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Super Foods 2

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A healthy diet needn't be composed solely of spinach and salmon. That's right: There are many other lesser-known foods that can make your diet healthy, varied and delicious. Read on for more information about foods that you're probably not eating, but should be.

Looking for additional protein in your diet? Forget meat or protein shakes; quinoa (pronounced keen-wa) contains more protein than any other grain. Termed a "supergrain" by nutritionists and food gurus, quinoa is derived from the seed of a plant that is related to spinach. A main staple of the ancient Inca diet, quinoa has just recently made its debut in North America.

Quinoa's secret is that it contains an amino acid called lysine, which is lacking in most grains; lysine makes quinoa a complete protein. In addition to the protein you'll receive (the World Health Organization equates the protein levels in quinoa to the amount found in milk), you'll also get your daily doses of vitamin B6, thiamin, niacin, potassium, and riboflavin. Furthermore, quinoa is a great source of copper, zinc, magnesium, and folate.

The best way to consume quinoa is to toast the seeds in a dry skillet (after rinsing them thoroughly). Toasted quinoa can then be combined with oil, spices and water to create a pilaf-type dish. Incorporate fruit, nuts, cheese or fresh herbs into the pilaf to create a whole, well-balanced meal. Cooked quinoa can also be added to soups, stir-fries, casseroles or stews, and cold cooked quinoa is a great addition to salads.

Although quinoa has been around for centuries, it is relatively new to North America; therefore, it is more costly than other grains. However, it tends to triple in size after cooking, so you will get your money's worth.

Amaranth is another supergrain that is extremely high in protein. Amaranth seeds, derived from the amaranth plant, are similar to quinoa in that they contain lysine, the amino acid lacking in most other grains that is responsible for adding protein.

Amaranth contains three times more fiber and five times more iron than wheat, and has more protein than milk.

In addition to these benefits, amaranth also has high levels of vitamins A and C, calcium, potassium, and phosphorous.

Amaranth is a very versatile grain that can be used in a variety of different dishes. It is regularly made into flour and used to create breads, pastas or other baked goods (found primarily in health food stores). Unlike most other grains, amaranth does not contain gluten, which makes it a perfect choice for people with celiac disease or a gluten allergy.

This supergrain is found extensively in health-food or whole-food markets in the form of hot and cold cereals, ready-made bread and mixes for baked goods (such as pancakes and muffins). It can also be used as a breading substitute for meats, fish or chicken, and it can be added to soups or salads (it has a nutty flavor that complements cold and hot foods nicely).

A great meat substitute, a food that contains all the minerals found in human blood and a super-healthy leafy green.

Tempeh is derived from fermented soybeans. To make tempeh, soybeans are inoculated with a culturing agent and incubated -- the result is a solid, cake-like substance.

This is yet another outlet of soy that has come to exist as a healthy substitute for meat. Don't get us wrong: Tempeh does not taste like meat (so it will not satisfy a steak craving), but it can definitely provide equal amounts of protein with less fat, cholesterol and calories.

In addition to its high levels of soy protein, tempeh is also a great source of omega-3 fatty acids, which have many health benefits. They have been shown to improve heart health, reduce hypertension, alleviate many autoimmune disorders (including arthritis and lupus), and improve certain mental health conditions, such as depression.

It is also armed with dietary fiber, which can help prevent the onset of many bowel-related illnesses and conditions. In more recent studies, tempeh and other foods containing soy protein have been shown to reduce the risk of prostate cancer due to their high levels of the isoflavone genistein.

Tempeh is solid and will not fall apart like tofu (another soy protein meat substitute) when cooking, which makes it relatively easy to prepare. It can be seasoned and broiled or baked (like meat), or it can be ground up and added to soups and pasta sauces.

Seaweed (sea vegetables)
Sea vegetables are neither plants nor animals; they are, in fact, algae found in both freshwater and saltwater environments.

Don't worry; you're not eating the bright green stuff that grows along the side of boats -- chances are that you've tasted sea vegetables in some form without even knowing it.

Sea vegetables, most commonly referred to as seaweed, are great sources of vitamin B, magnesium, iron, folate, and calcium. Furthermore, seaweed is a better source of minerals than any other vegetable. Seaweed contains all the minerals found in human blood, as the minerals in seawater are similar to those found in our blood, with nearly identical concentrations.

Seaweed is a low-calorie, virtually fat-free food that has anti-inflammatory and stress-relief qualities, as well as the ability to lower the risk of heart disease.

