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updated 3/1/2004 1:13:34 PM ET 2004-03-01T18:13:34

The opinions expressed herein are the guest's alone and have not been reviewed by a WebMD physician. If you have questions about your health, you should consult your personal physician. This event is meant for informational purposes only.

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You know some foods are good for you and some are bad for you, but are some foods super for you? Dr. Steven Pratt says yes, and he's written about them in his book, SuperFoods Rx. We found out what 14 nutrient-dense foods made his list, and why, when he joined us on WebMD Live.

Moderator: Welcome to WebMD Live Dr. Pratt. You identify certain foods as being better for you than others. What were your criteria for selecting these foods?

Pratt: Each food was selected based on gold standard research of healthy dietary patterns around the world. These foods are an integral part of all the recognized healthy dietary patterns that prevent disease and extend our health span, and perhaps our life span, as well.

Moderator: Let's go through the 14 super foods. Can you tell us what is so special about each of them?

Pratt:

Beans: A great low-fat, low-calorie source of protein and an easy way to help control your weight and your blood sugar.

Blueberries: The best food on the planet to preserve a young brain as we mature.

Broccoli: The best food on the planet to prevent cancer.

Oats: A sure-fire way to lower your cholesterol.

Oranges: The most readily available source of vitamin C, which in turn lowers the rate of most causes of death in this country, for example, heart disease and cancer.

Pumpkin: Loaded with phytonutrients, which keep our skin young and help prevent damage from sunlight.

Wild salmon: A guaranteed way to lower your risk for cardiac-related death.

Soy: The only complete vegetarian source of protein.

Spinach: The best food on the planet to prevent cataracts and age-related macular degeneration, thus ensuring a lifetime of good vision.

Tea -- green or black: The easiest and cheapest no-calorie way to avoid heart disease and cancer.

Tomatoes: One of the easiest ways for men to avoid prostate cancer is the consumption of tomatoes and tomato-based products.

Skinless turkey breast: The leanest meat source of protein on the planet.

Walnuts: Consuming walnuts is an easy, tasty way to lower your risk of cardiovascular disease.

Yogurt: A tasty, easy way to boost your immune system.

Moderator: Are you supposed to eat some of each of these foods every day?

Pratt: In the SuperFoods RX book we give guidelines as to how many times per day or week you should eat these foods. For example, beans would be 1/2 cup, four times per week.

Moderator: How do you incorporate these foods in your diet?

Pratt: All of the foods are found in virtually every supermarket in America, thus they're easy to buy. In the SuperFoods book, in the back, there is a large shopping list naming brands for everything from pasta to even hotdogs, which are easy to find and good for you. So we have taken all the guesswork out of which products are healthy.

We also have numerous quick and easy recipes used by my wife and family for years so you can feed the kids in four or five minutes, if you have to. We also have 50 new recipes using super foods by the chef at the Golden Door Spa and the staff from the Rancho La Puerta Spa. These foods are delicious!

Member question: Can't I just take vitamins and supplements to get the nutrition in these foods? I don't have time to do a lot of shopping or cooking.

Pratt: Supplements are great; I take them myself. We must remember that supplements are not a replacement for a whole foods diet but a supplement for a whole foods diet. It is impossible to manufacture a supplement that has all the nutrients found in food. For example, there are more than 8000 polyphenols in foods. Can you imagine manufacturing a product in a laboratory that has over 8000 ingredients? The super foods list is to show everyone how easy it is to incorporate whole foods into your daily routine.

Member question: Tomatoes give me hives. What can I substitute for tomatoes?

Pratt: Great question! Licopene, the red pigment in tomatoes, is also found in pink grapefruit, watermelon, and some types of papaya. While we can't say for sure that these foods are identical to tomatoes, they are not; they still contain one of the primary phytonutrients (licopene) that gives tomatoes such a good reputation as a healthy food.

Member question: Why wild salmon? Is it that different from farmed salmon? The Atlantic farmed salmon is always available in my store, but the wild salmon is rarely there.

Pratt: People don't realize that wild salmon is found in virtually every supermarket in America. Go to the canned fish section of the supermarket and you will always find canned Alaskan salmon. All canned Alaskan salmon is wild salmon. So it is readily available everywhere.

At this point, there are too many environmental issues related to farm salmon for me to recommend this source of salmon. It seems that farm salmon has far more pollutants in the flesh, and all the environmental groups have endorsed wild Alaskan salmon as a renewable, well-managed source of this great fish. There are no issues related to wild Alaskan salmon as far as environmental or supply issues.

In the SuperFoods book, we discuss this in great detail and give the reader numerous web sites to further keep abreast of the wild salmon versus farm salmon issues. We also have been careful to only identify sidekicks (substitutes) for wild salmon that are not endangered and have no environmental issues related to their use.

Moderator: For those on the west coast, Oregon wild salmon is also available seasonally.

Member question: Are there other fish I can substitute for salmon?

Pratt: Wild salmon substitutes, or sidekicks as we call them in the book, are Alaskan halibut, canned albacore tuna, sardines, herring, trout, sea bass, oysters, and clams.

Member question: I hate fish. What can I eat instead of salmon? Do the omega oil capsules help?

