The New Superfoods

To say that Dr. Steven Pratt is passionate about food would be an understatement. To Pratt, coauthor of the 2004 best seller "SuperFoods Rx," food choices aren't about anything as trivial as personal tastes. They're life-or-death decisions. Choose well, and you may ward off cancer and heart disease. Chow down on "processed crud," as he calls it, and you might as well reserve a handicapped space at the hospital. Tip Sheet went grocery shopping with Pratt in California to see how he puts together his own healthy menu--and to get a sneak preview of some of the new power foods in his upcoming book, "SuperFoods HealthStyle," due out in January. Among his picks:

Superfruits. With summer long gone, it may not seem a good time to be pitching fruit. But three of Pratt's new power foods are fruits that are currently in season--pomegranates, kiwis and apples. Their list of virtues is long. But consider these teasers: a new study from the University of Wisconsin finds that pomegranate-fruit extract inhibits highly aggressive prostate-cancer cells in the lab. One medium kiwi packs as much vitamin C as an orange. "And kiwis help thin the blood, like aspirin without the side effects," says Pratt. Even humble apples have been looking stellar in studies showing that they reduce the risk of asthma and may help prevent lung cancer. "There's a tremendous amount of good data on apples," he says. "It just somehow never gets to the public."

Parsley, sage, rosemary and... cinnamon? Pratt hasn't found a spice he doesn't like. "One study found that 10 grams of spice [roughly 2 tablespoons] contained as many health-promoting antioxidants as 10 servings of fruits and vegetables," he says. Virtually all spices are beneficial--and they're essentially free of calories. But Pratt singles out one study on cinnamon. The USDA found that half a teaspoon a day lowered blood-sugar levels in patients with type 2 diabetes and brought down their bad cholesterol. For a double benefit, try substituting spices for salt. (Pratt finds that Vegit All-Purpose Seasoning, available in most natural-food stores, does the trick.)

Cold pressed and extra virgin. Long a staple of the heart-healthy Mediterranean diet, olive oil is looking even better now that scientists have shown that the extra-virgin variety has anti-inflammatory properties. Low-grade inflammation has been implicated in everything from heart disease and colon cancer to Alzheimer's. Pratt's advice: look for the words "first cold pressed," which indicate that little heat was used. Heat destroys some of the beneficial compounds. The greener the oil, the better.

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Chocolate. Perhaps the best news is that dark chocolate (but not milk chocolate) is now a superfood. "It's not just the antioxidants that make it healthy," says Pratt. Dark chocolate contains substances similar to the heart-healthy compounds in green tea. The latest research focuses on flavanols. They help boost the production of nitric oxide in blood vessels, lowering blood pressure and improving blood flow. Pratt tested six brands for levels of these compounds. The winner? Newman's Own Sweet Dark Chocolate. It's even organic. Super, indeed.

The New Superfoods | News