn’t necessarily imply flavor.]
6. Red Wine
Wine, in particular red wine, is like the proverbial apple a day in keeping the doctor away. It contains a slew of health-boosting, antioxidant-rich compounds, such as phenols, flavonoids, ergothionine, and resveratrol, that protect arteries from inflammation and damage, lower heart disease risk, and even prevent strokes and heart attacks. Wine and its stew of antioxidants also might lower the risk for dementia and even extend life. One study found that people who drank a moderate amount of wine were 40% less likely to get forgetful as they aged compared to teetotalers, while drinking hard liquor increased dementia risk.
Of course, you need to use some common sense when it comes to drinking any alcohol. All those antioxidants will do little for your mental health if you’re rotting your liver with the toxic effects of too much alcohol. Guzzle more than your share of wine, or any alcohol, and it will inflame the pancreas, destroy the brain and liver, increase the risk for certain types of cancer, disrupt sleep, cause depression and fatigue, not to mention ruin your life. One study found that while a drink a day reduced the risk for dementia later in life, more than two drinks a day doubled the risk.
8. Dark Chocolate
Chocolate isn’t just a mood booster, an excuse to celebrate, a treat, and a melt-in-your-mouth moment of ecstacy, it also is a powerhouse of antioxidants with the potential to lower heart disease, blood pressure, and possibly cancer, diabetes, and hey, get this one - it might even help you look younger and think faster! But it is only dark chocolate that does the trick. All other chocolates are just calories from fat and sugar. Cocoa powder contains powerful antioxidants, called flavonoids such as procyanidins, epicatechins, and catechins. These are the same compounds found in green tea and red wine that deactivate cell-damaging oxygen fragments, called free radicals. In general, the darker the bar, the more cocoa. Better yet, choose chocolates that are guaranteed to have at least 60% cocoa powder.