Test your knowledge of superfoods

While exercise and lifestyle factors are important to overall health, so is diet, and that’s why it’s important to make your food choices count.

Superfoods are foods that are nutrient dense, meaning they pack many healthy benefits into every bite. Want to test your superfood knowledge? Take the quiz below.

Every Monday, we showcase a new superfood on Facebook, Google+, Twitter and Instagram

 

Paint your plate with phytochemical foods

Color is a key element of the full sensory experience of eating and plays a big role in making food attractive and desirable. That’s why it makes perfect sense that nature’s most nutrient-dense foods are designed to be colorful.

Food has the amazing power to influence everything from your mood to overall health. You can maximize your body’s potential for radiantly-good health by fueling your body with a rainbow of plants. You will feel light and energized from eating this way instead of having that sleepy, sluggish feeling a “beige” diet of processed, refined foods leaves you with.

Think of your plate as a canvas; add splashes of vibrant, vivid colors to optimize nutrient density and to shower your body with the entire phytochemical spectrum.

What are phytochemicals, you ask? Phytochemicals are plant compounds that provide cell-protective antioxidant power and impart different colors to plant foods. That’s why it’s so important to think in terms of eating from the rainbow. More than 10,000 phytochemicals have been found and scientists speculate there are several thousand more yet to be discovered. 

blueberries-in-cartons
Blueberries get their color from anthocyanins, which help protect the brain from oxidative stress.

Plants produce phytochemicals to protect themselves from environmental threats such as the sun’s ultraviolet rays. When we eat plant foods, they impart these protective properties to our bodies and offer disease prevention in a number of complex ways.

For example, lycopene is responsible for the red coloring of watermelon and tomatoes and offers skin protection from the sun, while anthocyanins give blueberries their deep-blue hue and can help slow age-related memory loss by protecting the brain from oxidative stress. Lutein and zeaxanthin provide emerald green coloring to broccoli, kale and spinach and play a key role in maintaining healthy vision.

Phytochemical foods exert their antioxidant power by shielding our cells from the damaging effects of free radicals. Each phytochemical has a fancy scientific name, but all you have to remember is to eat the rainbow in plant foods every day and you will get the full spectrum of phytochemicals.

Phytochemical foods exert their antioxidant power by shielding our cells from the damaging effects of free… Click To Tweet

Colorful ideas for painting your plate:

  • Swap pale iceberg lettuce for dark-green arugula or spinach. The richer the color, the more phytochemicals present. 
  • Stir berries (fresh or frozen) into cereal, oatmeal or yogurt. For an even greater antioxidant boost, eat a mix of berries. Shopping tip: Frozen produce is often more nutrient-dense than fresh. 
  • Jazz up salads by adding orange or grapefruit segments, apple or nectarine slices, sliced beets, dried cherries or pomegranate seeds.
  • Add grated carrots and zucchini to pasta sauce, turkey burgers or meatloaf for moisture and a pop of color.
  • Stuff color into sandwiches with sliced apple, avocado, cucumber, spinach and/or sprouts. 
  • Spread creamy avocado onto whole-wheat toast and top with slices of juicy tomato for a plant-powered snack.
  • Mix fresh herbs and chopped tomato or red bell pepper into your scrambled eggs.

The limitations of body mass index (BMI)

 166608586A few days ago a friend on Facebook reposted a cartoon of a woman declaring that according to the BMI chart, she was too short. For those who aren’t familiar, Body Mass Index, or BMI, is a simple measurement tool used to calculate height-to-weight ratio.

Some people argue that BMI is too simple a measurement. Is BMI still useful for someone concerned about their weight?

“It can be helpful as one factor to consider in determining chronic disease risk in the general population,” explained Chelsea VanDusen, a clinical dietitian at Houston Methodist Hospital.

She explained that other factors such as age, gender, past medical history, family history and lifestyle factors including diet, smoking and physical activity levels all play a part in helping to determine risk and must all be considered in order to have an accurate picture.

The limitation of BMI as Chelsea explained it is that it’s intended as a “measure of fatness” but doesn’t actually take body fat percentage into account. “It’s therefore skewed in individuals who are highly muscular or those who have muscle wasting,” she said.

BMI doesn’t take body fat percentage into account, making it a skewed metric Click To Tweet

For example, a bodybuilder – whose weight may be higher than normal due to increased muscle mass – may appear obese according to his BMI number. In comparison, an elderly person’s BMI number may appear in the healthy range (<27) even though they’ve had significant muscle loss.

