While Fig Newton cookies might be loaded with sugar (not to mention partially hydrogenated oil), actual figs are a different story entirely. Figs grow on the fig tree, which is native to the Middle East. These small fruits may be eaten fresh or dried. Fresh figs have a chewy, sweet flesh. Figs also have crunchy, edible seeds.
A pumpkin is a squash with a very thick, bright orange skin. While it is traditionally associated with Thanksgiving and Halloween, this tasty gourd is good for more than just carving into Jack-o’-lanterns. Its bright orange color reveals its antioxidant power; pumpkins are rich in beta-carotene, which may help prevent cancer. Just half a cup of mashed, cooked pumpkin contains 282 mg of potassium, making it an ideal food for lowering high blood pressure. It’s also a low-sodium food with zero cholesterol and zero fat. A half a cup of mashed, cooked pumpkin contains a mere 24 calories.
“Vegetarians don’t get enough protein.” This is one of the most common myths regarding the vegetarian lifestyle. Ask any celebrity vegetarian (Shania Twain and Alyssa Milano come to mind) and they’ll tell you that not only does the average omnivore likely eat too much protein, but that protein abounds in plant-based foods. Furthermore, vegetarians aren’t stuck eating tofu and sipping soy milk for all eternity. Soy is not the only option out there. To break out of the tofu stir fry routine, try other protein-packed, plant-based foods like asparagus and seitan.
A great tool for weight loss is broth-based soup simmered with lots of veggies and lean proteins. Despite being low-cal, broth-based soup fills up your stomach to help curb your appetite. In fact, some diet services that deliver gourmet meals to celebrities like Sela Ward offer soup before dinner to help prevent overeating. When selecting your soup ingredients, choose brightly colored vegetables like tomatoes and sweet potatoes for antioxidants. Fiber, found in lentils and black beans, also helps fill up your stomach faster without adding a lot of calories.
If your blood pressure is over 120/80, your doctor may recommend lowering it with lifestyle changes and possibly medication. Altering your diet to include low-sodium foods that are high in potassium, magnesium, and fiber can also help lower your blood pressure. Plus, using a healthy diet instead of medication can help you avoid side effects of ACE inhibitors, like numbness in the feet. The Mayo Clinic recommends choosing a meal plan that emphasizes fresh veggies and fruits (not canned), along with whole grains and lean proteins. For an added bonus, this type of meal plan will also aid your weight loss efforts, which, in turn, will help lower your blood pressure even more.
Blueberries are one of the most popular fruits in the U.S.; only strawberries rank higher. They’re also insanely nutritious and make a great snack for kids. According to the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council, a cup of blueberries will add a mere 80 calories to your daily calorie count while providing important nutrients like vitamins C and K. Preliminary studies have also indicated that blueberries may help dieters shed belly fat. They may do this because the specific chemicals that blueberries contain, like anthocyanins, may help improve how the body processes and stores glucose, or sugar. This means that blueberries are especially beneficial for dieters with diabetes or those at risk for diabetes.
Asparagus is a fleshy, spear-shaped vegetable that offers antioxidant nutrients like vitamin C, beta-carotene, selenium, and vitamin E, as well as glutathione, which is an antioxidant that contains three amino acids. Asparagus also contains saponins, which are anti-inflammatory nutrients, along with flavonoids like quercetin and rutin. Dieters who munch on asparagus also obtain about 3 grams of fiber per cup, which aids digestion. Unlike most vegetables, asparagus harbors an impressive amount of protein. Vegetarians and vegans like Alicia Silverstone can use asparagus toward their daily quota of protein, at about 4 to 5 grams per cup.
Potatoes might be a common dieting pitfall (particularly when eaten fried), but sweet potatoes are another matter. In fact, country singer Wynonna Judd lost 55 pounds by eating healthier foods like sweet potatoes. The sweet potato is a starchy root vegetable that offers complex carbohydrates, which are superior to simple carbohydrates in that they do not cause a blood sugar crash a few hours after a meal.
Spelt is an ancient whole grain that is known to have been cultivated as early as 5,000 to 6,000 B.C.E. in modern-day Iran. North Americans jumped on the spelt bandwagon much, much later, only starting to grow the crop about 100 years ago. Like quinoa, spelt has a nutty flavor and more protein than wheat. The grain looks similar in appearance to wheat. However, unlike quinoa, spelt contains gluten and so it is not ideal for those with celiac disease or gluten sensitivities.
Quinoa (pronounced KEEN-wah) is a whole grain that is slowly nudging its way into American pantries. Labeled “the gold of the Incas,” this ancient grain was eaten over 6,000 years ago by Inca tribes in South America. If you can’t find it in your supermarket, check your local health food store.