HEALTH MATTERS: ‘Super foods’ help fight disease

Ten ‘super foods’ have strong disease-fighting abilities and can be beneficial to your health.

By Sabina Beesley, MS, RD Princeton HealthCare System
    In his best-selling book "The Omnivore’s Dilemma," Michael Pollan advises: "Don’t eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food." This is good advice, especially in today’s world where processed foods have become the norm around millions of dinner tables across the country.
    By avoiding processed foods and embracing a diet consisting of fresh, simple ingredients, we can improve our health and reduce the risk for chronic disease and cancer. The following 10 "super foods" have strong disease-fighting abilities and can be beneficial to your health.
    Fruits and vegetables: Fresh fruits and vegetables are rich in antioxidants that can reduce the risk of heart disease and certain cancers. They also add important fiber to the diet. Berries have the highest content of antioxidants of all fruits and contain lignons, which are fibers that help reduce cholesterol and keep the colon healthy.
    Green leafy vegetables such as kale, chard and spinach are rich sources of calcium, iron and lutein, which protects the eyes. Broccoli and cauliflower help detoxify the body. The goal for a healthy diet is to eat two different fruits and two different vegetables daily.
    Fish and seafood: Fish and seafood are rich in omega-3 fatty acids that can help lower blood triglycerides and increase HDL or good cholesterol. Diets rich in omega-3 fatty acids have been linked to the reduced risk of heart attack or stroke and certain cancers.
    Eating four ounces of seafood, such as salmon, mussels or scallops, two to three times a week, is recommended. Limit consumption of large predatory fish such as shark, swordfish and mahi-mahi, all of which can be high in mercury. Shrimp, lobster and squid should be avoided because they are high in cholesterol.
    Nuts: Walnuts, pecans, cashews and almonds all contain omega-3 fatty acids that can help thin the blood and reduce the risk of heart disease or stroke, as well breast cancer and colon cancer. Walnuts and almonds have the highest level of omega-3 fatty acids of all the nuts. Just a quarter cup of nuts a day has been shown to reduce heart attacks and stroke in men by 35 percent.
    Tomatoes: Lycopene, a phytonutrient in tomatoes, has been shown to reduce the growth of prostate tumors. Cooked tomatoes and tomato paste are the best sources for lycopene. The goal for a healthy diet is four to five servings of cooked tomatoes per week.
    Olive oil: Olive oil is rich in monounsaturated fat that can help thin the blood and keep arteries free flowing. Just two tablespoons a day will provide the necessary benefits.
    Whole grains: Like fruits and vegetables, whole grains provide fiber that has been shown to lower cholesterol and reduce the risk for certain cancers such as colon, prostate and breast cancer by binding to bile acids in the intestinal tract.
    Be aware that many multigrain foods are not 100-percent whole grain. Whole grains are listed in the ingredients as whole wheat, whole oat, whole grain and whole bran. Aim for foods with whole grains listed as the first ingredient, with a goal of consuming 25 to 35 grams daily.
    Yogurt: Plain yogurt contains "good" bacteria, known as probiotics, that help maintain a healthy intestinal tract. Diets rich in probiotics have been linked to a decrease in intestinal disorders such as diarrhea, constipation, irritable bowel syndrome and colon cancer. One or two servings a day is recommended. Avoid yogurts with more than 15 grams of sugar or any yogurt with high fructose corn syrup.
    Tea: Green and black tea — hot or iced — have strong antioxidants that can protect the body from cellular damage. Diets rich in tea are linked to decreased cancer rates. Drinking one to two servings of tea daily is recommended.
    Wheat germ and Brazil nuts: Wheat germ and Brazil nuts are rich in selenium, which lowers the risk for prostate and breast cancer in some women. A single Brazil nut contains the recommended serving of one to two tablespoons of selenium daily. Selenium can also be taken as supplement.
    Red wine: Modest amounts of red wine — no more than five ounces daily for those who drink alcohol — have shown to help thin the blood and reduce the risk of narrowing of the arteries, which leads to heart disease.
    In addition, limiting foods that are high in saturated fat, trans fat and sugar, and reducing consumption of simple carbohydrates such as white breads, white pasta and white rice can also improve your health.
    Princeton HealthCare System through its Community Education & Outreach Program will host a discussion on "Super Foods and Cancer Prevention" from 7 to 8:30 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 28. The discussion will be held at the University Medical Center at Princeton Breast Health Center, 300B Princeton-Hightstown Road, East Windsor Commons 2, East Windsor.
    To register for the free session or for more inFormation, visit or call (888) 897-8979.
    To find a physician with Princeton HealthCare System, call (888) 742-7496 or visit
Sabina Beesley is a Registered Dietitian with University Medical Center at Princeton’s Nutrition Program. She regularly counsels patients who need to lose weight, lower their blood pressure or cholesterol or need to improve their health due to illness, cancer, or other disorders. Many insurance companies cover nutrition counseling for various issues. To schedule an appointment, call (609) 497-4251.