166596238“In fact, elderly people may have increased mortality risk with a BMI of less than 22, whereas that is considered in the ‘healthy range’ for younger adults,” Chelsea said.

Another limitation of BMI is the fact that it does not differ between men and women even though men tend to have larger frames in addition to a more muscular build. So even though a man and a woman may have the same BMI, the woman would likely have a higher percentage of body fat than the male.

BMI also doesn’t take fat distribution into account.  For example, a person’s waist circumference can be used to determine their amount of visceral fat, which is located around vital internal organs and is often associated with increased levels of inflammation and chronic disease risk.

Why do people continue to use BMI as a measurement to determine how healthy someone is?

“While other measures of body fat including waist measurement, skin-fold measurements and bioelectrical impedance are useful, they tend to be more expensive, intrusive and/or difficult to standardize due to human error,” Chelsea explained.  “Therefore, BMI continues to be widely used.”

Regardless of your BMI number, remember – it’s only one piece of the puzzle. And unless you’re planning on growing a few more inches, the best way to reduce it is by eating better and getting some exercise

Want to see what your BMI is? Try the calculator below:

The meal frequency myth

“Eating five to six mini meals a day … keeps your metabolism humming 24/7,” proclaims a Redbook article. “Have a small meal or snack every 3 to 4 hours keeps your metabolism cranking,” notes a WebMD slideshow

You’ve probably heard similar statements—all based on the assumption that food grazing increases your basal metabolic rate (BMR) or the number of calories used in a day, leading to more fat loss.

Is there any truth to this? Are six meals a day better than three? And what about fasting? Does skipping meals negatively impact your health?

Deconstructing the metabolic fire analogy

Advocates of increased meal frequency usually compare BMR to a fire. If you think of a fire, the fuel is wood and when wood is thrown on an existing fire, more fire is produced, throwing off heat.

If you apply this analogy to people, the wood is calories from food and the reaction that produces heat is the thermic effect of food (TEF), which is the amount of energy your body has to expend to process food for storage and use.

Take a look at the chart below the bulleted list. It compares TEF for three people who eat the same amount of calories and macronutrients (fats, carbohydrates and protein):

  • One eats six meals a day (breakfast, a mid-morning snack, lunch, an afternoon snack, dinner and an evening snack)
  • One eats the traditional three meals a day (breakfast, lunch and dinner)
  • One eats only two meals a day (breakfast and dinner)
Screenshot_061
This chart compares the thermic effect of food (TEF) during a day for three people who eat the same amount of calories and macronutrients, but eat in different patterns.

While the TEF spike duration and frequency is different, the total amount of TEF for all three individuals is identical. This means the amount of calories used in a day is the same, regardless of meal frequency.

The amount of calories used in a day is the same, regardless of meal frequency Click To Tweet

Research confirms this: Studies in both 1997 and 2010 noted as long the total amount of food eaten is the same, you can gorge or nibble—neither approach promotes more or less weight loss than the other.

Returning to the fire analogy, eating less but more frequently is like continually throwing kindling on the fire all day long whereas eating more in a sitting (but less frequently) is like throwing a big log on the fire.

What about fasting?

Many are fearful to skip meals because they hear that fasting lowers your BMR, putting your body into starvation mode.

This is oversimplified and inaccurate. It may be true that fasting decreases your BMR, but with one big caveat: It takes over three days of fasting to accomplish this.

In fact, researchers have found that short-term fasting actually increases the amount of calories you burn while at rest and doesn’t affect cognitive performance, activity, sleep or mood.

Could fewer meals be better for you?

A lot of recent research has come out in favor of eating less frequently. For example, a 2014 study found that frequent snacking might stress the liver, leading to a greater risk of fatty liver disease.  

Fasting for short periods of time has been found to have the following health benefits:

Numerous studies have shown that short-term fasting has health benefits and fewer meals may be better for you Click To Tweet

And lowers the risk of:

Eat the way that works for you

There’s no reason to stress out about meal frequency. If you find it easier to make healthy food choices by eating a couple of meals a day and a snack or two, then stick to that. If you like to spend more of the day fasting so you can enjoy larger meals and because it suits your schedule, then stay with that approach.

When it comes to weight loss, overall calories matter more than meal frequency, so always keep an eye on your portions. If you have issues with blood sugar control, work with your doctor to figure out a meal schedule that works for you. 

