10 Powerhouse Foods for Optimum Health

[custom_frame_center shadow=”on”]fruits & veggies[/custom_frame_center]

February is Healthy Lifestyle Awareness Month, that time of year when the attention of all South Africans is drawn to the advantages of good nutrition, exercise, tobacco control and safe sexual behaviour in fighting off diseases such as cancer. ‘But healthy foods are so expensive,’ you complain. No, they’re not! Check this list of superfoods, researched and compiled by US Food Network chef Dave Lieberman and New York Times science writer Anahad O’Connor. Love the simplicity!

[custom_frame_right shadow=”on”]Avocado[/custom_frame_right]


It’s true that avos contain more fat than most other fruits, but it’s virtually all mono-unsaturated fat, which raises good cholesterol, lowers bad cholesterol and prevents heart disease, among other benefits. Avos are also fibre-rich and contain even more potassium than bananas (potassium helps reduce blood pressure).

  • Beetroot

  • [custom_frame_left shadow=”on”]Beetroot[/custom_frame_left] US Food Network chef Dave Lieberman and New York Times science writer Anahad O’Connor call beetroot ‘nature’s multivitamin’, with more nutrients gram for gram ‘than virtually any other fruit or vegetable on the planet’. Beetroot contains anti-oxidants that fight off the free radicals that attack the body’s cells and can lead to ageing and diseases such as cancer. Compounds in beetroot have also been shown to lower blood pressure, reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and help cleanse the body of harmful chemicals. We most often eat it cooked, but beetroot is also delicious raw in salads.
  • [custom_frame_right shadow=”on”]mixed berries[/custom_frame_right]


    Mixed berries provide a cornucopia of anti-oxidant goodness. Raspberries are rich in vitamin C, blueberries contain fibre, blackberries brim with vitamin E and strawberries have zinc. It’s easy to add berries to both sweet and savoury dishes year round, as they’re easy to buy frozen out of season.

  • Cabbage

  • [custom_frame_left shadow=”on”]cabbage[/custom_frame_left]It’s a fact that cruciferous vegetables – cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage – are good for you. It now appears that the star of the team is cabbage, which scientists have discovered to contain compounds that reduce the risk of cancers (including breast, stomach, lung and prostate cancer) as well as heart disease, gastrointestinal problems and Alzheimer’s disease. Cabbage is also rich in vitamins A, C and K, which protects joints and can fend off osteoarthritis. Stir-fry it lightly before adding to stews and curries, or serve raw and finely grated to make the most of its peppery flavour.
  • [custom_frame_right shadow=”on”]salmon[/custom_frame_right]


    Fish that is rich in omega-3 fatty acids – salmon, trout, tuna – can help lower blood pressure and reduce inflammation. The oil in fatty fish nourishes the brain, retarding the mental decline that is associated with ageing.

  • Lentils

  • [custom_frame_left shadow=”on”]lentils[/custom_frame_left]We’ve been warned over and again about the health risks of consuming too much red meat. Instead, say Lieberman and O’Connor, eat lentils. When combined with rice or another grain, lentils form a complete protein with all the amino acids the body needs. Lentils contain no cholesterol, virtually no fat, and lots of soluble and insoluble fibres that help manage blood sugar, reduce cholesterol and aid digestion. Packed with vitamins and minerals such as iron, lentils can be cooked in bulk and stored in the fridge to add to dishes ranging from soups and casseroles to salads.
  • [custom_frame_right shadow=”on”]mixed nuts[/custom_frame_right]


    Forget the food fallacy that condemns nuts to the fattening-snack-food bin, say O’Connor and Lieberman. In fact, almonds, cashews, hazelnuts, walnuts and peanuts (actually a legume) contain heart-healthy fats that boost ‘good’ cholesterol. Research has shown that munching a few servings of nuts a week dramatically reduces people’s risk of cardiovascular disease and actually reduces their likelihood of gaining weight.

  • Quinoa

  • [custom_frame_left shadow=”on”]quinoa[/custom_frame_left]Many people never have heard of this grain (pronounced keen-wah). However, NASA scientists called upon to address feeding astronauts in space described quinoa as containing ‘all the essential life-sustaining nutrients … as any (food) in the plant or animal kingdom.’ High in fibre, protein and minerals and very low in kilojoules and fat, a daily bowl of quinoa can lower rates of obesity, breast cancer, heart disease and Type 2 diabetes. Try it mixed with brown rice and chopped vegetables, fresh or roasted, as a salad.
  • [custom_frame_right shadow=”on”]spinach[/custom_frame_right]


    Spinach is a powerhouse of anti-oxidants and other nutrients such as calcium, vitamins A and K, and omega-3 fatty acids. Spinach is easily available, cheap, quick to cook and, according to O’Connor and Lieberman, is ‘kryptonite to cancer cells’.

  • Tomatoes

  • [custom_frame_left shadow=”on”]tomatoes[/custom_frame_left]Health authorities such as the Harvard School of Public Health and the International Journal of Cancer have stated that regular consumption of tomato products can reduce the risk of cancer and heart disease. Tomatoes are packed with vitamins and phytonutrients such as lycopene, which are more easily absorbed when tomatoes are cooked. Keep canned tomatoes in the store cupboard.

    Acknowledgements & Photo credits

    Adapted from an article written by Patricia Edmonds in the newsletter of the Association for Retired Persons. Dave Lieberman and Anahad O’Connor have published their findings in a book The 10 Things You Need to Eat, and More than 100 Easy and Delicious Ways to Prepare Them. US, William Morrow Cookbooks. 978-0061780271)

    1. Fruits & vegetables image by Olearys (Frutas e Vegetais) [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
    2. Avocado image: See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
    3. Beetroot image by Evan-Amos (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons
    4. Berries image courtesy of Ambro / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
    5. Cabbage image courtesy of pakorn / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
    6. Fish image courtesy of rakratchada torsap / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
    7. Lentils, Nuts & Tomatoes images courtesy of Grant Cochrane / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
    8. Quinoa image by Pom² (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
    9. Spinach image courtesy of smarnad / FreeDigitalPhotos.net