Pratt: The omega-3 fatty capsules are great if you cannot tolerate fish or on the days when you do not consume fish. One easily available substitute food for fish in general is vegetarian-fed eggs. These eggs contain the same fish oil that is found in marine sources of this wonderful fatty acid.

Member question: With the spinach does it make a difference if it is fresh raw (like a salad) or cooked? Does the cooking decrease the power of the spinach?

Pratt: When I talk about spinach, I tell people to find a way they like this green leafy, and then consume this food on a regular basis, the more times per week, the better. It's less important as to whether you have it raw, steamed, cooked, canned, or from frozen sources, than it is to just find a way to include this in your diet. When we cook spinach, we lose some of the B vitamins and some of the vitamin C, however some of the carotenoids, such as beta-carotene, are more bio available cooked than raw.

Member question: What is the rule about choosing leafy greens to eat? Does color really make a difference?

Pratt: Yes, color does make a difference. The darker the leafy green, in general, the more nutritious the food is. And don't forget the green color is chlorophyll, which seems to possess unique and special anticancer properties. In the SuperFoods book, we have a table comparing iceberg lettuce with romaine lettuce and spinach. By looking at this table, it is easy to see why spinach is a much healthier choice than iceberg lettuce.

Moderator: Talk to us about beans. Are all beans super foods? Or are certain beans more beneficial than others?

Pratt: All beans are super foods. Each bean may have its own unique nutritional characteristics, but they all provide a tremendous boost to our health. Find the bean or beans you like best and consume them on a regular basis. They include string beans and sugar snap peas, which are delicious straight out of the garden. You also can incorporate beans into salads and of course, chili. My favorite bean for salads is the garbanzo bean, a bean loaded with all of the nutrition of legumes in general, and also a rich source of phytoestrogens.

Member question: What are the nutrients in beans that make them super besides fiber?

Pratt: Beans are a low-fat source of: 
Protein
Fiber
B vitamins
Iron
Folate
Potassium
Magnesium
Hundreds, if not thousands of known and unknown phytonutrients


Member question: Are black beans better for you than other beans?

Pratt: I don't think we can say black beans are better than other beans. Most beans contain roughly the same mixture of nutrients, with only a relatively small difference in nutrients, such as folic acid or folate. The darker the color of the bean, in general, the higher the polyphenal count of the bean. So if you are looking for beans with the most polyphenals then a darker bean, like black beans, would have more polyphenals than, say, white beans.

Member question: Are other nuts OK besides walnuts?

Pratt: All nuts are great, as long as they are raw or dry roasted without added salt or oil. Every published peer review study to date has shown a positive effect of every nut tested so far. There are seemingly no "bad" nuts or seeds, and each of them carries significant health benefits.

Remember that seeds are nature's nurseries, containing all of the nutrients that a plant needs to generate a new life, so to speak. Thus consuming these magical nuts and seeds, we are giving our body the very nutrients that nature has packaged to create new life. You can't possibly go wrong by such a tasty, delicious choice.

My rule, however, is to keep the nuts and seeds in plastic containers in my refrigerator. Each day I take a handful of one or more, but I never take the container farther than 1 or 2 feet. This is because I do not want to consume the whole container, which would put me into a too many calories in versus not enough calories consumed situation. You may have to think about substituting nuts and the calories they contain, thus replacing something less healthy in your diet.

Member question: Are there any particular cooking methods that you recommend for your super foods?

Pratt: I think it's important to use canola oil and extra virgin olive oil as your primary cooking oils. It's also important to not overheat food, because this has adverse affects on oils and fats. I am more concerned about eating the food than whether you consume it raw, cooked, boiled, etc.

We also recommend using only small amounts of liquids, such as water, when you cook food, because otherwise many of the water-soluble nutrients are thrown away with the water.

Member question: Does organic make a difference in the health benefits of these foods? It is so much more expensive.

Pratt: There is no question that organic food is better for the environment, and may possibly have more of some nutrients than nonorganic food. If you can afford and find organic food, then that is a great way to go. But remember, it is more important to eat the fruits and vegetables and grains than it is to worry about whether they are organic or not.

Moderator: Let's talk about yogurt. In your book you discuss pre- and probiotics. Can you explain what they are and their role?

Pratt: The power of yogurt comes from both the synergy of eating this magical food with prebiotics, which are nondigestible ingredients of whole foods, and then the probiotics are the live cultures found in yogurt. The prebiotics help stimulate the growth of the probiotics, so both of these work in tandem to improve the overall health benefits of yogurt.

Member question: Does acidophilus have any health benefits?

Pratt: Acidophilus is a probiotic, or a living microorganism, which is one of the bacteria found in yogurt. The healthiest yogurts contain a large number of different probiotics, including acidophilus.

Member question: Can you comment on foods that raise testosterone/reduce estrogen?

Pratt: For men who are concerned that soy may lower their testosterone or sex drive, there have been very well-designed studies clearly proving that soy has no adverse affect on male sexual functions. We should always keep in mind that alcohol, especially in excess, will raise the blood levels of estrogen, and this is one way whereby excess alcohol consumption raises the risk for breast cancer.

