15 foods to boost your health
Our health is our wealth as the old adage goes and although there is never a quick-fix when it comes to our bodies, Ed Power has some foods that will aid a healthy lifestyle
It takes time to eat well - time being something few of us possess in abundance nowadays. A generation ago, a home-cooked meal was part of our everyday routine. In 2014, 'home cooked' increasingly means peeling the plastic covering off and slamming a container in the microwave.
We eat at our desks, we eat standing up, we eat while watching television, tweeting and responding to an urgent email - possibly with a child bouncing on our knee and another trying to pull our hair out.
Furthermore, processed foods comprise an increasingly significant proportion of our diet. With so much of what we consume churned out by factories and drizzled in preservatives, it can be easy to despair. However, there's an upside to the march of progress. Foods that would once have been beyond the reach of most Irish people are nowadays easily acquired and affordable.
This means that, if you can carve the time, there's an opportunity to reflect seriously about what you want to eat and to tailor your diet to your lifestyle.
We're not claiming the foods listed below will bring instant wellbeing - or, at least, not at levels sufficient to compensate for flagrant bad habits: all the super-foods in the world will not make amends for a flab-inducing pizza addiction. But, if your overall lifestyle is relatively healthy, experts are in agreement that the items detailed on this page can deliver meaningful benefits - making you feel fitter, happier and better attuned to the world around.
Nutritionists sing the praises of these modest-looking fruits: they are full of antioxidants and phytoflavinoids, which together reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer. Plus, they are plentiful in potassium and vitamin C and help reduce inflammation - a condition linked to many serious diseases. A tip for blueberry newcomers: the darker the fruit, the higher it is in anti-oxidants.
As with all fish rich in omega 3, salmon can help lower cholesterol (thanks to high monounsaturated fat content). Omega 3 also reduces susceptibility to heart disease, fights arthritis and, some studies suggest, assists with memory loss and Alzheimer's disease. If you don't like salmon, omega 3 also occurs in fortified eggs, flax seed, sardines and mackerel.
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Soy can, in certain circumstances, lower cholesterol - though it is best to take it in fibrous form ( soy sauce is nowhere nearly as effective). Tofu and soy milk are recommended and doctors say that those with a family history of breast cancer should monitor their soy intake (among a subset of women it has been shown that soy can increase susceptibility to breast cancer).
Both black and green teas are high in anti-oxidants, the benefits of which are outlined above. However, green tea is regarded as an especially super 'superfood'. Some research suggests that, taken regularly, it can inhibit the growth of cancer cells. A regular green tea habit will also lower cholesterol.
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5 Dark Chocolate
It's chocolate… only good for you! Dark chocolate is high in antioxidants and may help lower blood pressure. The important word here is 'dark' - keep an eye peeled for chocolate with 60 per cent or higher cocoa content (i.e. the darker the chocolate the healthier). An additional bonus is the fact that dark chocolate contains less sugar than the common-or-garden variety.
The humble asparagus is a great source of folate - a B vitamin that can assist in regulating mood. It helps in the production of dopamine, serotonin and norepinephrine - nature's mood enhancers. Asparagus won't cheer you up on its own - however, it will ensure that your body has a plentiful supply of the chemicals that regulate your state of mind.
They may be tough to crack but it's worth the effort: walnuts are full of tryptophan, an amino acid that assists in the creation of serotonin (the benefits of which are listed already). Also, walnuts are digested slowly, meaning they stabilize your mood and make stress - which, let's face it is part of all our lives - easier to deal with.
Garlic contains a compound called allicin. This is responsible for garlic's distinctive smell - okay 'reek'. However, there is a school of thought that it reduces overeating by stimulating the part of the brain that tells you when you've consumed enough. In an age when we reflexively empty our plate, that's probably no bad thing.
The protein in legumes tell your brain you've had enough to eat - helping avoid the problem, already referenced, of stuffing your face until it feels your belly is about to pop. Also, as legumes are difficult to process, they force your body to go the extra yard - because you are expending all that energy digesting, they help you lose weight.
The health properties of spinach are such a cliche we initially hesitated to mention them: however, the plain facts are that it is a significant source of iron (making it extra useful to vegetarians). Plus at a cellular level, it is thought that spinach can boost energy production. A cup of cooked spinach every day is recommended.
Not the most handsome of vegetables: nonetheless, artichokes are loaded with magnesium, which powers some 300 separate biochemical reactions in the body. Lack of magnesium means the muscles have to work harder, causing you to tire more quickly. Worryingly, it is believed 70pc of us do not receive an adequate supply of magnesium.
Strawberries contain high levels of antioxidants which repair damage to the skin, brought about by ultra-violent rays and pollution. The high level of vitamin C reduce wrinkles and leads to less dryness - great if you want to keep your skin looking fresh also.
Whether boiled, scrambled or fried, eggs contain choline - a nutrient that helps improve memory and increase powers of concentration. So don't forget: eggs will boost your powers of recollection.
14 Black beans
Black beans are full of protein - with the upside that they don't contain any of the unhealthy saturated fats you will find in alternative sources, such as red meat.
15 Olive oil
Olive oil is the complete package: rich in anti-oxidants and with proven cholesterol-lowering benefits. Be sparing in your consumption: a tablespoon contains as many calories as a slice of toast piled high with butter.
Health & Living