Certain types of seaweed, such as kelp, also have very high levels of iodine, which is essential in regulating the thyroid -- the gland that controls most of the body's physiological functions.

There are many varieties of sea vegetables that can be used in different ways. In North America, though, you are most likely to find seaweed in Japanese food. It can be wrapped around sushi rolls, served on top of salads or in soups, and eaten (dried) right out of the bag.

Kale is a green, leafy vegetable from the same family as cabbage and Brussels sprouts, but it is much more versatile.

Kale has primarily stood out among nutritionists as an anti-cancer food due to the high amounts of organosulfur compounds it contains. Food and health scientists believe that these important compounds fuel the body to detox carcinogenic substances in the body, thus warding off certain types of cancer.

In addition to its cancer-fighting qualities, kale has also been shown to lower the risk of cataracts, the most common cause of vision loss among people aged 55 and older. This is due to the presence of carotenoids (lutein and zeaxanthin), which have been proven to ward off the debilitating eye disease.

Kale is also packed with additional nutrients, such as vitamins A, C, E, and B, as well as manganese, copper, calcium, and iron.

Additionally, since kale is a relatively fat-free and low-calorie food, it is a great addition to any healthy diet.

A great way to prepare kale is to sautée it with spices, garlic, onions, and oil, and serve it as a side dish. It has a bitter taste, so it is best flavored with spices or combined with sweeter ingredients. Kale is also commonly chopped for use in soups, stir-fries, pasta sauces, and salads.

The Healthiest Foods on the Planet

The following is a "healthy food hot list" consisting of the food that will give you the biggest nutritional bang for you caloric buck, as well as decrease your risk for deadly illnesses like cancer, diabetes and heart disease. Along with each description is a suggestion as to how to incorporate these power-foods into your diet.


The Power: Beta-carotene, which helps prevent free-radical damage and protect the eyes. The body also turns beta-carotene into vitamin A, which may help ward off some cancers, especially of the skin. One apricot has 17 calories, 0 fat, 1 gram of fiber. Snacks on them dried, or if you prefer fresh, buy when still firm; once they soften, they lose nutrients.

The Power: Oleic acid, an unsaturated fat that helps lower overall cholesterol and raise levels of HDL, plus a good dose of fiber. One slice has 81 calories, 8 grams of fat and 3 grams of fiber. Try a few slices instead of mayonnaise to dress up your next burger.

The Power: Ellagic acid, which helps stall cancer-cell growth. These berries are also packed with vitamin C and are high in fiber, which helps prevent high cholesterol and heart disease. A cup has only 60 calories, 1 gram of fat and 8 grams of fiber. Top plain low-fat yogurt or oatmeal (another high fiber food) with fresh berries.

The Power: A medium mango packs 57mg of vitamin C, almost your whole-recommended daily dose. This antioxidant helps prevent arthritis and boosts wound healing and your immune system. Mangoes also boast more than 8,000 IU of vitamin A (as beta-carotene). One mango has 135 calories, 1 gram of fat and 4 grams of fiber. Cut on up and serve it over leafy greens. Bonus: Your salad will taste like dessert!

The Power: Vitamin C (117mg in half a melon, almost twice the recommended daily dose) and beta-carotene - both powerful antioxidants that help protect cells from free-radical damage. Plus, half a melon has 853mg of potassium - almost twice as much as a banana, which helps lower blood pressure. Half a melon has 97 calories, 1 gram of fat and 2 grams of fiber. Cut into cubes and freeze, then blend into an icy smoothie.

Cranberry Juice
The Power: Helps fight bladder infections by preventing harmful bacteria from growing. A cup has 144 calories, 0 grams of fat and 0 fiber. Buy 100 percent juice concentrate and use it to spice up your daily H20 without adding sugar.

The Power: Lycopene, one of the strongest carotenoids, acts as an antioxidant. Research shows that tomatoes may cut the risk of bladder, stomach and colon cancers in half if eaten daily. A tomato has 26 calories, 0 fat and 1 gram of fiber. Drizzle fresh slices with olive oil, because lycopene is best absorbed when eaten with a little fat.

The Power: These little gems are a great source of iron, which helps the blood transport oxygen and which many women are short on. A half-cup has 218 calories, 0 fat and 3 grams of fiber. Sprinkle raisins on your morning oatmeal or bran cereal - women, consider this especially during your period.

