The best foods for health and vitality

The emergence of the supermarket, the internet and the efficiency of modern transportation has changed the way we find and look at food. No longer do we only buy the foods that the local green grocers and butchers have in store that week, we actively seek out (and even self-import from other countries) the latest and greatest foods for our health and vitality.

Yes, food choices go through fashion cycles, mainly fuelled by the media; the subsequent bandwagon that magazines, blogs and websites jump on is then lapped up by the everyday consumer. The consumer didn’t know or need a previously unknown food substance before it was announced via the media to them, but now they know about it, the consumer feels nutritionally incomplete without it.

Although this may read slightly scathingly, it is true. However, it doesn’t mean that some of these new foods aren’t good for you; on the contrary most of the time. But sometimes it also doesn’t mean that more easily sourced, home grown, cheaper and already available foods suddenly become less good for you.

Here is a list of new foods and old foods, expensive and more affordable, that are brilliant to buy to help your health and vitality. (All prices from tesco.com on 13/5/2015)

 

The more expensive foods

Chia seeds – £8 for 300g

Pronounced chee-ah, these black or white seeds have two times more protein than most grains and five times more calcium than milk. Plus, it has of high levels of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, soluble fibre, potassium and antioxidants. It is good for satiety and doesn’t promote fat storage due to its low Glycemic Index (GI) rating. Sprinkle on porridge or greek yoghurt, or add them to a cooking liquid or soup to provide thickness.

Berries – between £3-4 for 300g (large punnet)

Blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries – valued for their high levels of antioxidants (to fight against oxidative stress), vitamin C, fibre and manganese, some nutritionists believe that if you make only one change to your diet, it should be to add a portion of berries a day. The NHS teamed up with the British Dietetic Association to examine the evidence to see if berries live up to their hype; and they did. Some studies even claim that berries can help protect against heart disease and some cancers, as well as improve your memory. Add to greek yoghurt for a snack.

Salmon fillets  – £3 for 300g (two fillets)

The brain food of choice. Baked or grilled salmon is an excellent source of high-quality protein, vitamins and minerals (including potassium, selenium and vitamin B12) and the antioxidant amino acid taurine, but it is its content of omega-3 fatty acids that receives the most attention. One of the world’s best all-round foods.

Soya products

Soya beans (edamame), soya yoghurt, tofu, soya protein powder, soya milk – whatever your product of choice, the derivative from the soya bean provides a vegetarian and vegan source of quality protein as well as having a low carbohydrate and low fat profile making it one of the leanest foods around. The high fibre content makes soya beans and other soya containing foods valuable in cases of constipation, high cholesterol and type-2 diabetes – it also keeps you fuller for longer.

Avocado – £2 for 300g (two)

A fantastic source of natural unsaturated fats for slow release energy. It also provides protection from wrinkles and other skin aliments with its antioxidant properties, vitamin E and vitamin C levels. For those already living with diabetes, the oleic acid in avocado is especially recommended for its ability to lower ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol while raising the ‘good’ HDL cholesterol. Having more monounsaturated fats in a diabetic diet is also beneficial for reducing high triglyceride levels and may help improve insulin function and blood glucose levels. Add some to a salad or on a wholewheat cracker with cottage cheese for a low sugar snack.

Organic foods

No chemical residue. Foods left to grow naturally and unadulterated in the most beneficial areas for their growth. Yes it has been published that we shouldn’t look to wash every single little piece of food so that our body can get used to fighting small foreign intrusions to protect against further illness, but foods that are as natural as possible have the best flavour and provide the food’s specific nutritional benefits in huge quantities. Less is more.

Asparagus – £4 for 300g

Asparagus is just packed with health benefits. It is loaded with nutrients: fibre, folate, vitamins A, C, E and K, as well as chromium, a trace mineral that enhances the ability of insulin to transport glucose from the bloodstream into cells; and it also is low in calories. The high fibre, low calorie composition means it will keep you feeling fuller for longer. A note of interest, it also can turn urine green/yellow and provide it with a specific odour – don’t be alarmed, this is natural. Grill and add to salads or as an accompaniment to a main meal.

