'Superfoods' Everyone Needs

Roast turkey with stuffing
It's a bird ... it's a plane ... it's ... walnuts? Don't laugh. The humble walnut, along with a dozen other dietary choices -- from beans to yogurt -- is no less than a "superfood," say some health experts.

Steven Pratt, MD, is one of them. In his book SuperFoods RX: Fourteen Foods That Will Change Your Life, he goes into detail why he thinks these foods are so potent.

Pratt, an ophthalmologist who specializes in ocular plastic surgery at Scripps Memorial Hospital in La Jolla, Calif., says he became convinced of the power of these basic foods when he saw the positive results of a few simple diet changes in his patients suffering from age-related macular degeneration -- a leading cause of blindness.

"Whether you're trying to prevent cataracts, macular degeneration, cancer, or cardiovascular disease, the same type of preventive dietary measures apply," he says. "The whole body is connected: a healthy heart equals a healthy eye and healthy skin. You'll hear about all these special diets for special health needs, but really, the same diet and the same lifestyle choices prevent the same diseases. With rare exceptions, you don't need 20 different preventive modalities -- just one really good diet."

And that "one really good diet," Pratt says, should be founded on these "superfoods":

  • Beans
  • Blueberries
  • Broccoli
  • Oats
  • Oranges
  • Pumpkin
  • Salmon
  • Soy
  • Spinach
  • Tea (green or black)
  • Tomatoes
  • Turkey
  • Walnuts
  • Yogurt

    When incorporated into your regular daily diet, these foods, says Pratt, can stop some of the changes that lead to diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, Alzheimer's, and some cancers. "I picked them out after researching all of the world's healthiest diets: for example, Japanese diets, Mediterranean diets, and even some of the healthier dietary patterns in the United States," he says. "I noticed that it's the same food groups wherever you live."

    Walnuts: The Good Fat

    Every nut, even macadamias -- the fattiest -- has been found to improve cholesterol, Pratt reports. "Walnuts are among the superstars. They're an excellent source of plant-based omega-3 fatty acids," he says. Salmon is another great source of these heart-healthy fatty acids.

    "Studies show that you can lower your risk of cardiovascular disease by 15% to 50% if you eat a handful of nuts five times a week. If you found a pill that did the same thing, you'd make a fortune." Of course, chowing down on a huge tub of walnuts can be counterproductive, so as always, watch your intake. A handful of dry, roasted, unsalted walnuts -- about 14 walnut halves -- has about 150 calories, and is enough to yield "superfood" benefits.

    Add Some Color To Your Diet

    It is true that good things come in small packages. Used by Native Americans for medicinal purposes, blueberries are a tiny fruit that combines a wide variety of nutrients. "Blueberries don't have a huge amount of any single nutrient, but they have the synergy of multiple nutrients," Pratt says. "There's vitamin C, folic acid, fiber, carotenoids, and hundreds of other compounds in this one small fruit. Blueberries also have a very thick skin, which is where nature packs most of its nutrients."

    When you're thinking "superfoods," think color, says Beverly Clevidence, PhD, a research leader at the USDA's Diet and Human Performance laboratory. That means foods that are deep blue, purple, red, green, or orange. They contain health-enhancing nutrients that protect against heart disease and cancer, and also improve our sense of balance, our memory, and other thinking skills.

    Nutritionist Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD, director of nutrition of the WebMD Weight Loss Clinic, offers these tips on how to add some color to your diet:

  • Top your cereal with almonds or berries; add tomatoes to sandwiches, soups or stews; layer your whole grain bread sandwich with slices of peppers and fresh spinach.
  • Pack a snack bag of nuts, baby carrots, raw broccoli, grape tomatoes, and bell pepper slices for a nutritious pick-me-up between meals.
  • Fruit and nut granola bars stash easily into briefcases for quick energy and a tasty treat.