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Mon, April 1, 2013
The Power of Super Foods
“You are what you eat.”  Who hasn’t heard that before?  I should be looking like an apple right about now, honey crisp, to be exact (it’s that time of year!).  I can still remember those commercials and ads with Betty Crocker in her apron displaying recipes that included white bleached enriched flour, lard, eggs and white sugar with some sort of appliance in the background portraying this as part of the American dream and health in an indirect way. 

Most people still consume white sugar, white flour, burgers, fries, fried chicken, biscuits and any prepared box meal without a second thought, giving in to convenience and ease (and possibly making the average Joe look like an instant prepared food!)  Until, that is, when the big “C” has touched their lives—cancer; the most feared disease of the 21rst century.   

Fear is a wonderful motivator so it would make sense then that more and more average Joe’s are reaching for and learning about food and the health that is or isn’t in them.   

And for the individual that already strives to eat healthy fresh foods, organic, all natural and chemical free are familiar terms.  But a new term has since surfaced in nutrition circles—super foods. 

Super foods are foods containing antioxidants that help the body fight cancer.  They help in the following ways:
  • They boost the immune system by deactivating carcinogens (cells that initiate cancer).
  • They slow down or stop the reproduction of cancer cells.
  • They boost the enzymes in the liver that already help detoxify the body.
  • They protect against free radicals (cancer causing cells).
  • They slow down or completely prevent cancer development in certain cell lines.
  • They protect against damage that may lead to cancer.
According to the American Institute of Cancer Research (AICR), the following are the most powerful foods known to fight cancer:
  • Beans (legumes, lentils).
  • Berries (grapes, cherries, elderberries, raspberries, blueberries, blackberries and strawberries; berries that are the most vibrant in color are best).
  • Cruciferous veggies (bok choy, broccoli, brussel sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, mustard greens, rutabagas, swiss chard and turnips).
  • Dark leafy green veggies (chicory, collard greens, kale, leaf lettuce, mustard greens, romaine lettuce, spinach, swiss chard and turnip greens).
  • Flaxseed (a tiny seed that’s either dark brown or golden which must be ground because the outer layer is indigestible).
  • Garlic (belonging to the allium family of veggies: onions, scallions, leeks and chives).
  • Green tea (including black and white teas).
  • Soy (a type of legume includes: tofu, soy milk, edamame-boiled soybean, soy nuts, miso-soy paste, tempeh, soy burgers and soy nut butters).
  • Tomatoes (both raw and cooked).
  • Whole grains (barley, brown or wild rice, bulgur, tabouleh-a wheat protein, corn or popcorn, kasha-buckwheat, oatmeal or oat products, quinoa-an Asian grain, rye breads or cereals, and whole wheat bread, pasta or cereal).
These foods bring to the table an abundance of vitamin, mineral and phytochemical compounds.  Phytochemicals are compounds that don’t fall into the vitamin or mineral category but are beneficial to health.  Evidence also shows that it’s the compounds of several plants working together that offer the additional protection against cancer.

It’s suggested that you should strive for seven to nine servings of a variety of fruits and veggies each day, eating a rainbow of colors because every different colored plant offers a different powerful phytochemical.  Include dark leafy greens, cruciferous veggies and one to two tablespoons of ground flaxseed daily.

Several times a week include brightly colored berries, legumes, and a low-fat protein.  Fruits and veggies should fill two-thirds of your plate.  Then liven up your dish with a variety of herbs, spices and allium veggies.

The days of convenience and ease of meal preparation may be fading into the background after we discover that meals made with fresh ingredients have such power over our health.  It’s definitely a sign with more and more grocery stores carrying organic produce as well as boxed meals made with more wholesome ingredients such as expeller pressed oils, sea salt and whole grains.

As more people strive to eat better I can only wonder which instant, prepared food they would resemble.  Perhaps a prepared box meal with more wholesome ingredients wanting to keep with the ease and convenience it offers while still eating healthier?  So, I have to ask; what would you look like (and be honest!)?  Me, after writing this article, I’d look like a raspberry or bing cherry (my favorite foods next to chocolate, of course).

“You are what you eat.” Words to live by indeed.


Amiee Shea, University of Chapel Hill Outpatient Oncology Dietitian;

Outer Banks Hospital Lunch-n-Learn Seminar 2009;

American Institute for Cancer Research

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