Written by Anna Bitong Photography by MICHAEL COONS
They are called superfoods because of their ability to help stave off a host of diseases and promote lifelong health. They are vegetables, fruits, seeds and legumes packed with vitamins and minerals shown to be powerful defenses against many illnesses. While there is no definitive list of superfoods, the following roundup includes an all-star cast of nutritional powerhouses routinely praised for their health benefits.
Written by Anna Bitong
Studies show that there has been a worldwide increase in allergic diseases, including food allergies, according to Krithika Ramadas, an allergy and immunology doctor in Thousand Oaks.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, food allergies are a growing public safety concern. Between 1997 and 2007, food-related allergies among children increased 18 percent, CDC reported.
“Food allergies are more prevalent today, and more so in Westernized culture,” Ramadas said.
While some people have a genetic predisposition to allergies, many other environmental factors may account for the trend, she said, including exposure to chemicals in cleaning products used in homes and air pollution.
If your family has a history of allergies, the doctor recommends minimizing use of chemicals indoors and instead using natural cleaners and avoiding perfumes. To keep allergies at bay, she also suggests eating healthy foods, including “good fat” (avocado, olive oil), and avoiding tobacco smoke. Pets should be kept outside if you suffer from allergies.
The most common food allergens are milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, nuts, wheat and soy. Despite the surge in popularity of the gluten-free diet, there is no data to show that more people are allergic to gluten now than in years past, Ramadas said.
Gluten is a protein found in wheat and other grains. The doctor notes that “wheat can cause allergy, but gluten sensitivity has nothing to do with gluten allergy.”
Symptoms of both gluten sensitivity and allergy can include abdominal pain and bloating. But the latter, also known as celiac disease, damages the lining of the small intestine and blocks absorption of some nutrients, including calcium and iron, when gluten is consumed. As a result, some people who have the disease suffer from iron deficiency anemia or seizures.
Whereas wheat can be better tolerated as someone gets older, celiac disease is not a condition that can be outgrown, Ramadas said.
She said food intolerance is often mistaken for food allergy, a more serious condition that can cause hives, swelling and, in some cases, death. “Not all reactions to food are allergies,” the doctor said. “That is the biggest misconception.”
SUPER HERBS AND SPICES
A healthy way to add flavor to dishes, certain herbs and spices have sky-high levels of health-boosting vitamins and minerals and can even be used to treat illnesses.