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Rita DeMontis
Rita DeMontis

Eat your Daily Bread

By Rita DeMontis, Toronto Sun

As long as it's 100% whole grains

March Nutrition Month has us thinking beyond an apple a day -- recent studies show that, along with this favorite fruit, eating five other particular foods a day may help keep the doctor at bay.

According to Canadian dietitian and best-selling author Liz Pearson, consuming 100% whole grains, berries, dark leafy greens, nuts, and even chocolate on a daily basis will not only increase your energy levels, but can also decrease your chances of contracting such diseases as cancer, diabetes and heart disease, and in some cases, may even slow down the aging process.

"If you can find a way to include these five disease-fighting foods in your diet each day, you'll start feeling the physical difference within as early as a couple of weeks," says Pearson, co-author of Ultimate Foods for Ultimate Health and author of Broccoli, Love and Dark Chocolate, to be released next spring, who is calling on all Canadians to begin eating what she calls this "superstar" fare now.

Here's a rundown on each:

     100% WHOLE GRAINS: Not all whole grains are created equal, says Pearson. "If a food item doesn't say 100% whole grain on the package, then it's not, and you should find one that does," she advises, explaining that even products that say "made with whole grain" often contain more refined grains -- such as white flour -- than whole grains, which significantly lowers the health benefits.

Eating 100% whole grains can lower the risk of various diseases, she says, citing a recent studies which show a diet rich in whole grains significantly reduces inflammation linked to heart disease and cancer and increases hormones that protect against cancer, type 2 diabetes and heart disease. "Go for six to eight 100% whole grain servings daily, says Pearson. That's the equivalent of half a cup of pasta, one slice of bread or one cup of cereal per serving."

    BERRIES: If foods received awards, this group would win for best brain health, says Pearson. Based on a study from the Boston, Massachusetts-based Agricultural Research Service Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging, berries are the brain's natural housekeeper. "When you eat berries, they activate a mechanism that cleans up toxic debris that can cause memory loss and other mental declines that come with age," she says. These "antioxidant megastars" include blueberries, strawberries, raspberries and are good whether fresh, frozen or dried. Aim for one half to one cup of berries daily -- add them to cereal or salads, mix them with yogurt or whip them into smoothies.

    DARK LEAFY GREENS: Dark leafy greens like spinach, broccoli, kale, collard greens, watercress, Swiss chard and arugula contain a goldmine of vitamins, minerals and plant compounds that fight disease, including heart disease and cancer. "They are the most nutrient dense food you can eat, containing more nutrition per calorie than any other food," Pearson says. Nutrients key in keeping your bones strong and your arteries clean, not to mention optimal eye health. Eat at least one cup of dark leafy greens every day, says Pearson.

    NUTS: Are loaded with vitamins, minerals, fiber and plant compounds that protect the heart. In a recent study at the University of Barcelona in Spain, researchers found a link between eating nuts and higher levels of serotonin, a substance that helps improve heart health. Nuts are also linked to a lower risk of type 2 diabetes, macular degeneration, gallstones and cancer.

While almonds are the most nutrient-dense nut and walnuts take top spot for antioxidants and heart-healthy omega-3 fats, all nuts offer significant health benefits, Pearson says. Limit intake to about a quarter of a cup -- or two tablespoons of peanut or almond butter -- daily since nuts are high in calories. Toss them into salads, pasta dishes or cereal or enjoy them on their own.

    CHOCOLATE: Always leave room for chocolate, advises Pearson. Not only does it satisfy a sweet tooth, but chocolate -- particularly dark chocolate -- is healthy when consumed in moderation. High in cocoa flavanols, chocolate has been scientifically proven to help support healthy circulation. Researchers from the University of Cambridge in England, who analyzed seven studies involving more than 100,000 participants, linked eating chocolate to as much as a 37% reduction in cardiovascular disease and 29% reduction in stroke," Pearson says.

Limit daily intake to about a half to one ounce -- two to four squares -- of dark chocolate, preferably containing at least 60 to 70% cocoa.

"Don't underestimate the energy value of eating these five superfoods as well," says Pearson "Not only will their regular consumption help you to be healthier in the long run, but you'll start feeling the benefits in terms of increased energy within a matter of weeks."

The following recipe courtesy of Catelli that helps celebrate the upcoming spring season. For additional recipes, check out Wholegrainpasta.ca. Visit Lizpearson.com for more information, tips and recipes.