Extra virgin olive oil – £5 for 1 litre

Why go against research and experience? Extra virgin olive oil, the most natural non-chemically-enhanced press from olive fruits, is a traditional unsaturated fat that has been a dietary staple for some of the world’s healthiest populations with detailed research supporting its health effects too. It is believed that chronic inflammation is among the leading drivers of many diseases. This includes heart disease, cancer, metabolic syndrome, diabetes, Alzheimer’s and arthritis. Olive oil’s main benefit is its ability to fight inflammation. There is some evidence that oleic acid itself, the most prominent fatty acid in olive oil, can significantly reduce inflammatory markers.

Dark chocolate – £2 for 150g (one large bar)

Dark chocolate is loaded with nutrients that can positively affect your health. Made from the seed of the cocoa tree, it is one of the best sources of antioxidants on the planet. Studies show that dark chocolate can improve health and lower the risk of heart disease. Note, it is the cocoa seed that provides the benefits, not the idea of having a chocolate bar. All additional content reduces the bar’s nutritional value. 85%+ cocoa levels is the only nutritionally optimum source and any sugar incorporated will reduce the antioxidant ability of the cocoa. 2 squares provides you with all the benefits and keeps you on track with your weekly nutritional aims.

Organic whole milk – £1 for 1 litre

Should I have skimmed milk? Or whole milk? Or semi-skimmed? Or not at all? Answer: if you find through trial and error that your body doesn’t like lactose (milk sugar) then have soya milk. If you’re fine with dairy milk, define your reason for having it. Better taste with porridge? Post-workout recovery?

For post-workout recovery (unless marathon training or looking to provide bulk to your body) have skimmed milk. The low fat content won’t suppress the insulin response to the lactose; this combination with its protein content and will allow muscles to repair most efficiently. For fat loss, greatly reduce your milk intake in its entirety because of its sugar content or look at just having a glass as a small snack. This small snack, along with most other reasons for having milk, should lead you to organic whole milk. The greater fat content provides heaps of vitamins A, D, E and K important for strengthening immunity to infections, keeping bones healthy and neutralising the effects of free radicals. Although it is higher in fat than other milks, it isn’t actually that high in fat relatively speaking at only 4% – if you had a pork loin labelled as ‘only 4%’ fat or ‘96% protein’ you would consider it a low fat option. Moreover, the fat content is full of cholesterol-reducing fats as opposed to the old school research stating that whole milk increased body fat and bad cholesterol levels. Whole milk is higher in calories than other milks, but with a controlled diet, the natural whole milk is more nutrient- and health-benefit rich than other milks. Again, less is more.

 

The more affordable foods

Broccoli – 49p

In my opinion, it is one of the foods that you should have every day. Dense in vitamins and nutrients for your brain, skin, muscles and motor system. It is as it’s best when raw or slightly steamed as the nutrients remain inside – vitamins A, D and K. It is high in fibre, low in calories, high in water content and is completely natural. Tip for those saving money, turn the stalk into a vegetable too. Slice it and eat raw or steamed – when cut like this they form little stars which can be a great way to encourage children to enjoy the food too.

Spinach – £1.50 for 300g (two big bags)

Same as the above. High fibre, low calorie, high water content food that is natural. A great source of vitamins A, B2, C and K and also contains magnesium, manganese, folate, iron, calcium and potassium. Again, raw or steamed is best. Frozen is just as good and even cheaper.

Oats – 75p for 1kg

Cheap as chips…but crucially, not chips. 0.4g of sugar per 100g, it has a complex carbohydrate content second to none fuelling your mind and muscles for hours without spiking insulin levels. It also can reduce bad cholesterol levels and reduce blood pressure. If you get the convenient small sachets, make sure it is the plain option and that they haven’t added sugars; this happens and voids any intrinsic benefits of having the oats or porridge. If you only have 50-100g, one 1kg bag for 75p can last you up to two weeks!

Nuts and Seeds – £2.50 for 300g each (big bags)

The right portion of nuts and seeds (about one handful each day) can help you lose or maintain weight by satiating your appetite. They can also stabilize your blood-sugar levels and improve your cholesterol and triglycerides, which may reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Additional nutrients in nuts and seeds, such as fibre, magnesium, potassium, and vitamin B6, provide added protection against cardiovascular disease. They are also rich in omega-3 fats, which lower inflammation throughout your body (walnuts and flaxseeds); rich in vitamin E, selenium, and zinc to promote healthy skin and may help protect your eyesight. Also a good secondary source of protein. Just make sure you don’t get the honey roasted or salted variety – keep it plan and simple. One nut or seed to beat them all – almonds. Ones to keep in check because of calorie content – cashews, brazil, macadamia and peanuts.