The Power: A good source of potassium and fiber, figs also contain vitamin B6, which is responsible for producing mood-boosting serotonin, lowering cholesterol and preventing water retention. The Pill depletes B6, so if you use this method of birth control, make sure to get extra B6 in your diet. One fig has 37 to 48 calories, 0 fat and 2 grams of fiber. (Cookie lovers - fig bars have around 56 calories, 1 gram of fat and 1 gram of fiber per cookie). Fresh figs are delicious simmered alongside a pork tenderloin and the dried variety make a great portable gym snack.

The Power: Limonene, furocoumarins and vitamin C, all of which help prevent cancer. A wedge has 2 calories, 0 fat and 0 fiber. Buy a few of each and squeeze over salads, fish, beans and vegetables for fat free flavor.


The Power: Quercetin is one of the most powerful flavonoids (natural plant antioxidants). Studies show it helps protect against cancer. A cup (chopped) has 61 calories, 0 fat and 3 grams of fiber. Chop onions for the maximum phyto-nutrient boost, or if you hate to cry, roast them with a little olive oil and serve with rice or other vegetables.

The Power: These odd-looking vegetables contain silymarin, an antioxidant that helps prevent skin cancer, plus fiber to help control cholesterol. One medium artichoke has 60 calories, 0 fat and 7 grams of fiber. Steam over boiling water for 30 to 40 minutes. Squeeze lemon juice on top, then pluck the leaves off with your fingers and use your teeth to scrape off the rich-tasting skin. When you get to the heart, you have found the best part!

The Power: Gingerols may help reduce queasiness; other compounds may help ward off migraines and arthritis pain by blocking inflammation-causing prostaglandins. A teaspoon of fresh gingerroot has only 1 calorie, 0 fat and 0 fiber. Peel the tough brown skin and slice or grate into a stir-fry.

The Power: Indole-3-carbinol and sulforaphane, which help protect against breast cancer. Broccoli also has lots of vitamin C and beta-carotene. One cup (chopped) has 25 calories, 0 fat and 3 grams of fiber. Don't overcook broccoli - instead steam lightly to preserve phytonutrients. Squeeze fresh lemon on top for a zesty and taste, added nutrients and some vitamin C.

Eat your broccoli and broccoli sprouts! That's the advice from UCLA researchers who have found that a chemical in broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables may hold a key to restoring the body's alklaine design, which declines as we age.

Published in this week's online edition of the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, the study findings show that sulforaphane, a chemical in broccoli, switches on a set of antioxidant/antiacid genes and alkaline buffers in specific immune cells, which then combat the injurious effects of molecules known as dietary and metabolic acids that can damage cells and lead to dis-ease.

Acids from diet and metabolism are byproducts of normal body processes, such as the metabolic conversion of food into electrical energy, and can also enter the body through small particles present in polluted air. Oxidative or acid damage to body tissues and organs is the cause of aging and dis-ease.

"The mysteries of aging have always intrigued man," said Dr. Andre Nel, the study's principal investigator and chief of nanomedicine at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.

According to the UCLA study, the ability of aged tissues to reinvigorate their antioxidant/antiacid defense can play an important role in reversing much of the negative impact of dietary and metabolic acids on the immune system. However, until this current study, the extent to which antioxidant defense can impact the aging process in the alklaine buffering system was not properly understood.

The UCLA team not only found that the direct administration of sulforaphane in broccoli reversed the decline in cellular immune function in old mice, but they witnessed similar results when they took individual immune cells from old mice, treated those cells with the chemical outside the body and then placed the treated cells back into a recipient animal.

"We found that treating older mice with sulforaphane increased the immune response to the level of younger mice," said Hyon-Jeen Kim, first author and research scientist at the Geffen School.

To investigate how the chemical in broccoli increased the immune or alkaline buffering system's response, the UCLA group confirmed that sulforaphane interacts with a protein called Nrf2, which serves as a master regulator of the body's overall antioxidant/antiacid response and is capable of switching on hundreds of antioxidant/antiacid compounds and rejuvenating genes and the alkaline buffering system.

Kim said that although there is a decline in Nrf2 activity with aging, this pathway remains accessible to chemicals like sulforaphane that are capable of restoring some of the ravages of aging by boosting antioxidant/antiacid pathways.

"Dietary antioxidants have been shown to have important effects on immune function, and with further study, we may be adding broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables to that list," Nel said.