Reviewed by Kristen Kizer, R.D.

The truth about gluten sensitivity

It seems like more and more items in grocery stores are popping up with “gluten-free” on their labels. For almost every food containing gluten, there is an equal option that is gluten-free. Even restaurants and bakeries are offering gluten free menu options.

It’s everywhere you look, so it must be healthy, right? Individuals are adopting the gluten-free lifestyle without fully understanding what it means for their health and diet. What exactly is gluten? Is it good for us, or bad? Gastroenterologist Dr. Eamonn Quigley answered these questions, along with others, about the ingredient.

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There are two main groups of proteins in gluten, called gliadin and glutenin.

Q: What is gluten?

A: Gluten refers to a group of proteins (gliadin and glutenin).

Q: What is the difference between celiac disease, gluten sensitivity and a wheat allergy?

A: Celiac disease refers to a clinical disorder where an immunological reaction to gliadin results in injury to the small intestine. The term gluten sensitivity is, in reality, the same as celiac disease and the idea that there are people sensitive to gliadin who do not have celiac disease is highly controversial. The same applies to the term “wheat allergy.”

All of these terms imply that there is an immunological reaction to a component of wheat (i.e. the gliadin fraction of gluten).  A wheat/gluten intolerance refers to individuals that get symptoms when they eat wheat-based products. While the cause of these symptoms is unclear, there is evidence that some of these symptoms may be due to carbohydrates, called fructans, that are also found in wheat, that some people find difficult to digest.

Q: What are the symptoms of someone who suspects they have a wheat/gluten intolerance?

A: They could have any one of a host of symptoms, but most commonly: diarrhea, bloating, or abdominal cramps.

Common symptoms of wheat/gluten intolerance are diarrhea, bloating and abdominal cramps Click To Tweet

Q: What are the symptoms of someone who suspects they have celiac disease?

A: In the past, symptoms of malabsorption such as diarrhea, weight loss, and vitamin/protein deficiency were used to identify someone with celiac disease. Nowadays, many people with celiac disease are detected because of mild anemia, osteopenia, iron deficiency, folic acid deficiency, infertility and other issues, even though they have little or no GI symptoms.

Q: Are there risks/benefits to going gluten-free if you are not allergic or intolerant?

A: There may be benefits, but that has been difficult to prove in large studies. The main drawbacks are cost and the possibility that you could be excluding foods that provide essential nutrients. Always check with your doctor or dietitian.

Q: Is gluten intolerance something someone grows into, out of, or is it for life?

A: If you have a true intolerance, it is permanent.

Q: Besides bread and products containing flour, what other food products contain gluten that consumers may not be aware of?

A: Barley and rye. In principle, oats should not be a problem, but there is evidence that oats may become contaminated by wheat during milling and preparation so many advise excluding oats as well. 

Q: Are there alternatives to foods containing gluten?

A: Yes, countless. There are many great suggestions from patient support groups such as CSA (Celiac Support Association). Find them at csaceliacs.org. Check out these Pinterest boards for more gluten-free recipes:

The gluten-free lifestyle isn’t intended for everyone. Although we may eventually find that there are health benefits to going gluten free, it is best to stick to a well-balanced diet for now. For some, going gluten-free isn’t necessary. However, for others, it’s a necessity. Listen to your body and talk to your doctor or nutritionist about the appropriate diet for your lifestyle.

Reviewed by Dr. Eamonn Quigley

Eating clean by going green

The energetic and radiant hue of emerald green makes it easy to become obsessed with the color. Green also happens to be the color of many in-season foods. So why not go ahead and add splashes of green to your plate?

Bright green is symbolic of in-season green-hued foods bursting with flavor and nutrients. You will be well on your way to “cleaning” your diet by incorporating these free-radical absorbing foods.

Kari Kooi, a registered dietician at Houston Methodist, says “eating clean is a buzzword for a wholesome, unprocessed diet that drastically limits ultra-processed foods made from inferior ingredients while embracing whole foods like fruits and vegetables.”  

There’s no better time to start eating clean and green. Here are five green powerhouse foods to help brighten your plate.

Asparagus

Looking for a natural anti-ager? Emerging in the springtime, these green spears offer a bounty of nutrients. Asparagus is high in glutathione, an antioxidant that can help reduce skin damage from the sun. Additionally, asparagus contains the most folate of any vegetable. Folate plays a vital role in heart health and the prevention of birth defects.

