Getting the Most Benefit From Your Foods

What to eat? Which foods are the most beneficial? Whether in the grocery aisles or at the table, this always seems to be the question.

Some experts say one thing, and other experts say something else. But let's keep it basic and look into some general facts first.

An Unrefined Approach

It's safe to say that most foods that are not processed, refined or chemically altered have certain benefits for our system.

Protein, for example, is broken down by our body into amino acids, which are the building blocks for our muscles and other tissues.

Fats we need for energy, to keep us warm and to store vitamins that are fat soluble such as A, K, D and E.

Carbohydrates? Yes, they are important too! We use them as our main source of energy, to keep us moving and to maintain functions necessary for life.

Most important are the vitamins and minerals. If we lack vitamins and minerals, some very important chemical reactions in our body would not occur -- reactions we need in order to survive and be healthy.

The quick notes above, of course, are a gross simplification; we can't say once and for all that those are the five most important things you can get out of your food.

In fact, variety, as it turns out, is not just the spice of life, it is one of the keys to a healthy life. In a situation where we are restricted to eating the same foods day in and day out (as so many are, unfortunately), we might suffer some serious side effects -- not the least of which is boredom.

Would you like to live only on chicken, olive oil, brown rice, apples and carrots? I thought as much. Hence, it is best to rotate your foods.

The Four Key Factors

Still, we would like to know what kind of stable foods should be in our diet.

One way to answer this question is to look at certain key factors in our diets, such as:

Oxygen radical absorbance capacity (total antioxidant power)

Zinc (important for the enzyme systems)

Folic acid (fundamental role in growth and reproduction of all cells)

Vitamin C (detoxification / strengthening immunity)

Healthy Eating, by the Numbers

With these in mind, one approach is to rate each of these factors using a score from one to five, in order to assign a score or sorts to different foods.

Using the system above, we can analyze vegetables and fruits that provide us with these components. Here are some examples of high-scoring foods (scores adapted from "The New Optimum Nutrition Bible, from Patrick Holford"):

Broccolini

Zinc: 5

Folic Acid: 3

ORAC: 4

Vitamin C: 4

TOTAL: 21

Curly Kale

Zinc: 3

Folic Acid: 4

ORAC: 5

Vitamin C: 5

TOTAL: 20

Spinach

Zinc: 5

Folic Acid: 5

ORAC: 4

Vitamin C: 2

TOTAL: 19

Blueberries

Zinc: 4

Folic Acid: 5

ORAC: 5

Vitamin C: 5

TOTAL: 24

Strawberries

Zinc: 5

Folic Acid: 3

ORAC: 4

Vitamin C: 5

TOTAL: 21

Raspberries

Zinc: 3

Folic Acid: 3

ORAC: 4

Vitamin C: 5

TOTAL: 19

Needless to say, if possible these foods should be organic. Regardless, the fruits and vegetables listed above should be on your diet plan.

All right, I know that some of us can't go near anything green. Start slow. Just add it on in soups, in stews and later in stir-frys.

The goal is for you to receive the most beneficial, natural, unaltered ingredients. This you can accomplish by using the above ingredients and to simply stay close to the earth when you make a decision about what foods to eat.

Stefan Aschan is the owner and founder of www.strength123.com, a New York City-based enterprise that provides nutrition advice and exercise programs.

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