Spring is a wonderful time to commit to eating healthier—and looking and feeling better
Melt-in-your-mouth dark chocolate. It’s just one of many superfoods that can help fight the effects of aging so you look and feel your best, no matter your age. Herbs can ensure that every superfood bite is delicious. That means you can enjoy good-for-you foods without missing dishes laden with fat, salt or refined sugar.
Spring is a wonderful time to commit to eating healthier—and looking and feeling better. Remember that every meal is an opportunity to fight aging. And it may be easier than you think. Even small, positive changes can make a world of difference.
The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends 4.5 cups daily of fruits and vegetables. Select fresh, in-season spring lettuces and other vegetables that are a pleasure to cultivate in your garden or place in your basket at the local farmer’s market. Fill your refrigerator with brightly colored fresh produce such as blueberries, apples, sweet potatoes, carrots, tomatoes and dark, leafy greens, just to name a few.
Eat more fiber-rich whole grains with herbs. The AHA recommends at least three 1-ounce equivalent servings of whole grains each day. Savor at least two 3.5-ounce servings of fish, preferably oily fish, a week.
Other important AHA guidelines: Enjoy at least four servings of nuts, legumes and seeds per week. Keep your sodium intake to less than 1,500 mg a day. Don’t eat more than two servings a week of processed meats. Make sure that saturated fat is less than 7 percent of your total energy intake. Don’t drink more than 36 ounces a week of sugar-sweetened beverages. And don’t forget about superfoods, like delicious dark chocolate.
What exactly is a superfood? And how can superfoods help you feel vital? The term “superfood” can be somewhat misleading because no single food is the magic bullet for sustaining youth or the panacea for illness. However, when eaten in moderation along with a healthy lifestyle, superfoods can help you ward off disease or declines in health.
“A superfood is a food that tastes fantastic and also adds significant health benefits,” says Jaclyn Chasse, N.D., medical director of the Northeast Center for Holistic Medicine. “One factor in the aging process is free radical damage. Most superfoods contain potent antioxidants to combat free radical damage, protecting cells from aging.”
“Healthy, nutrition-rich food can supply us with all the building blocks we need to prevent disease and slow down aging,” says Carolyn Dean, M.D., N.D., medical director of the Nutritional Magnesium Association. “Superfoods are high in antioxidants and magnesium. They help destroy free radicals, detoxify the body, and help promote cell function and proper cell repair.”
To combat aging, avoid foods high in saturated and trans fats, cholesterol, sodium and refined sugar. “A great way to improve your health is to replace those foods with superfoods that offer more nutritional value,” Chasse says.
A plethora of superfoods can help prevent disease before it starts. Here are some delicious winners featured in our recipes.
BEANS: When it comes to superfoods, beans are all-star favorites. For starters, beans are fat-free and budget-friendly. And they are so good for you.
“Legumes are a major source of complex carbohydrates, fiber and protein,” Dean says. “They have good amounts of minerals such as potassium, magnesium and zinc.”
In order for you to benefit from their minerals, dry beans must be soaked for eight hours or more, though. You can cure blandness by adding herb blends to beans. (See Hearty Herbal Beans recipe.)
CHILE PEPPERS: “They support circulation and can speed up your metabolism. They are also high in vitamin C,” Chasse says. For fiery flavor, add garlic and dried chile peppers to beans, chilis, soups and stews. (See Garlic and Ancho Dry Rub recipe.)
SPINACH: It’s easy to get excited about spinach, which is one of the healthiest foods available. Spinach is high in fiber and loaded with nutrients, including vitamin C and calcium. Spinach combines well with garlic. (See Spinach with Pan-Roasted Garlic recipe.)
LOW-FAT CHEESES: The American Heart Association recommends low-fat cheeses to help reduce consumption of saturated fat. Small amounts of intense-tasting cheeses, such as low-fat blue cheese crumbles, can quickly add flavor without much fat. (To make crumbles, grate chunks of low-fat cheese with a potato peeler or a hand grater’s large slot.)
The marriage of herbs and low-fat cheeses is richly rewarding. A quick recipe: To grated Parmesan or Romano cheeses, add herbs such a ground garlic, rosemary, sage, marjoram, oregano, parsley and thyme. Sprinkle over your favorite pasta dish, egg white omelet or popcorn.
