Most likely you have heard of superfoods—everyone’s talking about foods that have such wondrous health properties that they literally deserve to be called “superstars”. These foods help fight disease, help you stay young, strengthen your heart and brain, help control blood sugar and—as an added bonus—are key to managing your weight!
What’s interesting is how many of the foods that show up on everybody’s lists are mainstays of Atkins. “The best diet for humans are foods that our Paleolithic ancestors could have hunted, fished, gathered or plucked”, says Jonny Bowden, Ph.D., CNS, author of The Healthiest Meals on Earth. “These foods are loaded with nutrients and will help to maintain your energy, vitality and waistline”
Here are just a few of the many foods that you’ll regularly enjoy when following Atkins. “The foods on the Atkins Diet are truly nutrition powerhouses that are sure to help you in your quest to become healthier, prevent disease, and to look and feel better,” Bowden says.
One basic truth in nutrition is this: There are no bad vegetables. These three represent a small sample of all the great vegetables you’ll be able to enjoy while on Atkins:
•Kale: Bowden calls this the superstar of all vegetables because it comes out on top in the USDA rankings of antioxidant capacity of vegetables (slightly outranking spinach!) A member of the cabbage family, it’s loaded with cancer fighting compounds called indoles, not to mention calcium, iron and vitamins A, C and K. And a mere two cups contain 4 grams of protein and 3 grams of fiber! Try it with some pine nuts and a few dried cranberries, suggests Bowden.
•Sweet peppers (red, green, orange, yellow): “The riper the pepper the greater its nutritional value and the better its flavor”, says Dr. Bowden. Peppers are low in calories, add color, texture and flavor to almost any vegetable or protein dish, and, eaten raw, are a great snack food. Peppers blend with anything, and are an excellent source of vitamin C, beta-carotene and potassium.
•Baby broccoli: Though everyone knows the incredible health benefits of broccoli, not as many people are aware that its baby brother has a completely different taste and texture profile, and offers almost the same nutritional benefits! It’s crunchy, not nearly as bitter as it’s older brother, loaded with nutrients, very low in calories, and tastes particularly amazing when stir fried in coconut or olive oil with some fresh garlic and slivered almonds. A perfect addition to your shopping list.
•More vegetables: Add these vegetables to your diet for the variety and the nutrition:
You can enjoy a variety of fruits starting in Phase 2 of Atkins. These fruits are low in sugar, high in fiber and absolutely loaded with nutrients:
•Apples: A half apple only has ten grams of carbs, and is loaded with fiber, vitamin C and a bone-building mineral called boron. Best of all, they contain compounds, which—according to studies at both the Mayo Clinic and Cornell University—help to inhibit the growth of cancer cells.
•Cherries: Cherries are a great source of both the anti-inflammatory flavonoid quercetin, as well as a powerful cancer-fighting plant compound called ellagic acid. The compounds that give cherries their red color are called anthocyanins, natural COX-2 inhibitors, which are highly anti-inflammatory and are responsible for cherries’ well-deserved reputation as an excellent food “treatment” for gout. (In one study, anthocyanins worked as well as ibuprofen and naproxen.) Plus, they’re low in both calories and sugar.
•Grapefruit: A study at the Scripps Clinic found that eating grapefruit before every meal increased weight loss as well as improving insulin resistance. And a study in Israel found that red grapefruits were effective in lowering triglycerides, a significant risk factor for heart disease. Plus, grapefruit is a good source of vitamin C and potassium.
•Blueberries: If you want to keep your waistline slim and your memory sharp, blueberries are the perfect fruit. In a series of studies at the USDA, blueberries were found to help neurons in the brain communicate more effectively with one another. Bowden calls them “the ultimate memory food”. They’re loaded with anti-oxidants and natural anti-inflammatories, low in calories and sugar and high in fiber.
