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Food to the rescue

Full of vitamins, nutrients and disease-fighting elements, some foods deserve 'super' status

Full of vitamins, nutrients and disease-fighting elements, some foods deserve 'super' status

May 08, 2006|by KRISTIN WILSON

You've heard the mantra your whole life: Eat your fruits and vegetables. They're good for you.

But, as it turns out, certain foods are even better than previously thought.

Scientific research is helping to explain what mothers, doctors and nutritionists have been preaching all along: A diet rich in fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains and lean protein will go a long way toward keeping your body healthy.

The term "super foods" emerged on the national diet trend radar screen several years ago, dietitians say. A super food is one that is full of vitamins and nutrients and is proven to have healthful benefits.

Foods such as beans, blueberries, broccoli, oats, citrus fruit, soy and tea are all considered super foods, according to food organizations, nutritionists and Dr. Steven Pratt, author of the book "SuperFoods Rx."

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Many of these foods have been touted as helping to prevent cancer and lower cholesterol levels. Others have been found to help boost the immune system or protect against osteoporosis.

"We have tons of research that proves that people who have diets that are rich in fruits and vegetables and grains have lower incidences of many chronic diseases," says Noralyn Mills, spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association (ADA).

In some cases, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has reviewed food claims and supports the connection between naturally occurring nutrients and health benefits, explains Tim Higgins, clinical nutrition manager for Washington County Hospital.

Last year, for example, the FDA agreed with findings that the antioxidant lycopene, found in tomatoes, might help prevent prostate cancer. The FDA also has supported evidence that consuming nuts can reduce the risk of developing heart disease.

"The FDA has approved many items to be associated with health claims," Higgins says. "Like calcium to reduce osteoporosis, sodium to reduce hypertension or blood pressure, fiber and cancer, soluble fiber and heart disease."

"The American Cancer Society believes that there is strong-enough scientific evidence that proves that eating a variety of healthy foods, including some of these super foods, that that in combination with regular physical activity will reduce cancer risk," says Dawn Ward, spokeswoman for the American Cancer Society.

The increased buzz - that certain natural foods have the potential to help people live longer - has given a boost to the Tri-State produce industry.

In the last five years there has been a "marked increase" in the number of people growing and buying locally grown produce, says Jeff Semler, extension educator with Maryland Cooperative Extension in Washington County.

He attributes part of that increase to a greater consumer demand for fresh fruits and vegetables. Greater demand often means a greater price, and some farmers in Washington County are finding that growing produce can be profitable.

Southern Pennsylvania also has seen an increase in the number of people growing produce and especially some of the foods considered super foods. Blueberries, garlic and greens, such as spinach and arugula, have been increasingly popular crops, says Steve Bogash, commercial horticulture educator with Penn State Cooperative Extension.

"Blueberries, in our particular climate zone, are the super food," he says. "Greens have gotten to be a really hot item. That wasn't so years ago."

The great news about super foods is that this is one diet-related trend that is not going to go away, Mills says.

"This is information that we have known for decades," she says. "We are very happy that our persistence and the research - it's finally hitting mainstream."

"The point is, when you look at these foods in bulk, it kind of underscores the fundamental message that we have been trying to give clients," Higgins says. "Eat a variety of foods, eat fresh fruits and vegetables, eat plenty of fiber."

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