Avocado

Add some thin slices of smooth avocado to your sandwich or salad without feeling guilty. The monounsaturated fat in avocado is what’s mostly responsible for avocado’s super food status. This type of happy fat can help drive down levels of bad cholesterol. 

Brussels sprouts

These baby cabbages are loaded with antioxidants and filling fiber. A cruciferous vegetable, Brussels sprouts contain powerful, cancer-fighting sulfur compounds that are responsible for their pungent aroma. These green jewels take on a whole new flavor and crispy texture when roasted in the oven.

Eating clean means eliminating ultra-processed foods and embracing whole foods like fruits and vegetables Click To Tweet
Fresh Kale
Did you know kale is a better source of calcium than spinach? This is due to its lower levels of oxalic acid.

Kale

This beautiful ruffled green is being called “the queen of greens.” Kale is brimming with eye-nourishing carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin, a pair of phytochemicals that has been shown to prevent macular degeneration and cataracts. Additionally, kale is a better source of calcium than spinach as it has lower levels of oxalic acid, a compound that interferes with calcium absorption.

Kiwifruit

Rich in vitamin C, potassium and fiber, kiwis make a perfectly portable snack. Just slice a kiwi in half and scoop out the emerald flesh with a spoon. You will dazzle your body with nutrients. This sweet and tart fruit has a unique taste, with flavors reminiscent of strawberry, banana, melon, pineapple, and citrus

The lowdown on caffeine: fact or fiction

When we wake up in the morning, many of us think of one thing: coffee. You drag your body out of bed just to stumble to the coffee maker. That morning dose of caffeine provides the boost that gets you going. It wakes you up, gives you energy and helps your morning productivity.

Caffeine has been hailed for its health benefits and studied relentlessly, but how much do you really know about caffeine? What is fact and fiction?

Caffeine is a drug.

Fact: Caffeine is a pharmacologically-active substance; it can work as a mild stimulant, and therefore is a drug. Some caffeine drinkers report difficulty in reducing or stopping caffeine. Caffeine is addictive and withdrawal can cause symptoms such as headache, loss of energy, fatigue, drowsiness, irritability, anxiety, nausea and depression.

Caffeine is good for kids (ages 8-17).

Myth: Since the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t require manufacturers to list caffeine content on nutrition labels, it’s often hard to tell whether a product contains the stimulant, and how much. Even low doses of caffeine—such as a small soda—have an effect on kids’ blood pressure and heart rates. New research suggests that boys are impacted by the effects of caffeine more than girls.

Over 2.25 billion cups of coffee are consumed in the world every day, making it the most popular caffeine drink.
Over 2.25 billion cups of coffee are consumed in the world every day, making it the most popular caffeinated drink.

Two grande coffees from Starbucks is a good amount to drink per day.

Myth: The recommended daily intake of caffeine is 400mg. One grande coffee from Starbucks contains 330mg of caffeine. Experts suggest staying closer to 200mg in order to reap the benefits and avoid problems. Each person is different; weight, age, and tolerance should be considered.

Coffee makes a drunk person sober and fit to drive.

Myth: Studies reveal this widely perceived claim is false. Caffeine is known for making people more alert, which presumably led to the idea, but it can’t remove the cognitive deficits that alcohol causes.

Cigarette smokers metabolize caffeine faster than nonsmokers.

Fact: Caffeine metabolism is slower among infants, pregnant women, women taking oral contraceptives and individuals with liver disease. Cigarette smokers can actually metabolize caffeine twice as fast as non-smokers.

Cigarette smokers can actually metabolize caffeine twice as fast as non-smokers Click To Tweet

4 cups of coffee = 10 cans of soda = 2 energy shots.

Fact: Click here for more information on caffeine content in foods.

You can’t overdose of caffeine.

Myth: Although it is uncommon, there have been deaths reported due to an overdose of caffeine.

While too much caffeine can be determinantal, moderate amounts in beverages like coffee can have health benefits.
While too much caffeine can be determinantal, moderate amounts in beverages like coffee can have health benefits.

Caffeine can be found in drinks, food and medicines.

Fact: Caffeine is found in more than 60 plants including coffee beans, tea leaves, kola nuts (used to flavor soft drinks) and cacao pods. It can also be found in foods like chocolate, ice cream and energy water, and medicines such as weight-loss pills, pain relievers and migraine medications. You can even spray caffeine directly on your skin.

