Vital Veggies, etc.



by Catherine Haug, May 3, 2013

(Photo, right, by D. Morgan, used  with permission)

While there may be a lot of debate about diet: hi-carb vs lo-carb; vegetarian vs omnivore; modern vs paleo; and so on, it seems there are a few foods that transcend the debate – the so-called “superfoods.” These are touted because of their high nutritional value in various categories: vitamin-rich, mineral-rich, antioxidant-rich, and essential oil-rich. But they also have amazing taste. Note, however, there is one category of foods that seldom appear on a superfood list: grains. This is probably because of their difficult to neutralize anti-nutrients, such as gluten. But that’s another topic.

There is a well-founded belief that every area around the globe has its own native superfoods. Many believe – and I am one of those – that we should focus on our own native super foods, rather than reaching around the globe for the ‘latest and greatest’ touted by the media. One example of this is açaí berries native to Central and South America (4), and goji berries native to Asia (5). While these are among the richest foods for antioxidants, we have our own contender for that title: huckleberries.

AARP Magazine has featured several articles about superfoods, including Superfoods That Power You Up, by Rebecca Katz and Monica Bhide in the current April/May 2013 issue (1). This article reminded me of the herbs covered by Linda Peterson in her April ESP presentation on the Nutritional Value of Herbs.

AARP Superfoods

The following list is a composite from 3 AARP articles (1,2,3). I’ve color-coded the foods to illustrate the importance of eating a rainbow diet – foods rich in color – because the color indicates the presence of vitamins and antioxidants. For recipes using some of these foods, see AARP Recipes


  • Thyme: antibacterial; may also be effective as a tincture for treating acne (1)
  • Kale: rich in vitamin K (for blood-clotting) and lutein (for the eyes). Also rich in Omega-3 fatty acids. (1,2)
  • Cabbage: This veggie and its family are protective of  many organs against cancer. It is a rich source of vitamins A, C and K, which protects joints and can lower the risk of osteoarthritis  (3)
  • Basil & Mint: aids digestion and diminishes inflammation; also rich in luteolin which may boost immune function (1)
  • Sweet potatoes: rich in vitamin B6 and potassium; protect immune system and regulate blood pressure; also rich in fiber (if eaten with the skin) (1)
  • Asparagus: natural diuretic; also rich in potassium and B vitamins, vitamin A, fiber,protein and iron (1,2)[Cat’s note: the AARP article (1) asserts this veggie is also rich in vitamin B12, but I have not been able to confirm that. So far, science has only found B12 in animal foods.]
  • Garlic: All members of the onion family are rich in sulfur, which has antioxidant and antimicrobial properties (1) [Cat’s note: sulfur is also important for detox of heavy metals]. Raw garlic also contains allicin, which is good for the circulatory system. (1)
  • Broccoli: High in fiber, antioxidants, vitamins A, C B9 (folate), and K. (2) [Cat’s note: all members of the cabbage family are rich in sulfur. They are also important for metabolism of estrogen to a lesser carcinogenic form.]
  • Spinach [also chard, beet greens]: are a powerhouse for minerals, vitamins A and K, and Omega-3 fatty acids. Their high levels of antioxidants are also deadly to certain cancers.(3) [Cat’s note: These greens, while rich in minerals, are also rich in oxalic acid which is an anti-nutrient that binds the minerals so they cannot be absorbed. A light braise (wilt in heated olive oil, then add a bit of water and steam lightly) breaks down the oxalic acid and frees the minerals for absorption. However, too  much heat breaks down the anti-oxidants, so best to eat of mix of braised and raw greens].
  • Fava beans: Rich in B vitamins including folate, thiamin and riboflavin; also minerals such as manganese, iron and potassium (2)
  • Lentils: Like many other legumes, lentils provide all the essential acids when combined with a grain such as rice or corn. (3) [Cat’s note: Ounce for ounce, calorie for calorie, legumes plus grain do not provide as much protein as meat. (3)
  • Beets: This misunderstood veggie is a multi-vitamin powerhouse. Both it’s leaves and root are delicious, and each provides a different set of nutrients and benefits. The antioxidants in beetroot are protective of the cardiovascular system. Other nutrients in beetroot help cleanse the body of harmful chemicals, and aid the liver in detox. (3) [Cat’s note: See my article on The EssentiaList: What to do with beets – a nutritional powerhouse for lots more about my favorite veggie.


