Be Well, College Park: Six nutrition building blocks for optimal health
by Mary Daniel
It is officially farmers market season, and I, for one, am excited. College Park’s farmers markets offer an abundance of seasonal produce, and a morning at the market can be fun for the whole family.
Unless you have specific issues (allergies, for instance), virtually all the fresh produce you’ll find at a farmers market will be good for you — and especially good for your gut. The gut performs vital functions; it digests and metabolizes food to supply our body with energy, and it is key to removing waste, including compounds that could lead to inflammation and disease. Bacteria in the gut helps regulate a host of functions, from creating vitamins to controlling the immune system, brain function and metabolism. Scour the farmers market for fruits and vegetables, lean proteins and whole grains, and you’ll be giving your gut — and the rest of your body — the best building blocks for optimal health. Let’s take a look at six of the nutritional building blocks you can easily access all year round, and especially as we approach peak season for locally grown produce.
Glucosinolates. Found in many vegetables, these anti-inflammatory compounds help balance hormones, stave off hunger, and protect against heart attacks and some cancers. Bok choi, broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, kale, kohlrabi, mustard, radish, rutabaga and turnips are good sources.
Polyphenols. These chemicals can improve digestion and brain function and regulate blood sugar levels, as well as protect against blood clots, heart disease and certain cancers. Polyphenols are found in brightly colored fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, and olives and olive oil.
Proteins. Proteins help build muscle and connective tissue and are essential for healthy blood, enzymes and neurotransmitters. Whether you opt for plant or animal proteins, variety is important. Beef, poultry, fish, eggs, tofu, quinoa, buckwheat and beans are easily available sources.
Pre- and probiotics. Prebiotics are nondigestible food components found in high-fiber foods such as chicory root and cocoa, garlic, onions, asparagus, apples and bananas, and some grains (barley and oats, in particular).Probiotics are live microorganisms found in many fermented foods, including kimchi, yogurt, kefir, kombucha, sauerkraut, pickles, miso, tempeh, sourdough bread, and some soft and aged cheeses. Both pre- and probiotics support the good bacteria essential for gut and whole-body health.
Dopamine. This neurotransmitter is essential to brain health. While foods don’t supply us with dopamine — our bodies make it — some do prompt our brains to release it, and the list of dopamine-boosting foods is long. Proteins include dairy, eggs, fish and poultry, and helpful nuts and seeds include almonds and walnuts, along with chia, flax, and pumpkin seeds. Apples and bananas are terrific fruits in this category, and avocados, beets, artichokes, cauliflower, kale and spinach, along with chickpeas, black beans and lentils round out the list. Add in chocolate and coffee, and your brain will thank you.
Omega-3 fatty acids. These promote healthy cell formation and support hormones that regulate blood vessels and blood clotting, help prevent heart disease and stroke, may help control a number of autoimmune diseases and may protect us from some cancers and other conditions. As a bonus, they help us feel full, too. Many fish — wild-caught Alaskan salmon, Atlantic mackerel, herring, albacore tuna, and sardines and anchovies — are high in omega-3 fatty acids, as are walnuts, chia and hemp seeds, flaxseeds and flaxseed oil, and egg yolks.
College Park’s grocery stores offer residents a wide selection of foods with these six essential nutritional building blocks. Mom’s Organic Market sells hemp seeds, dandelion and kohlrabi, which are sometimes hard to find. MOM’s also offers a large selection of organic foods, many of which are from local sources, including Pennsylvania’s Lancaster Farm Fresh Cooperative. Shoppers, Giant, Lidl and Trader Joe’s also carry good selections.
For wonderfully fresh seasonal produce, visit the city’s farmers markets, both of which are open for business now. College Park Farmers Market at Paint Branch Parkway, at 5211 Campus Drive, is open Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., and the Hollywood Farmers Market, at (9803 Rhode Island Avenue, is open Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Here’s to buying local, having fun — and, as always, to good health!