Wouldn’t we all love to be Miles Monroe, Woody Allen’s character in the 1973 film classic Sleeper? Miles was sedated for a routine gallbladder surgery. When he awoke it was 200 years later and everything he knew about healthy food had been turned on its head: fatty steaks, cream pies, and hot fudge sundaes were the new health foods!
Did Woody Allen know he was predicting real food discoveries with his fantasy? New research shows that fats are not the dietary demons we once thought they were, eggs help keep your memory sharp, and even whiskey helps us dodge some serious diseases. Here’s a look at some “surprise superfoods” of the 21st century.
We think popcorn gets a bad rap because most people associate it with “movie popcorn” sold in giant containers and soaked in oil. But researchers at the University of Scranton analyzed several types of commercial popcorn and found they were full of polyphenols, powerful antioxidants that protect our cells. One of the antioxidants, ferulic acid, also has anti-inflammatory properties and helps fight cancer, diabetes, heart disease and Alzheimer’s—but be sure to eat the hull, where the polyphenols are concentrated, and don’t drown your snack in butter.
If you’re trying to get pregnant, your chances are better with whole-fat dairy foods, such as ice cream and whole milk, than with skim milk, according a 2009 report in the Harvard Health Newsletter. What’s more, skim milk has been linked to ovulatory infertility, responsibility for some 25 percent of infertility cases.
Low-fat chocolate milk is the perfect recovery drink after exercise. Two studies from the University of Texas at Austin showed that trained cyclists rode faster and with more energy if they drank low-fat chocolate milk after exercise, compared to sports drinks or calorie-free drinks.
Willie Nelson sings about his “whiskey river,” and while we’re not recommending a river of booze, liquor in moderation does have health benefits. Aside from being a fat-free, low-carb beverage, whiskey can help lower a person's risk of developing cancer because it contains more ellagic acid, an antioxidant, than other alcoholic drinks. Whiskey also boosts good cholesterol and lowers blood clot risk, helping to avoid stroke, dementia or diabetes.
Finally, you have permission to indulge your chocolate craving every day—but only the dark variety, and only in small portions. Researchers in Australia recently found that a daily dose of dark chocolate, packed with flavonoids (heart-protecting antioxidants), could help people with metabolic syndrome—a collection of symptoms that boost a person’s chances of getting heart disease—avoid heart attacks later. There’s no standard dose, but experts recommend limiting yourself to one ounce per day.
Nothing refreshes better on a hot summer afternoon than a big watermelon wedge. Sure, it’s sweet, but go ahead and enjoy because it’s packed with vitamin C, vitamin A and lycopene—three potent antioxidants that help guard against heart disease and, in the case of lycopene, a variety of cancers, including prostate, breast, lung, endometrial and colorectal. Men who eat lycopene-rich foods and drink green tea can further lower their risk of getting prostate cancer. A bonus benefit: eating watermelon might help you lose weight, thanks to its high levels of arginine, an amino acid. After watermelon season, don’t despair; you can get an arginine boost from seafood, nuts and seeds.
We used to avoid peanut butter because it’s relatively high in fat, but researchers have found plenty of reasons why we should keep it in our cupboards. Each serving (two tablespoons) contains seven grams of muscle-building protein. Peanut butter also is rich in fiber, which keeps us feeling full—and, as a result, helps us lose weight in spite of its fat content, because we eat less the rest of the day. And unsalted peanut butter has a heart-healthy ratio of potassium to sodium.
At long last, the much-maligned egg is back at the breakfast table. Instead of clogging our arteries with heart disease-causing LDL (the bad cholesterol), researchers at the University of Connecticut found that men who ate three eggs a day for 12 weeks actually increased their HDL (good cholesterol) levels, while their LDL levels were unaffected. They attributed the good news to lecithin, a substance in egg yolks that helps speed cholesterol to the liver, thus denying it a chance to stick to artery walls. Their high-protein, low-calorie content helps keep you fuller—a handy feature if you’re trying to lose weight. Eggs also contain choline, a nutrient that helps reduce disease-causing inflammation. And, as if that weren’t enough good news about eggs, a study at the Boston University School of Medicine showed that participants who ate the most choline scored better in memory tests, and showed fewer brain changes linked to dementia, than those who ate little choline. Not an egg eater? No problem: choline also is abundant in chicken, fish, milk, soy and kidney beans.
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