By: Rachel Neifeld, RD, CDN
You’re eating a balanced diet full of fruits and veggies, whole grains, low fat dairy, lean proteins, and healthy fats, but did you know that you can give your pregnancy a nutritional boost by including certain “super foods?” The super foods described in this article all contain high amounts of “phytochemicals,” a group of compounds found in plants which fight against cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure.
Some commonly known phytochemicals include beta carotene, ascorbic acid (vitamin C), folic acid, and vitamin E. The plants use these compounds to protect themselves from environmental damage, and when humans consume them, the compounds act in similar ways to protect our bodies as well. Some interfere with DNA replication, such as saponins which are found in beans. They interfere with the replication of cell DNA, thereby preventing the multiplication of cancer cells. Capsaicin, found in hot peppers, protects DNA from carcinogens, while the phytochemical, allicin, from garlic has anti-bacterial properties.
So if phytochemicals are so powerful, why not just put them into a pill and take it as a supplement? The reason is that they work together with other compounds in the food to produce their beneficial effects. To benefit from the power of these phytonutrients, we must eat the whole plant. Try to make most of the foods you eat come from plant sources. Evidence continues to mount that eating at least five servings of fruits and vegetables a day reduces the risk of cancer. Try to include at least one of the super foods below in each meal to maximize your health at a time when staying healthy has never been more important!
- Garlic and Onions
- Whole Grains and Legumes (nuts, seeds, beans)
- Anthocyanins: Red Wine, Grapes, Cranberries, Strawberries, Cherries, Raspberries, Blueberries, Black Currents
- Lignans: Flax, soybeans, whole grains
- Isoflavins: Soybeans, Licorice, Garbanzo beans (chick peas)
- Vitamin E: Wheat Germ, Sunflower seeds, almonds, spinach, peanuts, soybean oil, corn oil
- Vitamin C: Citrus fruits, broccoli, bell peppers, strawberries, kiwi, kale, cantaloupe
- Carotenoids (beta carotene): Oranges, Carrots, yams, cantaloupe, apricots, squash. Yellow-orange, red and green vegetables and yellow-orange fruits
- Lycopene: Tomatoes, red pepper, pink grapefruit
- Lutein, Zeaxanthin: Spinach, kale, turnip greens
- Folic Acid: Lentils, Dark green vegetables (broccoli, spinach, collard or turnip greens, okra, asparagus), citrus fruit and juice