We now live in a world where technology has taken over the need to be outdoors or connected to nature. We rarely move our bodies and to eat, we drive through fast view venues to eat food that is processed and high in sugar to satisfy our addictions while our bellies grow. It is no surprise that there is a rise now of diabetes, obesity, metabolic disorders, heart disease and cancers. The good news is that not all is lost and we do indeed have the ability to get back to nature by eating the right foods that will regenerate our health.
Nature offers us a variety of foods that have many beneficial functions that include helping the body to break down fat into energy, improving metabolism, increasing sensitivity to insulin, reducing inflammation, strengthening the immune system, and decreasing oxidative stress. Called “functional foods,” these nutrient-dense foods contain enzymes, vitamins, minerals, proteins, fats and complex carbohydrates that work with the body to enhance its functions. Not only do they have the ability to treat and prevent a whole host of ailments and diseases like diabetes, cardiovascular disease, autoimmune problems and metabolic syndrome, but can also enable the body to truly thrive.
Though there are a multitude of different functional foods you can eat for a variety of purposes, these six food groups are my “must haves” in your diet:
1. Fatty fish
Fatty fish are probably one of the best foods you can eat. Fish like salmon, sardines, mackerel, albacore tuna, anchovies and herring are packed with omega-3 fatty acids (polyunsaturated fat), which have been found to be cardio-protective (protect the heart), lower cholesterol and fight inflammation. A 2012 meta-analysis showed that people who regularly consume marine derived omega-3 fatty acids had a lower risk of heart disease, while another meta-analysis showed that people who ate fish at least once a week had a reduced risk of dying from heart disease.
Avocados are high in mono-unsaturated fat as well as lesser amounts of polyunsaturated and saturated fats, which help the body maintain healthy cholesterol levels and to digest nutrients from the other foods. Preliminary studies are suggesting that eating avocado helps support cardiovascular health along with weight management.
Avocados are also high in fiber, but unlike other high fiber foods, they don’t cause a spike in blood sugar. As a caveat, know that avocados are high in calories, so adding a quarter or half an avocado to your meal is plenty.
3. Leafy Greens
A tasty, low calorie option, leafy greens are high in fiber and vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that can help regulate blood sugar levels, reduce inflammation and oxidative stress. Studies suggest that eating one and a half servings of leafy greens may reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Green leafy vegetables include spinach, kale, Swiss chard, lettuce and collard greens. You can also try the microgreen or seedling version of these leafy greens, which have a higher concentrations of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.
Nuts like almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, Brazil nuts, macadamia nuts and pecans, are high in protein and provide good fats and digestible fiber without causing spikes in blood sugar levels. Eating almonds, in fact, may help regulate blood sugar and improve insulin sensitivity according to recent studies. Other research has shown that eating this variety of nuts may reduce inflammation, LDL cholesterol levels and insulin spikes after eating.
5. Apple cider vinegar
Apple cider vinegar has be touted for its many science supported health benefits, including weight loss, lowering cholesterol and blood sugar, improving insulin sensitivity, and acting as an anti-bacterial. Indeed, vinegar teas were used to help regulate blood sugar levels before the advent of medications many, many years ago.
A 2004 study found that subjects with insulin resistant type 2 diabetes who consumed apple cider vinegar with a high carbohydrate meal had improved insulin sensitivity and insulin responses, as well as reduced blood sugar. In addition, a 2016 review of the literature confirmed the finding that not only does vinegar improve insulin sensitivity and circulating fat levels, but also improved satiety, leading to lower food intake. These findings give evidence that apple cider vinegar can aid in weight loss and loss of abdominal fat.
6. Herbs & Spices
When you add a variety of herbs and spices to your meals you don’t just add taste, but you also give your meal a boost of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. There are some herbs and spices that have the added benefit of helping to regulate blood sugar. Take paprika, for example, which is rich in antioxidants and is a wonderful anti-inflammatory. It has also been found that paprika may lower blood sugar and insulin levels after a meal. Of note, paprika is best absorbed when eaten with a fatty food like avocado. Other herbs and spices that may aid in blood sugar regulation include cinnamon, fenugreek, curry leaves, garlic, basil, bitter melon, cayenne pepper, ginger and turmeric, to name a few.
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