Caffeine may help protect against some diseases.

Fact: Studies have shown a healthy dose of caffeine could help protect against type 2 diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, cardiovascular disease, stroke and help boost long-term memory. It has also been reported that it reduces suicide risk in adults, risk of liver cancer and the risk of mouth and throat cancer.

Caffeine could help protect against diabetes, heart disease and stroke Click To Tweet

Caffeine is good before a workout.

Myth: Caffeine is a diuretic, meaning it makes your body lose more water, which could lead to dehydration. Avoid drinking caffeinated beverages like coffee, soda, or energy drinks before a workout. If you drink caffeine before, make sure to drink enough water throughout and after your workout in order to stay hydrated.

Is high fructose corn syrup worse than sugar?

Not a week goes by in the media without stories about potential health problems associated with high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). From brands like Yoplait to Heinz and Hunt’s, consumers are asking for the removal of the ingredient from products and companies are responding.

However, what do you really know about HFCS? Is it the main culprit when it comes to weight gain and metabolic problems or is there more to the story? In order to tackle this subject, let’s first look at HFCS and sugar at the molecular level.

Up close and personal: HFCS and sugar

Time for a little biochemistry: The kind of HFCS used in packaged foods and soda goes by the names HFCS 55 and HFCS 42. In the 55 variant, 55% of molecules are fructose and 42% are glucose. For HFCS 42, the breakdown is 42% fructose and 53% glucose. Both fructose and glucose are basic, simple forms of carbohydrates.

At the molecular level, high fructose corn syrup and sugar are nearly identical Click To Tweet

Why did I provide that molecular breakdown? Sucrose or sugar often replaces HFCS when brands swap ingredients and guess what? It has a 1:1 ratio of glucose to fructose, meaning that 50% of the molecules are fructose and 50% are glucose. At the molecular level, HFCS and sugar are nearly identical.

sucrose
This image shows the molecular layout of sucrose or sugar. 50% of it is fructose and 50% is glucose, making it a near mirror molecular image of high fructose corn syrup.

Research roundup: HFCS vs. sugar

Given that HFCS and sugar have a very similar glucose-to-fructose ratio, what does the nutritional literature have to say about the health effects of HFCS?

According to a 2008 study, “Sucrose and HFCS do not have substantially different short-term endocrine/metabolic effects.” Even when looking at other critical factors like appetite- and fat-related hormones, no difference has been found between sugar and HFCS.

A 2012 study that put subjects on a reduced-calorie diet noted that both the HFCS and sugar group lost similar amounts of weight and body fat, leading researchers to conclude the type of sugar in the diet was of no significance.

All these results are similar to a 2007 critical review in Food Science and Nutrition, which summed up its research saying, “The currently available evidence is insufficient to implicate HFCS per se as a causal factor in the overweight and obesity problem in the United States.”

The real nutritional culprit: excess carbohydrates

It may seem like I’m letting HFCS and sugar off the hook, but I’m not. What’s important to realize is that they’re both carbohydrates and because of their connection to “sweetness,” they shift the conversation away from something people need to be more aware of when it comes to their diet: too many carbohydrates elevates blood sugar.

Note how sugar consumption ramped up  in the early '70s. While sweetener choice has changed with time, one aspect has remained constant: Americans are eating more simple carbohydrates.
Note how sugar consumption ramped up in the early ’70s. While sweetener choice has changed with time, one aspect has remained constant: Americans are eating more simple carbohydrates. Image source: Austin G. Davis-Richardson (Wikipedia)

A diet composed of too many insulin-spiking carbohydrates has been implicated in the following health problems:

Too many insulin-spiking carbohydrates may lead to heart disease, diabetes and macular degeneration Click To Tweet

Making healthier choices

Elimination of foods containing HFCS is a great start to revamping one’s diet as HFCS is typically found in processed foods that contain artificial ingredients, little nutrient density, low fiber counts and hydrogenated vegetable oils.

But don’t be misled: eating the same amount of a food that uses sugar or a similar sweetener in the place of HFCS won’t lead to significant improvements in your health.

Instead, shop the perimeter of the grocery store, stocking up on fibrous fruits and vegetables like berries, avocados and broccoli, and protein sources like wild-caught salmon and grass-fed beef. It’s all about increasing the nutrient density of your food choices and being a more aware consumer.

