9 Exceptionally Healthy Foods For My 2021 Nutritional Makeover

January 19, 2021

On my vegan voyage I’ve felt like a ship captain with 50 maps, unsure how to steer. I was flummoxed by contradictory advice. Fortunately, in recent times I landed on two reliable sources for science-backed health—How Not to Die and NutritionFacts. Both are by Dr. Michael Greger, one of the world leaders of the vegan movement. He distills the plethora of data into practical suggestions, some of which surprised me.

Every whole plant food has complex properties. The science has helped me see which nutrient-packed ingredients may be especially good for my long-term vitality. Here are seven foods I rarely had before that I’m excited to eat often in 2021. Unless otherwise linked, all of the below can be found at NutritionFacts.org/topic/_____ (and fill in the blank). Let the nutritional makeover begin!

Flaxseeds for omega-3s, anti-hypertension, and more

A tablespoon of ground flax covers the daily recommendation for omega-3 fatty acids, an important focus for vegans. Flaxseeds work better than medication for combatting hypertension. These seeds also contain 100x more cancer-crushing lignans than other foods, beating out chia seeds. For these benefits and more, I welcome them into my smoothies and baking!

Berries for blood sugar and antioxidants

Averaging 10x the antioxidants of other fruits and veggies, berries are the top type of fruit to eat daily. I’ve long been an avid grape eater, but this video showed me these 5 popular berries rank much higher: blackberries (#1), cranberries, raspberries, blueberries, and strawberries. At least for the strawberries and raspberries studied, frozen berries are no less rich in antioxidants. They’re also lower in pesticides than the typical fresh berry.

What further rocks about berries is their proven ability to counter insulin issues caused by other foods. While the sugar in whole fruit is of little concern, I do drink smoothies, and blended apples caused issues when studied due to the fiber disruption. Since blended berries are like a blood sugar rescuer, I now include them in every smoothie and sip slow. I will absolutely use them in any future oatmeal, muffins, or pancakes that I make.

Turmeric for Alzheimer’s prevention

Dr. Greger’s top spice is turmeric root, which is anti-cancer and anti-Alzheimer’s. Trials of a curcumin supplement (turmeric contains curcumin) did not show the same Alzheimer’s-fighting effect. This suggests there are other healthful compounds at play, so I’ll skip the tablets and just sprinkle on my whole dried spice. Having fat and a pinch of black pepper with a meal boosts curcumin absorption. Traditional Indian cuisine had this figured out! Those with gallstones or at risk for kidney stones should watch out for too much turmeric. As for me, I’ll follow Dr. Greger recommendation of 1/4 teaspoon a day.

Broccoli for brain and liver health

Cruciferous veggies get extra applause. From broccoli, to kale, to Brussels sprouts, crucifers contain sulforaphane. This unique compound has anti-cancer properties and is great for liver and brain health. No wonder broccoli reminded me of creepy vegetable brains! Don’t forget arugula, bok choy, cabbage, cauliflower, horseradish, radishes, rutabaga, turnips, watercress, wasabi, and more—all “splendiferous cruciferous.”

Important news about sulforaphane: It is released when cruciferous veggies are cut or chewed. The catch? The veggies have to still be raw. But never fear, you needn’t chomp stalk after stalk of hard crunchy broccoli! Dr. Greger says to chop the veggies 40+ minutes before cooking to reap sulforaphane’s benefits. To get me started and to make up for my childhood spurning of broccoli, I have decided to declare this vegetable my cruciferous best friend.

Collard greens for absorbable calcium and iron

Oxalates are substances that interfere with calcium. They are most abundant in spinach, beet greens, and Swiss chard. Hence, I’ll take Dr. Greger’s suggestion to go with other green leafy vegetables—like kale, arugula, and collards. Collard greens measure especially well with their minerals. Based on a 2,000-calorie diet, 1 cup of collards has an astounding 21% RDA for calcium and 12% for iron! The huge leaves can be blanched and used for wraps. And yes, they are also cruciferous!

A daily Brazil nut for selenium

Brazil nuts are known for their ridiculous levels of selenium, a trace mineral that’s higher in animal foods. While a varied vegan diet may offer plenty of selenium (other nuts and beans are great), a Brazil nut a day tops the RDA and can be my insurance. Note: Selenium overdose is a thing, so don’t snack mindlessly on these.

Nori and wakame for iodine

Iodine is another good consideration for vegans, and seaweed is here to help. Nori is a blessing because it aids against breast cancer. Wakami tackles high blood pressure. NutritionFacts ranks these sources over kelp or paddleweed which could lead to too much iodine, or hiziki which may contain arsenic.

White button mushrooms to prevent breast cancer

I once made a raw vegan pizza using mushrooms as a base. Let’s just say it didn’t stay in my stomach.

From Dr. Greger’s research, toxins in raw mushrooms mean it’s better to have them cooked. A study showed ordinary white button mushrooms (a cheap variety) were best at suppressing aromatase, the breast cancer enzyme. Awesome news for those who love mushrooms! Being a fungus instead of a plant, they are nutritionally distinct from most of what we eat. I figured why not give them a second chance—bring on the grilled mushroom soup!

Walnuts as the healthiest nut

Highest in antioxidants and omega-3s, walnuts also win the nut competition with their cancer prevention! Walnuts are not included in the big jars of mixed nuts my family gets from Costco, so time for me to order up.

I have loved being vegan for over 10 years. The NutritionFacts team is now helping me embrace a more well-planned diet. No one nutritional authority has all the answers, but it was a relief to find a source I trust and could dive deep in for a while. I’m excited to become a stronger and more informed example of plant-based vibrancy in 2021. Thanks, Dr. Greger!

Also by Phoenix: 3 Simple Habits I’ve Used To Get In More Leafy Greens

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Photo: Taylor Kiser via Unsplash; Alex Loup via Unsplash

Phoenix Huber
Phoenix Huber writes about personal growth, compassion for all, and daily vegan life. Based in Arizona, her hobbies include taking notes to remember her phone calls with friends, leaving effusive comments, and journaling. (She’ll get back to you once she finds some real hobbies that don’t involve writing.) An aspiring freelancer and researcher, Phoenix loves getting to amplify people’s messages of joy and kindness. Oh, and her family rocks! Find more articles from her on Medium.

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