How to make a healthy diet even healthier
You think you eat a healthy diet. Don’t you? Most of us eat only on average 25 – 30 different foods each week, so there’s likely to be room for improvement.
Add the following 15 foods and take your diet to the next level to achieve peak fitness.
1 Peanut butter
Eating peanuts or peanut butter twice a week can cut your risk of developing heart disease by 11 per cent according to a 2006 study from Imperial College, London. Peanuts are rich in heartprotective monounsaturated oils, vitamin E (which helps promote muscle repair after working out), protein, fibre, B vitamins (these promote energy release from food), folate and magnesium. Roasting peanuts raises their antioxidant levels by 22 per cent.
Upgrade your salad by adding a handful of watercress. An average portion (80g) will give you 42% of your daily vitamin A needs (in the form of beta-carotene which the body converts to vitamin A), 100% of your daily vitamin C and 13% of your iron (needed for making red blood cells). Its high content of phenylethyl isothiocyanate (which gives watercress its unique peppery flavour) can protect against cancer.
Ordinary (black) tea is rich in antioxidants (known as flavanols) and is just as good as water for rehydrating you. A study at Kings College, London found that drinking three or four cups of tea a day can cut the chances of having a heart attack and may protect against cancer. It protects your tooth enamel from erosion (as it has a neutral pH), prevents decay (due to its fluoride content) and strengthens bones. Contrary to the myth, it doesn’t dehydrate you, according to the research.
4 Pomegranate juice
This superfruit contains polyphenols that can kill off cancer cells, tannins, which lower blood pressure and stimulate the immune system and anthocyanins, which reduce inflammation and protect blood vessels. Israeli research scientists found that men drinking a glass of pomegranate juice a day reduce plaque buildup in arteries by 35 per cent, reducing the risk of heart disease and stroke. It also cuts the risk of prostate cancer, according to research from the University of California.
Fruit yoghurt contains carbohydrate (lactose and sucrose) and protein in a 4 to 1 ratio. According to University of Texas studies, this nutrient ratio accelerates post-exercise refuelling, which means faster recovery and muscles that feel less sore the next day. One (150g) pot also delivers around one third of your daily calcium needs.
Boost your immune defences by eating blackberries. Their high levels of phenolic acids help kill viruses and fight infections. Fifteen berries provide around one third of your daily vitamin C and half your vitamin E. Throw them into smoothies or mix with yoghurt for breakfast.
Ditch biscuits and crisps and trade them in for a handful of almonds. Research published in the American Heart Association’s publication, ‘Circulation’, shows that almonds help lower ‘bad’ cholesterol levels and reduce heart disease risk. People who ate about 25g (around 10) almonds each day lowered their LDL cholesterol levels by 4 per cent – eating 50g resulted in an even greater decrease of 9 per cent. Almonds are a good source of protein, fibre, heart-protective vitamin E and B-vitamins.
Tomatoes are packed with lycopene, a powerful antioxidant that helps ward of cancer. Studies reveal that men eating tomatoes (or tomato products such as tomato puree, juice and soup) ten or more times a week have a 35 per cent lower risk of developing prostate cancer.
Bananas can help beat bugs and boost your energy levels. Along with onions, asparagus, artichokes and garlic, bananas contain prebiotic carbohydrates called fructo-oligosaccharides, which feed the good bacteria in your gut. Chop one into a probiotic yogurt for the ultimate immune-boosting snack.
See off a cold by adding garlic to your meals. People who consumed garlic for twelve weeks were two thirds less likely to catch a cold, and garlic eaters are also less likely to suffer from stomach and colon cancer, heart disease, high blood pressure and high blood cholesterol. It’s the active ingredient allicin that does it and you’ll avoid garlic breath if you eat it with fennel.
“One egg provides about 10 per cent of your daily protein needs”
Go to work on an egg or two in the morning. According to the American Heart Association eating a boiled egg for breakfast results in increased fullness and prolonged energy release. Contrary to popular myth, eating two eggs daily does not raise LDL (‘bad’) cholesterol levels in the blood nor does it increase heart disease risk for most people.
One egg provides about 10 per cent of your daily protein needs. Egg protein is the most complete food protein known, which means it contains all the essential amino acids that your muscles need to promote recovery. Eggs are also rich in vitamin D (for strong bones), selenium (cancer protective), zeaxanthin and lutein, both of which help prevent age-related loss of eyesight (macular degeneration).
Turkey and chicken contain tryptophan, an amino acid that the body converts to the ‘feel good’ chemical serotonin. High-protein foods can also help boost alertness by increasing production of another neurotransmitter, dopamine.
13 Oily fish
Besides being an excellent source of high quality protein (there is about 30g in a 150g serving) oily fish are stocked with omega-3 fatty acids, which cut your chances of heart attack or stroke, help lower blood fat levels and reduce the stickiness of platelets in the blood. They may also help prevent memory loss as you age.
An omega-3 rich diet will help improve oxygen delivery during hard exercise by increasing the permeability of red blood cell membranes, as well as promoting speedy recovery and reducing post-exercise muscle soreness.The minimum requirement is 0.9g a day, which you can get from one portion (140g) of oily fish a week or 1 tablespoon of omega-3 rich oil daily.
Eat plenty of oranges and you may experience less muscle soreness after hard gym workouts. One fruit supplies more than 100 per cent of your daily vitamin C and a 2006 study from the University of North Carolina found that taking vitamin C supplements for two weeks before challenging gym exercise helped alleviate muscle soreness. Orange’s antioxidant powers also come from hesperidin, which has been shown to lower blood cholesterol levels, protect your eyesight and help fight cancer.
15 Wholegrain pasta
Pasta has long been the endurance athlete’s best friend because of its high carbohydrate content. Swap white pasta for wholegrain, it contains more fibre and additional B vitamins and iron for healthy red blood cells. In a 2009 US study, people who ate at least 52g of wholegrain foods daily – equivalent to a small portion of pasta – were less likely to develop high blood pressure.