There seems to be no adverse affects on the health of individuals consuming plant-based phytoestrogen; in fact, we only really note the health benefits of these weak estrogen substitutes. The only area that is controversial in this aspect is for women who have a diagnosis of breast cancer. I always tell women in this category they should seek advice of their healthcare professional that is treating their breast cancer.

Member question: Is there really a connection between soy and menopause? Should menopausal women avoid soy?

Pratt: No. Menopausal women should consume soy. The weight of scientific evidence at this point suggests that there is a positive benefit in reducing perimenopausal symptoms in women who consume 10 to 15 grams of soy protein per day. I am unaware of any adverse effects of this amount of soy being consumed by a woman going through menopause.

The very latest study clearly suggests that there are benefits to decreasing perimenopausal symptoms in women consuming relatively small amounts of soy products, best done by splitting the "dose" of soy into two or more different time periods during the day.

Member question: My child has to be dairy free and gluten free. He eats a lot of fresh veggies and a ton of meat (mostly chicken), but gets no grains but corn, grits, rice, and potatoes. Should I worry?

Pratt: It's always important to consider that a wider variety of food intake has health benefits. You should get a list of all the gluten-free whole-grain products, and have your son consume as many different sources of gluten-free grains as is possible.

In someone consuming no dairy in the United States it's very important to find other excellent sources of calcium. Wild salmon comes to mind, as do sardines. It would also be important to consume increased amounts of leafy green vegetables, as they also provide nutrients, including calcium, which can promote healthy bones.

Don't forget that unless you live in the southern part of the United States and you get 10 to 15 minutes of sunshine exposure three or four times a week, your chance of being deficient in vitamin D is quite high.

Member question: I see pumpkin on your list. The only way I know to eat pumpkin is in pie. I'm trying to lose weight so pie is OUT! How else do you eat pumpkin? And are there other things I could eat instead of pumpkin?

Pratt: Pumpkin is, of course, readily available as 100% canned pumpkin puree. This can be the base for pumpkin soup, bread, and the recipe in the book, Patty's Pumpkin Pudding. This is relatively low in calories and packs a real wallop in nutritional value.

We, of course, name sidekicks or substitutes for pumpkin, such as butternut squash, sweet potatoes, and orange bell peppers. Hopefully you will like one of the sidekicks. Try the recipes in the book. They are easy, tasty, and very good for you.

Member question: Can too much protein, or the Atkins Diet, be harmful?

Pratt: When it comes to protein, it's more important to concentrate on healthy protein sources than it is to worry exactly how much protein you are consuming. Two healthy sources of protein are skinless turkey breast and wild salmon. In addition, the sidekicks listed for these two super foods allow skinless chicken breasts and many of the additional seafood choices, which I listed earlier.

To me, it's more important to think less about how many carbs and proteins I'm eating today, and more important to concentrate on healthy sources of carbs, fats, and protein. If we do that, in general, we will get full long before we get fat. Remember, it's calories in versus calories out. Most whole foods are nutrient dense but relatively low in calories and also contain large amounts of fiber, which fills you up long before you've consumed too many calories. 

In addition, whole foods are "stick to the rib" foods and release their energy into our circulation slowly enough that we do not have cravings for food every couple of hours, as is often seen when people are eating large amounts of processed, low-fiber food.

Member question: Is there a synergy created by combining a variety of super foods?

Pratt: Great question. Throughout the SuperFoods book I felt like a broken record, as over and over again I stress the synergy of multiple healthy food choices. 

And remember, the synergy of all of the super foods and their sidekicks is enhanced by the health benefits of other lifestyle choices that I mentioned, such as exercise and getting seven to eight hours of sleep each night.

So, super foods and their sidekicks, plus healthy lifestyle choices equal a longer, healthier, enjoyable life full of energy and satisfaction.

Member question: What foods should we absolutely stay away from if possible?

Pratt: Stay away from any food containing hydrogenated oils or partially hydrogenated oils. This does mean you have to read the food label, or better yet, check out the super foods list in the back of my book. I have done this for you in the book, so that you will no longer have to check every label.

Remember that all donuts, to my knowledge, have the so-called trans fats, which is another way of saying partially hydrogenated oils. There is no safe amount of trans fats. Even small amounts have an adverse effect on our health. They are even worse than saturated fat, which also can have significant adverse effects on many body functions.

Moderator: We are almost out of time. Do you have any final words for us, Dr. Pratt?

Pratt: There is a lot of confusion about which foods to eat and which foods to avoid. SuperFoods RX is an easy to read, scientifically based answer to all of the questions that people are now faced with when it comes to choices of food. Just remember that humans have been eating whole foods for thousands of years and this has been a successful strategy for good health. There is never going to be a headline in a magazine or newspaper stating that any of the super foods listed in this book are bad for people and should be avoided.

Moderator: Thanks to Dr. Steven Pratt, for being our guest. For more information please read his book, SuperFoods Rx: Fourteen Foods That Will Change Your Life. For a wider array of nutrition and healthy information, visit our message boards, including Healthy Cooking with Elaine Magee, RD.

© 2004 WebMD Inc. All rights reserved.

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