According to Dr. Robert O. Young, a research scientist at the pH Miracle Living Center, states, "the alkaline chemical of sulforaphane from broccoli is one of the most powerful buffers of dietary and metabolic acids in preventing aging, wrinkles, enervation, inflammation, induration, ulcerations, and degeneration of the animal or human organism."

The Power: Lutein and zeaxanthin, carotenoids that help fend off macular degeneration, a major cause of blindness in older people. Plus, studies show this green fountain of youth may help reverse some signs of aging. One cup has 7 calories, 0 fat and 1 gram of fiber. Add raw leaves to a salad or sauté with a little olive oil and garlic.

Bok Choy (Chinese cabbage)
The Power: Brassinin, which some research suggests may help prevent breast tumors, plus indoles and isothiocyanates, which lower levels of estrogen, make this vegetable a double-barreled weapon against breast cancer. A cup will also give you 158mg of calcium (16 percent of your daily recommended requirement) to help beat osteoporosis. A cup (cooked) has 20 calories, 0 fat and 3 grams of fiber. Find it in your grocer's produce section or an Asian market. Slice the greens and juicy white stalks, then sauté like spinach or toss into a stir-fry just before serving.

Squash (Butternut, Pumpkin, Acorn)
The Power: Winter squash has huge amounts of vitamin C and beta-carotene, which may help protect against endometrial cancer. One cup (cooked) has 80 calories, 1 gram of fat and 6 grams of fiber. Cut on in half, scoop out the seeds and bake or microwave until soft, then dust with cinnamon.

Watercress and Arugula
The Power: Phenethyl isothiocyanate, which, along with beta-carotene and vitamins C and E, may help keep cancer cells at bay. One cup has around 4 calories, 0 fat and 1 gram of fiber. Do not cook these leafy greens; instead, use them to garnish a sandwich or add a pungent, peppery taste to salad.

The Power: The sulfur compounds that give garlic its pungent flavor can also lower LDL ("bad") cholesterol, lower blood pressure and even reduce your risk of stomach and colon cancer. A clove has 4 calories, 0 fat and 0 fiber. Bake a whole head for 15 to 20 minutes, until soft and sweet and spread on bread instead of butter.


Quinoa (worth a second look)
The Power: A half cup of cooked quinoa has 5 grams of protein, more than any other grain, plus iron, riboflavin and magnesium. A half-cup has 318 calories, 5 grams of fat and 5 grams of fiber. Add to soup for a protein boost. Rinse first, or it will taste bitter. See above for more detailed information.

Wheat Germ
The Power: A tablespoon gives you about 7 percent of your daily magnesium, which helps prevent muscle cramps; it is also a good source of vitamin E. One tablespoon has 27 calories, 1 gram of fat and 1 gram of fiber. Sprinkle some over yogurt, fruit or cereal.

The Power: Isoflavones, which may inhibit estrogen-promoted breast cancers, plus fiber for heart health and an impressive 9 grams of protein per half cup. A half-cup (cooked) has 115 calories, 0 fat and 8 grams of fiber. Isoflavones hold up through processing, so buy lentils canned, dried or already in soup. Take them to work, and you will have a protein packed lunch.

The Power: Studies show that peanuts or other nuts (which contain mostly unsaturated "good" fat) can lower your heart-disease risk by over 20 percent. One ounce has 166 calories, 14 grams of fat and 2 grams of fiber. Keep a packet in your briefcase, gym bag or purse for a protein-packed post-workout nosh or an afternoon pick me up that will satisfy you until supper, or chop a few into a stir-fry for a Thai accent.

Pinto Beans
The Power: A half cup has more than 25 percent of your daily requirement of folate, which helps protect against heart disease and reduces the risk of birth defects. A half-cup (canned) has 103 calories, 1 gram of fat and 6 grams of fiber. Drain a can, rinse and toss into a pot of vegetarian chili.

Low fat Yogurt
The Power: Bacteria in active-culture yogurt helps prevent yeast infections; calcium strengthens bones. A cup has 155 calories, 4 grams of fat, 0 grams of fiber. Get the plain kind and mix in your own fruit to keep calories and sugar down. If you are lactose intolerant, never fear - yogurt should not bother your tummy.

Skim Milk
The Power: Riboflavin (a.k.a. vitamin B2) is important for good vision and along with vitamin A might help improve eczema and allergies. Plus, you get calcium and vitamin D, too. One cup has 86 calories, 0 fat and 0 fiber. If you are used to high fat milk, don't go cold turkey; instead, mix the two together at first. Trust this fact: In a week or two you won't miss it!


