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Superfoods help protect us from disease

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Superfoods is a word often heard in the media today. These are foods that go beyond meeting basic nutritional needs, such as calories, vitamins or proteins, to help protect us from the risk of many chronic diseases. Many superfoods are grown in Kentucky including nuts, blueberries, broccoli, spinach, tomatoes and whole grains.
Nuts, such as black walnuts, have a concentration of omega-3s. A quarter-cup provides 90.8 percent of the daily value for these essential fats. Black walnuts have many potential health benefits ranging from cardiovascular protection to the promotion of better cognitive function to anti-inflammatory benefits helpful in asthma, rheumatoid arthritis and inflammatory skin diseases such as eczema and psoriasis. In addition, walnuts contain an antioxidant compound called ellagic acid that supports the immune system and appears to have several anticancer properties.
Blueberries with their rich vibrant color are antioxidant rich and may help prevent age-related diseases, including Alzheimer’s and some forms of cancer. They also contain fiber and vitamin C.
Broccoli contains sulforaphane, a cancer-preventive phytochemical shown to reduce cancer in laboratory and animal studies.
Dark green spinach has a high lutein content. Studies show that this antioxidant protects against eye diseases, such as age-related macular degeneration and cataracts. You can think of this as sort of sunglasses for your retinas.
The same pigment that gives tomatoes their appealing color also appears to help lower the risk of certain types of cancer, especially prostate, lung and stomach. The nutrient is called lycopene.  Many Kentuckians grow tomatoes in their own yard and enjoy their scrumptiousness right off the vine.  They can also be grown hydroponically all winter as we know here in Carroll County since our own Patty Kost of Sanders grows hydroponic tomatoes.
Whole grains—which include wheat, corn, oats, barley, quinoa, sorghum, spelt and rye—are also good for weight management because they help stave off hunger. In countless studies, they have been associated with reducing the risk of heart disease and cancer and reducing blood glucose levels, which contributes to diabetes.
If you are thinking of all of a sudden adding lots of superfoods to your diet, remember that small dietary changes should be made and to make them gradually.
Nuts, for example, in general are high in calories, so moderation is the key. The best approach is to reap the health benefits of eating walnuts but not add excessive calories to your daily intake. Instead of just adding walnuts to your current diet, eat them in replacement of foods that are high in saturated fats, such as cheese and meat, and limit your intake of these tasty treats to the recommended 1.5 ounces per day or about 20 walnut halves.
Many diseases—heart disease, diabetes, cancer, stroke, osteoporosis—all have a pretty strong link to diet and lifestyle. For a list of more superfoods, contact me. The more you can do to prevent these diseases, the better. Eating more superfoods is one step to better health.
As you plan your Thanksgiving meal for next week, what superfoods will you be serving?
UK Extension specialists, John Strang, and Sandra Bastin provided information for this article.  

Educational programs by the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service are provided to all people regardless of race, color, age, sex, national origin, religion or disability.

Grace Angotti is Carroll Co. Extension agent for family and consumer sciences. Call her at (502) 732-7030 or send e-mail to gangotti@uky.edu.