By Kyle Mancini
Every once in a while, I eat quiche. There you have it. I am a Renaissance man who does enjoy a salad here and there, and attempts to cultivate my taste buds so that I can enjoy a menu well beyond my college days of beers, burgers and pizza.
You won’t catch me eating tofu and bean sprouts, but I have been doing some reading and I have found that there are some things that I can easily add to my diet to improve my health. These aren’t specialty items that you have to head to the gourmet store to find. These are every day foods that will add substantial nutritional value to your meals:
1. Cinnamon. Cinnamon helps to control blood sugar. USDA researchers found that people with type-two diabetes could significantly reduce their blood sugar by consuming about ¼ tsp of cinnamon per day. There was also a noticeable decrease in triglycerides and bad cholesterol. The reason? Cinnamon increases your cell’s ability to metabolize sugar by about 20 times. Forget the Cinnabons though, sprinkle cinnamon (just the regular kind you buy in the spice section of your grocery store will do) on baked sweet potatoes, whole wheat toast or oatmeal. Healthy and delicious options that will help keep your blood sugar in check. Cinnamon is also a very good source of dietary fiber, calcium, iron and magnese.
2. Pumpkin Seeds. Perfect for this time of year, the pumpkin seed is the most nutritionally valuable part of your favorite orange squash. Pumpkin seeds contain Magnesium. For men, higher magnesium levels equals a decreased risk of early death. French researchers say about 40% less. The shells of pumpkin seeds have lots of fiber and roasted seeds have about 150 mg of magnesium per ounce (USDA recommends that an adult male consume 420 mg per day). You can buy pumpkin seeds already roasted in the area where nuts and sunflower seeds are sold, or roast them yourself by cleaning them out of a pumpkin and laying them on a baking sheet lightly coated with a non-stick spray. I like to add a pinch of sea-salt or a little garlic salt and some pepper. Pumpkin seeds are also a good source of protein and zinc.
3. Guava. A subject near and dear to every man’s -uh- heart is prostate cancer. Lycopene is an antioxidant that fights off prostate cancer and Guava has more of it than any other plant food including tomatoes and watermelon. Guava also has more potassium than bananas (about 50% more in a cup than in one average banana). Eat a guava like you’d eat an apple. The skin is rich in vitamin C. Guavas start out a bit tart/tangy and get sweeter as you eat toward the center of the fruit. You can also cube the fruit and add to smoothies, or juice it (remember to leave the skin on). An additional benefit – guava has about 9 grams of dietary fiber per cup and is low in saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium. Just watch the high sugar content. A cup should do it.
4. Cabbage. Not only is cabbage very low in calories (a cup has about 22 calories), but it also contains some valuable nutrients such as Thiamin, Calcium and Iron and is a great source of Dietary Fiber. Perhaps the most valuable offering of lettuce’s crunchier cousin is sulforaphane. Sulforaphane is a chemical that increases your body’s ability to fight free radicals. This reduces your risk of cancer. Stanford University researchers found that sulforaphane increases your levels of these cancer-fighting enzymes more than any other plant chemical. Cabbage is great in slaw, just watch that you don’t overdo the mayo – a little goes a long way, and if you add a few drops of vinegar you’ll find you use much less than without. Cabbage is also good just steamed with a bit of sea salt and pepper.
5. Swiss Chard. Lutein and zeaxanthin are plant chemicals called carotenoids. The reason that you were always told to eat your carrots to improve your eyesight as a kid was that they contain carotenoids. Native to the Mediterranean, chard provides a large amount of both of these nutrients, which protect your retinas from damages associated with aging. These nutrients (which are actually pigments) build up in your retinas, as they do so they absorb shortwave light rays that can cause damage to your eyes. The effect is cumulative so the more you eat the more protection they provide. Chard is good sautéed like spinach, with a bit of olive oil and some garlic or some shaved parmigiano reggiano. Just keep in mind that chard is already high in sodium so try to skip the salt products. Chard is also a very good source of dietary fiber.
By incorporating these and other nutritionally valuable foods into your diet you’re making small changes that can have a big impact on your health. Understanding what each food’s purpose and role is within your daily intake is the first step to changing and improving your health. And you never have to eat quiche – unless you want to.
To find out about the nutritional value of your favorite foods, check out www.nutritiondata.com.