The Healthy Food Snob
"Being a bit of a food snob is actually a great strategy for health and weight maintenance," says Ellie Krieger, RD, host of the Food Network’s Healthy Appetite and author of The Food You Crave. "If you insist on first-class food, you’re giving your body higher-quality nutrients, eating less junk, and, most important, getting a lot more satisfaction." Gourmet foods — more widely available than ever — can be deliciously decadent and good for you. Here are some of our we-deserve-it favorites.
Wine and Champagne
We’ve all heard that the fruits of the vine can help prevent such cardiovascular problems as heart disease and strokes. They’ll also give you a cancer-fighting boost, thanks to the polyphenols in grapes and grape skins. Red wines and rosés take the prize for highest antioxidant levels, because the grape skins are not removed during fermentation. But if you prefer to fill your glass with white wine or champagne — which do lose their grape skins — that’s fine too. There’s still enough of a nutritional boost to make it well worth popping a cork.
"The key is to keep your intake to one daily drink; anything more and the benefits are negated," Krieger says.
100 Percent Extra Virgin Olive Oil
"All olive oil contains antioxidants that fight against the cell inflammation that can lead to cancer and heart disease. Choose cloudy, unfiltered varieties, which provide more antioxidants because they have not been processed out during manufacturing," says Laura Pensiero, RD, coauthor of The Strang Cancer Prevention Center Cookbook. In addition, research from Philadelphia’s Monell Chemical Senses Center suggests that oleocanthal, a substance found in extra virgin olive oil, has an anti-inflammatory effect similar to ibuprofen’s. In terms of flavor, look for oils that hail from Italy, Spain, Greece, or California, which tower above the others.
Know, however, that heating olive oil can diminish its exceptional flavor, so don’t just cook with it: Drizzle some (mixed with a nice vinegar, perhaps) on your lunchtime salad or use it to finish pasta.
Like olive oil, nut oils are packed with antioxidants that protect against heart disease and cancer. Walnut oil, with a high omega-3 fatty acid content, is particularly beneficial. "This type of polyunsaturated fat improves cognitive function, reducing risk for mental health conditions including anxiety, depression, and Alzheimer’s," says Molly Kimball, RD, of the Elmwood Fitness Center, in New Orleans. "It also has an anti-inflammatory effect that may protect against such diseases as rheumatoid arthritis and asthma."
The typical American diet is out of balance in fatty acids: Researchers estimate we get 20 times more omega-6 fats (like those found in olive oil) than omega-3s. So break out of your usual habit and enjoy walnut oil’s light, nutty taste as a finishing oil over pastas, breads and grains, steamed vegetables, and salads (as with olive oil, heating destroys its flavor). Krieger adds, "It emulsifies beautifully, so try whisking it with mustard, shallots, and vinegar for a quick, delicious salad dressing."
That rich, delicious blend that you keep for guests? Unearth it from the back of the freezer and start drinking it. "If you keep your intake below three cups a day, coffee has significant health benefits," Pensiero says. Studies indicate that coffee drinkers are less likely to develop Parkinson’s disease or cirrhosis of the liver, have a reduced risk for colon cancer, and have lower rates of type 2 diabetes and suicide, according to researchers at Vanderbilt University’s Institute for Coffee Studies. Caffeine is responsible for some of the benefits, but coffee also contains other helpful substances, such as magnesium and antioxidants. Grind the beans yourself just before drinking to retain the most nutrients.