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Ask Dr. K: 12 ‘super foods’ that have many health benefits

DEAR DOCTOR K: What are “superfoods”? Which ones do you recommend?

DEAR READER: “Superfood” isn’t a technical term; it’s shorthand for foods that can improve your health and prevent disease. I don’t much like the term, since it implies that some foods have magical powers that will keep you healthy regardless of what else you eat or do. But there are foods that do appear to confer more health benefits than others.

Together with Dr. Michelle Hauser, nutrition educator and clinical fellow at Harvard Medical School, I’ve compiled a list of 12 “superfoods.” Try to incorporate them into your diet:

(1) Salmon is high in omega-3 fatty acids. These fats help reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke. Try to eat salmon or another fatty fish twice a week.

(2) Blueberries contain powerful antioxidants, which can help lower your risk of many diseases. We single out blueberries, but eating a mixture of colorful berries is best.

(3) Broccoli. Any cruciferous vegetable — Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage or kale — is a worthy dietary addition. These vegetables contain potent disease-fighting compounds. Broccoli is also high in vitamin C, fiber, calcium and folate.

(4) Eggs. One egg contains 6 grams of protein, as well as lutein (good for vision) and choline (which helps preserve memory). For many years eggs had a bad reputation. That was because the yolk contains a lot of cholesterol. Most people can eat one egg a day without adverse health effects. (People with diabetes should probably eat no more than three or four eggs a week.)

(5) Greek yogurt. Yogurt is a great source of bone-strengthening calcium and vitamin D. Greek yogurt contains twice the protein of regular yogurt.

(6) Beans are an excellent source of folate, potassium, magnesium, iron, protein and fiber. If beans make you gassy, soak them before cooking, pour out the water they soaked in, and cook them in new water.

(7) Walnuts. Nuts are loaded with healthy fat. As we’ve discussed before, not all fat in the diet is bad for us. Too much saturated fat and trans fat is bad for us, but polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats are generally good for us. Walnuts are also high in antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids and can quell inflammation. Other nuts also are healthy foods for the same reasons, but not quite as good as walnuts.

(8) Oatmeal is high in fiber and can help lower cholesterol levels. Choose steel-cut oatmeal, the least processed type.

(9) Olive oil is high in healthy fats that reduce cholesterol, prevent blood from clotting too easily and may even control blood sugar.

(10) All teas — black, white, green or oolong — are high in antioxidants. Drinking tea every day may help lower your risk of cancer, heart disease and dementia.

(11) Quinoa (“keen-wa”) is a seed that’s used like a grain. It’s high in protein, essential amino acids, vitamins and minerals. It’s also gluten-free.

(12) Dark chocolate helps control cholesterol, blood sugar and blood pressure. Choose chocolate containing at least 70 percent cocoa.

Dr. Komaroff is a physician and professor at Harvard Medical School. To send questions, go to AskDoctorK.com, or write: Ask Doctor K, 10 Shattuck St., Second Floor, Boston, MA 02115.

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