Reviewed by Kristen Kizer, R.D.

Decoding type 2 diabetes

Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes. The disease often develops in stages, starting as prediabetes or insulin resistance. People with prediabetes have elevated blood glucose (sugar), but it isn’t high enough to be classified as diabetes.

Diabetics tend to have too much glucose circulating in their blood, which, if left unregulated, can lead to blindness, heart attacks, stroke, nerve damage, amputations and even death. Unlike type 1 diabetes, people with type 2 diabetes can still make insulin, but they develop insulin resistance. That means that the body doesn’t properly use the insulin hormone that the pancreas produces, which leads to it making more insulin.

Insulin helps the cells absorb glucose so that they can use it for energy. As the process of producing more and more insulin continues, the pancreas is unable to meet the demand as the blood glucose levels remains too high and type 2 diabetes occurs. In some instances, the cells that produce the insulin become severely impaired or destroyed and the diabetic requires insulin to help regulate blood glucose.

Blood Glucose 101

With medication and monitoring, diabetics attempt a delicate balancing act to keep their blood glucose within the normal range. If their blood glucose is too low, it can lead to injuries, coma and even death. The symptoms of low blood glucose happen quickly and can include symptoms such as shakiness, confusion, unconsciousness or dizziness. If their blood glucose is too high, then its more devastating effects usually occur over prolonged periods of time, but immediate symptoms include excessive thirst and frequent urination.

Below are the target blood glucose levels for diabetics:

  • Fasting: 70–120 mg/dl
  • After meals (1-2 hours): Less than 140 mg/dl

Are you at risk?

According to the American Diabetes Association, 25.8 million Americans have diabetes. Of that number, there are 7 million people with the disease who are undiagnosed. In addition, there are a staggering 79 million people with prediabetes.

7 million Americans live with undiagnosed type 2 diabetes Click To Tweet

If this trend continues, by 2050, 1 in 3 Americans will have diabetes. One of the biggest contributing factors is the rise in obesity. If you have one or more of the following risk factors, talk to your doctor about testing and prevention:

  • Age 45 or older
  • Overweight
  • Physically inactive
  • High blood pressure or cholesterol
  • Parent or sibling with type 2 diabetes
  • Had gestational diabetes
  • Have prediabetes
  • African-American, Alaska Native, Native American, Asian-American, Hispanic or Pacific Islander
  • Have polycystic ovary syndrome
  • Dark velvety hyper pigmented skin around the neck or armpits

Take control

If you suspect that you have diabetes, schedule a doctor’s appointment to check your blood glucose and to test your hemoglobin A1c, which will give you an idea of your blood glucose levels over the last three months.

To asses your diabetes risk, have your blood glucose and hemoglobin A1c tested Click To Tweet

“You also want to ask your doctor to check your cholesterol and blood pressure, as these risk factors many times cluster together, especially in overweight individuals,” said Dr. Manisha Chandalia, an endocrinologist at Houston Methodist San Jacinto Hospital.

If you have diabetes, check your blood regularly and consider enrolling in the Houston Methodist Diabetes Education Program.

Type-2-diabetes-infographic

Reviewed by Dr. Manisha Chandalia


Eating pretty: foods for radiant skin

When it comes to a glowing complexion, nourishing your skin from the inside-out is just as important as what you put on your skin. Eating the right foods can help protect skin from oxidative stress that contributes to the aging process, clear up acne and brighten a dull complexion. Here are some ingredients for attaining radiant skin.

Watermelon

As the name implies, this juicy, super-sweet fruit is over 90 percent water and keeps skin smooth and firm by hydrating cells so they’re plump and full. Watermelon is rich in lycopene, an antioxidant that gives watermelon its pink hue and provides protection against damaging ultraviolet rays. Enjoy a watermelon salad that’s bursting with flavor by simply cutting the watermelon into cubes and combining with spicy arugula, thinly sliced red onion, red-wine vinegar, a splash of olive oil and a sprinkle of crumbled goat cheese.

Lycopene in watermelon provides protection against damaging ultraviolet rays Click To Tweet

Pepitas

Pepitas are hulled pumpkin seeds that are loaded with zinc, a mineral that’s involved in many biochemical processes throughout the body, including skin-cell renewal. A great addition to a homemade trail mix or sprinkled into oatmeal or yogurt, these green seeds have a delicate crunch and a nutty, slightly-sweet flavor. To deepen the flavor of pepitas, stir frequently in a small skillet over medium heat until golden-brown.