Protein is satiating. Because you’re less hungry after you eat it, you’re less likely to overeat later on, making it easy to stay on the Atkins Diet. And because it doesn’t send your blood sugar and insulin levels skyrocketing, you’ll have sustained energy and be able to burn fat throughout the day. Here are a few terrific protein choices for all four stages of the Atkins diet.
•Grass-fed beef: According to Bowden, grass-fed meat is much higher in anti-inflammatory omega-3s, lower in inflammatory omega-6s, and higher in the cancer-fighting fat called CLA (conjugated linolenic acid), which has also been shown to reduce abdominal fat. It’s loaded with B vitamins and is a great source of iron and immune-enhancing zinc. Grass-fed beef has all of these benefits and tastes great, too.
•Wild salmon: Wild salmon is loaded with a potent antioxidant called astaxathin. Salmon is one of the richest sources of omega-3s on the planet—it’s a superb source of low-calorie, fabulous tasting protein that can be prepared in countless mouth-watering ways.
•Alaskan King Crab legs: Crab legs are a healthy source of high-quality protein, yet are low in fat and calories. This delicious food adds variety and a lot of good nutrition to your diet—like zinc, magnesium, Vitamin B6, folate and, of course, omega-3s.
Nuts and Seeds
Nuts and seeds are a nutritional bonanza containing protein, fat, fiber, vitamins and minerals. Studies show that people who eat nuts regularly have lower body mass index and are less likely to have heart disease. Nuts and seeds were a big part of the original caveman diet; they should be a big part of your program as well.
•Almonds: An ounce of almonds contains 6 grams of protein and 3 grams of fiber.
•Brazil nuts: One of the best sources of cancer-fighting mineral selenium.
•Macadamia nuts: These nuts are one of our favorite snacks, with 80% heart-healthy monounsaturated fat.
•Pecans: These nuts are loaded with potassium, vitamin E, phytosterols and fiber.
•Walnuts: These nuts are loaded with omega-3’s.
•Pumpkin seeds: A rich source of minerals plus healthful plant compounds known as phytosterols.
•Sesame seeds: Contain compounds called lignans, which can enhance fat burning.
•Sunflower seeds: Contain selenium, vitamin E and betaine, a substance that may lower the risk of heart disease and stroke.
Let’s be clear. Fat doesn’t make you fat, and it doesn’t make you sick. According to Walter Willett, M.D., M.Ph, Chairman of the Department of Nutrition of the Harvard School of Public Health, the percentage of fat in the diet has no relationship to any major health outcome (but the type of fat—and the type of carbohydrate—does!) As long as you eat the right fats, (which means a healthy balance of omega-3s, omega-6s and saturated fats from whole foods like eggs and butter, while avoiding trans-fats) you’ll be fine!
•Coconut: Early studies on the Trobriand Islanders—who get the majority of their calories from coconut products—showed low levels of heart disease. The fat in coconut is mostly MCTs (medium-chain triglycerides), immune-system stimulating fat, which the body likes to use for energy rather than storage. And ½ cup of coconut meat has less than 3 grams of sugar, not to mention almost 4 grams of fiber, plus potassium and magnesium.
•Avocados: Avocados are technically a fruit, and, according to Bowden, they’re also a superfood. Avocados are loaded with the same heart-healthy fat (oleic acid, a monounsaturated omega-9 fatty acid) found in olive oil. In one study, volunteers who ate avocados every day for a week had an average of a 17% drop in their blood cholesterol. They’re also a very high-fiber food (11 to 17 grams per avocado!) and are high in lutein, a superstar nutrient for eye health.
•Extra-virgin olive oil: The research on olive oil was compelling enough to convince the FDA to allow a health claim benefit on the label. Olive oil is mostly monounsaturated fat and very high in antioxidant compounds called phenols. In one study, olive oil decreased blood pressure by a significant amount. Make sure to get the extra-virgin kind—it’s the least processed and has the highest amount of good stuff in it!
•Other fats: And don’t forget butter, macadamia nut oil, walnut oil, coconut oil, peanut oil and sesame oil.