ASIAN MUSHROOMS: “Shiitake, reishi and many other Asian mushrooms have been shown to boost the immune system to support your natural ability to fight off viral and bacterial infections, as well as decrease your cancer risk,” Chasse says.
Fresh shiitakes are available at supermarkets, natural food stores and some farmers’ markets. Dried shiitakes are great to have on hand and keep almost indefinitely in your cupboard. Add shiitakes to herb-rich soups and stews. Combined with herbs such as garlic and ginger, shiitakes can make a light, delicious dressing. (See Shiitake and Herb Dressing recipe.)
GREEN TEA: This superfood has received much acclaim over recent years, and with good reason.
“Green tea contains potent antioxidants that have been shown to prevent cancer and protect cells from damage,” Chasse says. “It also supports liver function.”
During the day, combine green tea with herbs such as ginger and mint for stimulation without high caffeine. In the evening, switch to decaf green tea steeped with lavender, catnip and/or chamomile to help you unwind and relax.
YOGURT: Yogurt is a protein source that’s high in calcium. It also contains probiotic bacteria, which helps balance our intestinal flora essential for digestion, nutrient absorption and immune function.
Be sure to buy unsweetened non-fat or low-fat yogurt and add your own herbs, fresh fruits or natural sweeteners. A quick recipe: Mix yogurt with luscious, in-season berries and chopped fresh mint. Another option is an herb-laced Greek yogurt to top savory recipes, like the Hearty Herbal Beans on Page 39. Make it by mixing 8 ounces of plain non-fat Greek yogurt with 1⁄4 teaspoon finely chopped fresh pineapple sage and 1⁄4 teaspoon fresh oregano. Cover and refrigerate up to 2 days. Greek yogurt’s rich-tasting, creamy texture is what makes it so special. Pineapple sage, which has a unique fragrance and taste, is easy to cultivate indoors and out. If pineapple sage isn’t available, substitute any type of basil or parsley.
DARK CHOCOLATE: Chocolate lovers take note: Chocolate is high in flavonoids, antioxidants that can protect cells from free radical damage. It also can reduce blood pressure, balance some hormones and help release the brain’s feel-good hormones. The darker the chocolate, the richer it is in flavonoids, Chasse says.
“Chocolate’s high in magnesium, an essential mineral that helps maintain the function of the heart, muscles and nervous system,” Dean says.
The trick is to enjoy chocolate without combining it with butter, cream or refined sugar. Peppermint and spearmint extracts add uplifting herb flavors to cocoa. (See Dark Chocolate Dipping Sauce recipe.)
WHOLE GRAINS: Increase your longevity by replacing refined white grains with whole grains, which are nutrient-rich and a great fiber source. To consume whole grains, add these fresh or dried herbs: cilantro, parsley, garlic, sage, rosemary, oregano, tarragon, thyme, basil, marjoram, mint and chives.
SALMON (and other oily fish): “Salmon and other fish are our only food sources of omega-3 fats EPA and DHA,” Chasse says. “These anti-inflammatory fats have been shown to lower bad cholesterol (LDL), raise good cholesterol (HDL), improve memory and cognition, and provide relief for depression and anxiety.”
Tarragon and dill are popular herbs for fish. Instantly dress up any fish with the 4-Herb Dry Rub. (See recipe.)
Your better-body wellness regime can start today with these quick steps:
1. Hydrate: Take 5 minutes right now to drink a glass of water. Add fresh herb sprigs, such as basil, tarragon, mint and hyssop, to your water to improve flavor.
2. Pleasurable exertion: Take 10 to 20 minutes to tend your glorious outdoor herb garden—which can be excellent exercise. Or repot your indoor herb houseplants.
3. Get enough sleep: Before retiring, take 10 minutes to sip a soothing cup of herbal tea. (See Lavender and Catnip Dreamtime Tea recipe.)
All this talk of fighting aging is a bit tiring—the goal is really to be well, regardless of age. A healthful diet can go a long way toward feeling great and being able to do the things you like to do.
But please remember that this article is for general educational purposes only, and isn’t medical advice. If you currently have a serious illness or condition, particularly cardiovascular disease, consult a qualified health-care practitioner to learn how diet can help your health.
Letitia L. Star is a healthy living writer who frequently writes about cooking and growing herbs.
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