6. Fresh Figs
You can get dried figs year-round, which is why they might show up on my winter superfoods list, but for now, helloooo fresh figs. Fresh figs put the va va voom in fruit–the tender but toothsome skin gives way to a soft and sticky center, dotted with delicately popping seeds, the perfumed and honeyed flesh–you get the picture. In my humble opinion, figs are quite an experience. And beyond their drop-dead flavor is their profusion of life-boosting qualities.
Figs have the highest overall mineral content of all common fruits. With their standout source of potassium, figs may help to control blood pressure. Figs are high in calcium; bones, take notice. And as fate would have it, their potassium may reduce the amount of calcium lost as a result of high-salt diets. Figs are also a good source of iron, vitamin B6 and the trace mineral manganese.
The fruit also has tremendous amounts of fiber, more than any other dried or fresh fruit. Insoluble fiber protects against colon and breast cancer–soluble fiber helps lower blood cholesterol, and figs provide both. (Which also makes them a mild laxative, just so you know.) They also are a good source of flavonoids and polyphenols.
Try figs quartered, stuffed with goat cheese and drizzled with honey and topped with sea salt and black pepper.
Fig & Kalamata Olive Tapenade
Leeks look like cartoonishly big green onions, with a wonderfully sweet and subtle onion flavor. When braised or slowly sauteed, they melt into a sweet and creamy concoction that is hard not to love. And they are workhorses in the health department as well. Like garlic, onions, scallions, chives and shallots–all from the Allium family–leeks can help the liver eliminate toxins and carcinogens. Leeks contain sulfur compounds that may protect against heart disease and some cancers, they can help the liver eliminate toxins and carcinogens. Regular consumption of Allium vegetables (as little as two or more times a week–although I could certainly eat them every meal) is associated with a reduced risk of prostate and colon cancer.
8. Oregeno and Other Fresh Herbs
Give me fresh oregano and find me happy. I love fresh oregano, especially if salty Mediterranean flavors–capers, olives, roasted peppers–are involved. Yum. And yum. And superfood-y too! When researchers at the University of Oslo, Norway analyzed 1,113 foods to identify those foods richest in total antioxidants. Of the 50 foods highest in antioxidants, 13 were herbs and spices. One study found that oregano had 42 times more antioxidants than apples.
Is it surprising that fresh herbs are so healthful? Not to me, on an instinctual level they strike me as deeply salubrious. Randomly pick an herb and research its health benefits. You might find that parsley is an excellent source of beta carotene, the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin–essential for preventing macular degeneration–vitamin A, vitamin C and vitamin K. Or try cilantro. In research studies, cilantroï¿½s remarkable components have shown the potential to help promote detoxification, reduce high blood sugar and lower levels of cholesterol.
Spinach, good old spinach. It’s almost surprising that something so good for us is loved by so many! Spinach is an excellent source of folate–the B vitamin that helps to prevent birth defects, heart disease, dementia, and colon cancer (the third most common cause of cancer in women)–people who eat at least one serving of greens, including spinach, each week are 20 percent less likely to develop colon cancer, according to Italian research. Another compound in spinach, lutein, fights against macular degeneration, which causes age-related vision loss–in fact, including at least two servings of spinach a week in your diet halves the odds of macular degeneration (a leading cause of blindness), according to the the National Eye Institute. Eating cooked spinach more than twice a week cuts the need for cataract eye surgery in men by half, according to new Harvard University research. And in a large-scale Harvard study, spinach singled out as most protective against stroke! Finally, because of it’s high in vitamin K, spinach also helps build stronger bones–lowering the risk of hip fracture from osteoporosis as much as 30 percent, suggests a joint Harvard-Tufts study. Popeye was on to something.
A of eight medium strawberries provides 140 percent of the daily recommended allowance of vitamin C, 12 percent of our RDA for fiber, 6 percent of our RDA for folate, 210 mg of potassium, and is also high in vitamins K, B2, B5 and B6, copper, magnesium, and omega-fatty acids. In addition, strawberries contain anthocyanin, which has been used for studies in preventing initiation of cancers. Strawberries contain a unique phenolic group, ellagotannins, which are effective in preventing initiation of esophageal cancer.
With more antioxidant punch than most other fruits, berries in general strengthen tissue defenses against oxidation and inflammation, which are underlying factors in most age-related diseases. For example, substances in blueberries help with short-term memory loss associated with aging. All berries help lower risk for breast, oral, and colon cancers in women. With a wealth of phytochemicals like ellagic acid, adding strawberries to the diet lowers tumor risk by up to 58 percent.
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