Smoked mackerel – £2.69 for 300g (four fillets)

It’s just so cheap for an oily full protein source. It is nearly on par with salmon as a food substance as it is so rich in essential oils, vitamins and minerals. Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids occur in high quantities in this fish. It also contains vitamins A, B6, B12, C, D, E and K. The various minerals include calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorous, potassium, sodium and selenium. Trace minerals include zinc and copper.

Bananas – 15p each

If you are out and about and only have pocket change, chances are you can afford a banana. See if you can get it from a supermarket. If you weigh them, they will cost 15p. If you get the ‘quick lunch’ aisle, they can charge up to 60p. Either way, you are getting a food with so many benefits for your energy levels, cardiovascular health, digestive system and blood pressure. High in potassium and high in fibre. The latter ensures that the good carbohydrate content doesn’t greatly affect the insulin response and thus fat storage. Low in fat too, it is brilliant after workouts when coupled with a protein source.

Lemon – 30p each

Known for its therapeutic properties for generations, lemon helps to strengthen your immune system, cleanse your stomach and is considered a blood purifier. The health benefits are due to its many nourishing elements like vitamin C, vitamin B and phosphorous. Lemon is a fruit that contains flavonoids, which are composites that contain antioxidant and cancer fighting properties and it is also known for it’s antibacterial ability. Squeeze half a lemon into a mug of warm water first thing in the morning and you’ll start the day the right way.

Rapeseed oil – £1.30 for 1 Litre

Cheaper than olive oil and contains the lowest saturated fat content of any oil. It has ten times more Omega 3 than olive oil too and is a good source of Vitamin E. The lower fat content means that some of the health benefits that this provides are reduced compared to extra virgin olive oil but it also means that it is less calorific for those on a controlled diet. Mainly, this deserves a mention because many cheap oils in the supermarket are branded ‘vegetable oils’ and are in value packaging looking less appetising. But look at the packaging, it is likely to say 100% rapeseed oil. The new glass bottles advertising the brilliance of rapeseed oil is just a modern marketing angle to promote an oil that has always been used and always had excellent health properties. It is also brilliant for cooking with a higher burning point than olive oil.

Garlic – 30p each

An anti-inflammatory food at its best. Garlic contains vitamins C, B6, manganese, selenium and other antioxidants (notably allicin). Recent evidence-based research suggests garlic may be effective against high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, cholesterol, colds and some cancers. It is also a brilliant preventative ancient medicine that cannot claim to improve a negative health condition, but can help protect the body against negative health issues for the future. And at this price, why not. Add it to everything.

Tea – £1 for 50 bags

It may be a new fad to buy green tea, but don’t turn your head away from the normal black tea that you can get very cheaply. The best source of tea is the loose leaf variety which is the most natural and provides the most health benefits – this is where green tea comes into its own with more antioxidant properties and a lighter colouring to reduce the impact on teeth and the digestive system. But if you are looking to buy normal everyday tea bags, reaching for the black tea is as good as the green tea. It stimulates the metabolism and provides antioxidant properties. Just make sure you get the standard caffeinated variety to get the metabolism-boosting benefits. White tea is very high in antioxidants but doesn’t have the same metabolism-boosting effect as it is caffeine free – good for the evenings though.

Red wine

Something in red wine appears to help your heart. It’s possible that antioxidants, such as flavonoids or a substance called resveratrol have heart-healthy benefits and that its structure helps to blast away bad cholesterol from the blood. The fact that is comes from a natural source helps in the matter but remember this is only for moderate consumption (2 glasses of wine in one sitting with at least 4 days a week without alcohol) and should not be consumed more than once/twice a week when looking to reduce body fat levels in a controlled diet. But for heath, when taken as prescribed,  it is a winner and is probably more readily available with a greater choice than any of the above. Says a lot.

Chris JamesChris James MA O.A. Dip

Director, Head of Fitness and Nutrition

Fitness Body Pro

 

Chris James
Top Local Trainer Author
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