  • Apples: Rich in soluble fiber which slows the uptake of glucose to help maintain healthy blood sugar levels. Also a rich source of potassium, antioxidants, and vitamin C. (2) (2012)
  • Pears: Very similar to apples in nutrient content, and are also high in folate. (2)
  • Avocados: High is “good” mono-unsaturated fat; also good source of glutathione, an antioxidant and detox agent (1)
  • Pomegranates: Rich in hormone- and circulatory system-protecting antioxidants (1)
  • Blueberries: Loaded with antioxidants and ranks among the top disease-fighting foods. May also reduce a woman’s risk of heart attack and stave off memory loss by several years. Also rich in soluble fiber (to avoid blood-sugar spikes), vitamins C and K, and the mineral manganese. (1,2) [Cat’s note: I would also add huckleberries, serviceberries, and cranberries, which are very closely related to blueberries and have similar health benefits.]
  • Butternut squash: Rich in beta-carotene (a form of vitamin A), vitamin C and fiber. (2) [Cat’s note: most winter squash is similar]
  • Tomatoes: This fruit often used as a vegetable is an excellent cancer fighter, due to high levels of many phytonutrients including lycopene.  This fruit’s nutrients also benefit from cooking, so indulge in tomato soup, pasta sauce and so on. (3) [Cat’s note: Some people should not eat any members of the nightshade family (tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, tomatillos, etc.) because of damage to joints.]


  • Coffee: a fermented and roasted seed rich in antioxidants to protect against cell damage and reduce risk of chronic diseases including diabetes, heart disease and stroke. May also protect women from breast cancer,, and lower risk of Alzheimer’s if consume 4 – 5 cups a day (1,2)
  • Wild salmon: Rich in essential Omega-3 fatty acids which protect against premature aging.  (1,2) [Cat’s note: It’s important to eat wild salmon, as farmed salmon are riddled with disease, may be contaminated with toxic chemicals such as PCBs (2), and are much lower in Omega-3 fats].
  • Wild arctic char, halibut and rainbow trout: are also rich in Omega-3 fatty acids and provide similar benefit to salmon.
  • Olives/Olive oil: rich in the “good” mono-unsaturated fat. This fermented fruit is known to lower blood pressure and cholesterol. The olives also contain vitamins K and E, but unless the olive oil is cold-pressed, it will have lost most of its vitamin content by heating.  (1,2) [Cat’s note: Choose brined olives (rather than canned) because they are also rich in probiotics.]
  • Walnuts: highest antioxidant content of all the nuts, plus high levels of vitamin E and omega-3 fatty acids. (1)
  • Almonds, cashews, hazelnuts, walnuts and peanuts (technically a legume): like walnuts, these are all rich in mono-unsaturated and Omega-3 fatty acids that are good for the circulatory system. They are also a source of protein and vitamin E.  (3) [Cat’s note: Like all seeds, however, nuts do contain anti-nutrients and can benefit from an overnight soak followed by 24 hours in a dehydrator to break down the anti-nutrients].
  • Green Tea: Rich in a type of antioxidant known to protect cells and reduce the risk of certain cancers, particularly those of the stomach and esophagus. (1) [Cat’s note: Like coffee, tea leaves are fermented. Green tea is from younger leaves that are not as high in caffeine as black tea.]
  • Dark chocolate: rich in flavonoids, good for blood pressure and the circulatory system (1,2) [Cat’s note: like coffee, chocolate is another fermented and roasted seed. It’s important that you choose chocolate that is at least 70% cacao.]
  • Yogurt: Restores balance to the gastrointestinal tract, if it contains live cultures. May also improve heart health and blood pressure. Greek yogurt may have more protein and probiotics than regular yogurt (1,2) [Cat’s note: other cultured dairy products such as cheese and kefir have similar benefits, as long as they have not been pasteurized after culturing. You also get the most benefit from these foods if they have not been sweetened.]
  • Oatmeal: High soluble fiber content, which is good for the immune and circulatory systems. It is also high in protein (for a plant sources), as well as many minerals. (2) [Cat’s note: although the grain may be high in minerals, they are bound by anti-nutrient phytates, and so cannot be absorbed unless the grain is soaked, sprouted or fermented.  Oats also benefit from a long, slow cooking time. Quick-cooking and instant oatmeal have lost more of the benefits of oatmeal, while retaining the anti-nutrients.]
  • Quinoa:  This non-gluten grain is a plant source of complete protein that is also rich in antioxidants, many B vitamins, and the minerals magnesium, copper, iron and phosphorus. (2,3) [Cat’s note: Like all seeds, quinoa also contains anti-nutrients that bind the minerals and protect the seed from being eaten by birds and other animals. It is best to sprout the quinoa before cooking, to break down the anti-nutrients]


  1. AARP: Superfoods that Power You Up (Because this article is in the current issue of the magazine, it is not yet available on the AARP website. The link I provide is for an article about the man who did the photographs, and includes a photo of the 2-page spread that comprises the AARP article.)
  2. AARP:  Top 15 Superfoods for People Over 50 (Dec 21, 2012)
  3. AARP:  10 Superfoods For Health (October 31, 2011)
  4. Wikipedia: Açai Palm
  5. Wikipedia: Goji

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