Pineapple

This sweet, juicy tropical fruit is chock-full of vitamin C, an antioxidant that plays a strong role in the production of collagen. Collagen is a protein that is essential for keeping skin firm and elastic. Select pineapple with a sweet fragrance at the stem end and make sure it is heavy for its size. Create a dazzling salad that’s brimming with vitamin C by mixing pineapple with other tropical fruits such as kiwi, mango and papaya.

Carrots

If you want a summer tan, crunching on carrots can give you a sun-kissed look without spray tans or damaging sun exposure. The carotenoid antioxidants in carrots, including beta-carotene, give carrots their deep orange coloring and provide a subtle natural tan by the pigments getting deposited in the skin. Beta-carotene keeps skin youthful by targeting and repairing skin damage as well as protecting skin from the ravages of excess sun exposure. Snack on baby carrots dipped in protein-rich hummus or almond butter. Shredded raw carrots add a sweet flavor and bright pop of orange to salads.

Here are three great recipes you can try that incorporate these ingredients.

Almond Butter Log

Almonds make up the base of this creamy recipe.
Almonds make up the base of this creamy recipe.

Time: 50 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 1 ripe banana
  • 2-3 cups raw almonds
  • Cinnamon
  • Almond milk

Instructions:

  1. Blend the raw almonds in a blender or food processor.
  2. Stop and stir the nuts every 5 minutes. During the process, the almonds will have the appearance of crumbs but be patient; this can take up to 30 minutes.
  3. Continue blending until the consistency is even.
  4. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  5. Peel one ripe banana and cut down the center as if you were making a banana split.
  6. Place the banana on a baking sheet line with aluminum foil, and fill with 1-2 teaspoons of the homemade almond butter.
  7. Gently press the sides together and wrap with foil.
  8. Bake for 15 minutes.
  9. Garnish with a sprinkle of cinnamon.
  10. Let the banana log cool on baking sheet before eating.

Spicy Arugula Watermelon Salad

Watermelon can serve as an excellent base for a salad.
Watermelon pairs well with salad greens.

Time: 20 minutes

Ingredients:

  • ½ giant chilled watermelon, cubed or thinly sliced
  • 1 peeled cucumber, diced
  • 1 red tomato, diced
  • 1 yellow tomato, diced
  • 2 tablespoons red onion, sliced
  • 2 tablespoons tarragon leaves
  • 2 tablespoons chives, thinly chopped
  • 2 tablespoons basil leaves, cut into strips
  • 2 tablespoons cilantro
  • 1 avocado, diced
  • 4 ounces goat cheese, crumbled
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

Instructions:

  1. In a large bowl mix the fruit, vegetables, then combine with spicy arugula.
  2. In a small dish, whisk together red wine vinegar and olive oil, drizzle dressing over salad and garnish with herbs and goat cheese.

Pineapple Chicken Spread

Chicken spread works great on crackers or in sandwiches.
Chicken spread works great on crackers or in sandwiches.

Time: 55 minutes                                                      

Ingredients:

  • 3 grilled chicken breasts
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 1 ½ cups pineapple, diced
  • 1 lime
  • ¼ cup cucumber, diced
  • ¼ cup red bell pepper, diced
  • ¼ cup yellow bell pepper, diced
  • ¼ cup red onion, diced
  • 1 cup guacamole dip
  • 1 ½ teaspoons sea salt

Instructions:

  1. Halve the large pineapple lengthwise, and then hollow out one half.
  2. Reserve 1 ½ cup of the fruit for the chicken spread and save the remainder for future use.
  3. Lightly season chicken breasts with sea salt and pepper to taste and grill over medium heat in a large skillet in 2 teaspoons olive Oil.
  4. Once both sides are evenly grilled and tender, remove from heat and let rest for up to 5 minutes.
  5. While the chicken breasts are cooling down, use this time to wash and cut the vegetables. In a large bowl, combine all of the ingredients and mix gently.
  6. Juice the lime and add the remaining sea salt if necessary.
  7. Cover with plastic wrap and place in refrigerator for 15-20 minutes. This will give all of your ingredients time to settle which will intensify the flavor.
  8. Fill the hollowed pineapple with the chicken spread mixture and serve with crackers for party guests or serve in a whole wheat pita pocket for a handy, on-the-go lunch.

Recipes by Nitiya Spearman