A few times every year we are presented with the latest in ancient nutrition secrets. They come with names like “goji” and “acai” and are touted as paths to glowing health and longevity heretofore known only to gurus living in the most remote corners of the Orient.
And often their powers are real. But come on — is there anybody out there who would really embrace a diet that involves trolling specialty markets for expensive berries with names most people don’t even know how to pronounce? Fortunately for us all, some of the most powerful foods are only a few aisles over from the cookies at the supermarket.
Wellness experts Rosalie Phelan and Anastasia McLaughlin will extol the benefits of some of these nutritional powerhouses when they present “Superfoods: The Fabulous Fourteen” on Wednesday, February 11, at 7:30 p.m. at the Princeton Library. The free presentation will showcase some of the foods that provide some of the greatest nutritional benefits and that fit within the average supermarket shopping trip. The presentation will be based in part on Stephen Pratt’s book, “Superfoods RX.” Call 609-924-8822 for more information.
Phelan, a 1982 mechanical engineering graduate of Union College who received her master’s in the same subject from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in 1985, became certified by the American Association of Drugless Practitioners as a wellness counselor after completing a program at the institute for Integrative Nutrition in New York. There she met McLaughlin, a former Wall Street attorney who graduated from New York Law School. Together, the pair launched Corporate Wellness Consultants (www.cwc2000.com, or CWC2000LLC@yahoo.com) in 2006. Located at 5 Poplar Drive in Princeton Junction the firm specializes in helping companies implement health and wellness programs for employees.
Prior to starting CWC Phelan, who grew up near Albany, worked at GE. She also writes grant proposals for the Lawrenceville Neighborhood Services Center and the Community Action Service Center in Hightstown.
Always keen on nutrition, Phelan says that the number one way to get superfoods coursing through our veins is to make them accessible and easily available. The good news is that they are. “They’re easily obtainable,” she says. “It’s just a matter of making people aware.”
The Superfoods. Superfoods are those that are naturally rich in antioxidants and micronutrients. In recent years the antioxidant (read: anti-cancer) benefits of vitamins C and E have become increasingly known, and polyphenols — a plant-based chemical once called Vitamin P — has also shown its anti-cancer, pro-heart benefits.
And while these nutrients are indeed found in exotic fruits and berries, they are also found in tomatoes, blueberries, broccoli, and oranges. Most people already know this, but Phelan says that’s the point. The foods that are best for us are available at the average trip to the store.
Beans are high in proteins and fibers and help reduce obesity. Oats reduce the risk of type II diabetes. Pumpkin is high in folic acid and lowers the risk of various cancers. Spinach decreases the chance of cardiovascular disease and age-related macular degeneration. Walnuts reduce the risk of developing coronary heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. Even tea helps prevent osteoporosis.
Not just for vegetarians. Phelan insists that superfoods are available to fit all types of eaters, and not just vegetarians or even vegans. While plant foods are typically nutrient-dense and fat-sparse, wild salmon has been shown to lower the risk of heart disease, while turkey helps build a strong immune system. And yogurt promotes strong bones and a healthy heart.
Did someone say chocolate? Phelan and McLaughlin have deviated a little from the Pratt book. For one, they plan to extol the virtues of chocolate, which are many. Provided you stay on the dark side.
Dark chocolate has many of the same benefits as most dark vegetables — a healthy dose of flavanoids to ease blood pressure and antioxidants to lessen the effects of aging. For fans of milk chocolate there is a caveat — dairy consumption has been shown to inhibit the benefits of chocolate, which also include the ability to stimulate endorphins and seratonin. The right amount of chocolate, in fact, is known to simulate feelings of falling in love.
And don’t worry entirely about the fats. Though chocolate contains palmitic acid, a saturated fat that raises cholesterol levels and, subsequently, heart disease risk, palmitic acid is only a third of the fat found in chocolate. The other two-thirds are equal parts oleic acid (an unsaturated fat also found in olive oil) and stearic acid (a saturated fat, but one shown to have a neutral effect of cholesterol).
Did somebody not say soy? Phelan says she and McLaughlin have decided to stay away from soy, given the controversy that surrounds it lately. On the one hand, soy has many of the benefits of meat or animal products — namely complete proteins — without the drawbacks of high fat, cholesterol, and sodium levels found in many animal products.
But an increasing body of knowledge suggests that heavy soy consumption — particularly through foods like soy milk, cheese, or burgers that are primarily made from soy isolates — can sap the body’s nutrition balance and lead to deteriorating health. Overconsumption also has been linked to digestion disruption and soy estrogens are endocrine disruptors, meaning that they could lead to breast or uterine cancer.
Such problems have been suggested in people who have replaced all animal products with soy-based alternatives — for example, those who might wash down a soy burger, topped with soy cheese, with a glass of soy milk. Moderate consumption, however, has not been directly linked to such problems. Regardless, Phelan says she plans to steer clear of the soy debate and concentrate instead on foods that are universally accepted as beneficial.