By Kev Kurdoghlian
Signal Staff Writer
Eat healthy. It’s easier said than done.
A search for healthy food options online may lead to phrases like “superfoods,” “powerfoods” or something similarly catchy.
Despite the label “superfood,” not all “superfoods” are super for you, said Natalie Dalessio-Gruneberg, a clinical registered dietitian at Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital.
“’Superfoods’ is actually a marketing term. There is no science on the word ‘superfoods,’” said Dalessio-Gruneberg, who teaches nursing students about diet at College of the Canyons. “That being said, there are foods that are really good for you because of their components.”
Food like coconut oil, she said, end up on the “superfoods” list because of online influencers and misinformation on the internet.
“Coconut oil … is saturated fat and saturated fat we know … isn’t good for our arteries, especially if you’re talking to an older population, which is probably on statins and blood pressure medications and dealing with all kinds of other health issues,” said Natalie Dalessio-Gruneberg, a certified specialist in gerontological nutrition.
Dalessio-Gruneberg, a vegetarian for over three decades, recommends a plant forward diet.
“That doesn’t mean being vegetarian,” she explained. “It’s just adding more plants to your plate. At least half of your plate should be plant-based.”
She said being plant forward has been shown to have a good impact on health, which is why it’s part of the top recommended diet by doctors, the Mediterranean diet.
“It doesn’t mean you eliminate your meats, you just eat less of them,” Dalessio-Gruneberg said, noting red meat has been implicated in the promotion of colon cancer. “And you eat more plants and bring in legumes and beans because they’re a good source of carbs and protein and also a really good source of fiber and minerals.”
Moderation is key, according to Dalessio-Gruneberg. She said no one should feel the need to give up any foods. Instead, each individual should identify the appropriate amount for them as it relates to their health conditions.
The following foods are super for your health:
Any of the colorful vegetables
“Any of the foods that are rich in color are really going to promote good health because they’re loaded with antioxidants and nutrients that help fight off disease,” Dalessio-Gruneberg said, recommending purple beet and cauliflower.
She said people are “bombarded with toxins throughout the day” from the air to the water.
“What happens is our body fights it off and free radicals are formed in the body, and they get out of control,” she explained. “That’s when cellular damage starts to happen. So that’s why it’s really important to include all these foods rich in antioxidant.”
In other words, chocolate. But not any chocolate. Anna Leszczynska, a registered dietician nutritionist at Kaiser Permanente, recommends chocolate that uses at least 65% cacao powder that’s good quality and high end.
“Cacao is a great source of antioxidants, mood enhancing and blood pressure lowering chemicals,” she said. “I encourage everyone to make yourself a cacao drink, which is just mixing cacao powder or cacao platelets with hot water.”
Science is looking into the connection between inflammation and processed foods, according to Dalessio-Gruneberg.
When it comes to picked products, she said, it makes a difference where you buy them.
“You can get a box of berries that have been shipped say from Chile all the way here to LA, and they’ve lost all their nutrients along the way,” she said. “You get a box of berries from up the road on (Highway) 126 (or) at the farmers market on Sunday or Saturday, and you’re getting the biggest hit of nutrition that you can get from a picked product.”
Both Dalessio-Gruneberg and Leszczynska recommend blueberries.
“There (are) so many studies on blueberries,” said Leszczynska. “They (have) powerful benefits for cardiovascular health (and) for neuroprotection protection from dementia.”
Sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, miso, sourdough bread. There are a lot of good options here, but Leszczynska’s favorite is keifer, which she said is the most scientifically investigated of the fermented foods.
“It’s similar to yogurt, but it’s more powerful because it has more bacteria, beneficial yeast and other microorganisms,” she said, noting keifer – known as the “champagne of dairy” – help with constipation.
Larry McClements is vice president of operations at Achadinha Cheese Co., which makes keifer. He said it’s important to have the highest quality of the full fat dairy product.
“It’s just a lower quality dairy when your animals are kept in a feed lot or fed corn or soy,” he said. “We’re a fourth-generation family dairy farm up in Petaluma. All of our animals are grass-fed. They’re pasture-raised. They live year-round there.”
McClements, who also runs the Old Town Newhall Farmers Market, said you can find keifer at the farmers market Saturday mornings.
“(The owner of Achadinha) makes the product, a culture is added to the product, and then it’s allowed to ferment,” he said. “She strains it and after that it’s packaged up fresh every week and it’s to us in Santa Clarita. It’s literally hand-delivered by the owner of the dairy to me personally.”
Leafy greens and microgreens
“You can’t get enough of those,” Dalessio-Gruneberg said of leafy greens. “They’re great sources (Vitamin) A and C, calcium (and) fiber.”
She said that when lightly steamed, leafy greens like broccoli provide more nutrients than if they’re consumed raw.
“That light steam on foods that are rich in vitamin A – carrots, broccoli, spinach – that becomes more bioavailable to you,” she said.
Microgreens and sprouts contain higher concentrations of bioactive compounds compared to their mature counterparts, according to Leszczynska.
The edible seedlings of vegetables, microgreens are protective from cancer in addition to being anti-microbial and anti-inflammatory, she said.
What to do?
“Your state of health really dictates your nutrition,” said Dalessio-Gruneberg.
Nutrition is an evolving science, she said, but reducing animal-based products and increasing plant-forward products is a step in the right direction.
“Food should have pleasure. I mean it shouldn’t be so clinical that you have to evaluate every meal you eat,” she said. “But if you include all these kinds of wonderful foods, unprocessed, in your diet, you’re definitely on the right track.”