Wild Salmon
The Power: Cold-water fish like salmon, mackerel and tuna are the best sources of omega-3 fatty acids, which help reduce the risk of cardiac disease. A 3-ounce portion (cooked) has 127 calories, 4 grams of fat, 0 fiber. Brush fillets with ginger-soy marinade and grill or broil until fish flakes easily with a fork. Try to avoid farm raised salmon whenever possible.



Fish to avoid or limit
Mercury rising
How much fish is too much to eat? 
A Tampa artist now knows firsthand.
By Laura Reiley, Times Staff Writer
Published February 12, 2008


TAMPA -- Her paintings are abstract. Right now she's in the middle of a huge acrylic with big sweeps of red, yellow ocher and burnt umber. Just a few months ago, Beth Kokol's brushes stood idle.

An artist and private art instructor in Tampa, Kokol, 46, underwent a medical screening for heavy metals in early December. Her mercury count was double the normal level. The culprit? A diet heavy in high methylmercury fish.

In light of recent news articles about methylmercury, Kokol's husband, Bob, contacted the St. Petersburg Times. He thought it was important that those at risk hear her story.

"I would have a can of tuna fish for lunch once a week," Beth Kokol recounts, "and two or three nights a week we'd go out for sushi - ahi tuna sashimi, along with some kind of tuna roll. I thought I was eating healthfully."

Two and half years ago, she says, she began experiencing numbness and tingling in her feet and legs. She went to see a doctor, who referred her to a neurologist. She put it off.

"I was very busy. I just figured I was getting older," she says. "I'm from a family of doctors. My father always raised us to think if you wait long enough, most things go away."

But this didn't. Over the next year, she began to lose function in her hands and feet. She would drop things; she would fall. She began having speech problems and noticing mental slowness.

"It got to the point where I couldn't write a check. I was unable to sit still and relax, and I was incredibly tired all the time."

Dr. Steven Masley, a physician and nutritionist at University of South Florida, conducts health assessments that routinely test mercury levels in patients. He says this type of mercury toxicity - meaning high levels of mercury in patients who are symptomatic - is rare. He sees it in, at most, 5 percent of his patients.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration keep no records on mercury toxicity.

"This kind of toxicity is often confused with other neurological problems such as complications from diabetes. Symptoms include tingling and burning in the nerves, high blood pressure, and a metabolism that is out of whack.

"But a very small percentage of doctors test for mercury."

Kokol's experience bears this out.

In addition to her primary care doctor and neurologist, she also saw a rheumatologist and other doctors. They conducted MRIs and electromyograms, which record the electrical activity of muscles.

"Nobody said, 'This is mercury,' " Kokol says.

"I said, 'You know, I eat a lot of seafood.' And my doctor said we don't see a lot of mercury toxicity here."

In 2004, the Environmental Protection Agency and the FDA advised women of childbearing age and young children that they could safely eat up to 12 ounces of low-mercury seafood per week. Those women and children also were told to limit consumption of canned albacore tuna and tuna steaks to a maximum of 6 ounces per week.

Swordfish, tilefish, king mackerel and shark were put on the "Do Not Eat" list.

Dr. Rashid Buttar, chairman of the American Board of Clinical Metal Toxicology, and Masley both think these limits are too liberal.

"There are now clinical standards for what's a normal mercury level. It's 5 micrograms per liter of blood. I see elevated levels in a third of my patients. These are people with no symptoms, but elevated levels turn up in routine screening," explains Masley.

"These are people who eat tuna, swordfish, grouper, snapper or bass at least once a week. To test normal for mercury, people should eat these fish less than once a week.

"Pregnant women and children shouldn't eat any tuna at all."

For Kokol, once her elevated mercury was detected, a first step was obvious: limit her consumption of high-mercury fish. Beyond that, she has opted against potentially dangerous chelation therapy to eliminate mercury from her body.

Instead, she has been using a wheat grass drink, which contains oxalic acid, a natural chelator that binds to heavy metals and flushes them from the body. She's doing better.

"In two weeks I noticed a dramatic change. I'm 80 percent back to what I was three years ago. I did a painting this weekend. I worked on it for six hours."

Laura Reiley is the Times food critic. She can be reached at 727892-2293 or Her blog, the Mouth of Tampa Bay, can be found at