Superfoods have been trending in the health industry for the last several years.
Nutritionists praise their benefits and health bloggers repeatedly tell us we should be eating as much of them as possible.
But what are they really, and why should we be eating them?
There are no strict guidelines on what defines a superfood, but we do know that superfoods are mostly plant-based in addition to some fish and dairy.
Superfoods are nutritionally dense and the benefits of eating them include reducing the risk of heart disease and stroke, slowing aging, promoting weight loss, and some even say they help prevent cancer.
All of these health benefits come from the nutrient density of the superfoods because they contain large doses of antioxidants, polyphenols, vitamins, and minerals.
Superfoods are also high in fiber (which helps digestive health), calcium (to promote bone health), and omega-3 fatty acids (usually from fish, for supporting heart health).
Studies have shown that people who eat more superfoods are healthier and thinner than those who don’t. However, this information should be taken with a grain of salt.
Superfoods are essential to overall health, but not when you consume large amounts of a few superfoods combined with a mostly unhealthy diet.
To get the most benefits from superfoods, they should be incorporated into a healthy and balanced diet that also includes lean proteins, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.
Superfoods have begun receiving some criticism from health experts, warning us of the potential detriments that come from processed forms of superfoods.
Nutritionists also caution healthy food intake, even when eating superfoods.
When foods are labeled as “super” or “healthy,” some people think that gives them the green light for eating as much as they want of something, but even too much of a healthy food can cause unhealthy habits and weight gain.
A good rule of thumb for a balanced diet full of superfoods is to consume three to five servings of fruits and vegetables per day, two servings of fish per week, and one serving of yogurt daily.
Superfoods also require healthy preparation in order to experience their full benefits.
Always purchase fresh fruits and vegetables, consuming them raw whenever possible, and avoiding added sugar or full fat dips and dressings.
When cooking fish, vegetables, or whole grains, use olive oil instead of butter for a healthier fat option.
Choose your yogurt carefully, avoiding those loaded with sugar and preservatives. Instead opt for non-fat plain yogurt and add honey or fruit for sweetness.
Maintain a healthy and balanced diet with this Top 10 List of Superfoods to get you started!
• Salmon – Salmon is a fatty fish low in saturated fat and high in omega-3 fatty acids, a healthy fat which can reduce triglyceride counts (chemical form of fats) and slow the growth of plaque in the arteries. This helps to lower risk of heart disease and stroke, reduce inflammation, improve circulation, increase good cholesterol while reducing bad cholesterol, and reduce risk of cancer. Salmon also contains B vitamins and selenium which prevents cell damage.
• Kale and Leafy Greens – Kale provides several essential nutrients including Vitamins A and C, potassium, and phytochemicals. In addition to kale, most dark and leafy greens are also nutritious superfoods that contain fiber, calcium, and other minerals that are good for digestion and preventing chronic disease.
• Blueberries – Blueberries are considered superfoods because of their high levels of the phytochemical called flavonoids. Studies have shown that women who consume more blueberries have a lower risk of heart attack. Blueberries also contain antioxidants that protect against cancer, aging (and age-related conditions like Alzheimer’s disease and dementia), and cell damage. Other berries like strawberries and cranberries also provide superfood benefits. Try adding berries to your yogurt, smoothies, salads, or simply eat them on their own as a snack.
• Beans – Beans are beneficial to any diet, providing a source of low-fat protein, insoluble fiber (lowers cholesterol), soluble fiber (provides longer feeling of fullness), and several vitamins and trace minerals often absent from a typical American diet. For vegetarians beans can serve as a primary source of protein, or a great occasional replacement for protein in a non-vegetarian diet. Beans are great for providing a good source of fiber for healthy digestion and energy-boosting iron.
• Broccoli – Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli are an essential source of phytonutrients that reduce the risk of cancer by suppressing tumor growth. One cup of broccoli provides a daily dose of Vitamin C and folic acid. Broccoli also contains all of the same benefits and nutrients as leafy green vegetables, making them a simple superfood diet staple.
• Oats and Whole Grains – Oats are an essential part of a healthy diet, providing fiber, magnesium, potassium, and phytonutrients. Fiber helps lower cholesterol and prevent disease while magnesium works to regulate blood-sugar and reduce risk of type 2 diabetes. Whole grains have similar health benefits to beans, providing a healthy source of fiber and providing a longer feeling of fullness. Whole grains are healthy because they aren’t stripped of their nutrients from processing like refined grains (or white sources of grains).
• Exotic Fruits – This superfood category includes acai berries, dragon fruit, pomegranates, goji berries, and any other exotic fruits you have access to. These special fruits are particularly dense in certain nutrients. For example, pomegranates are known to contain ellagic acid, a nutrient with anti-cancer properties. You can also get similar superfood benefits from tea, coffee, dark chocolate, yogurt, and olives.
• Sweet Potato and Squash – These two superfoods make the list because they are excellent sources of fiber and Vitamin A, in addition to providing all of the benefits of dark leafy greens. Because they are naturally sweet, they don’t require butter, cream, or salt, all usually used to prepare potatoes. Add sweet potato and squash to your diet as an occasional replacement for whole grains or in salads or stir fry.
• Nuts and Seeds – When eaten in moderation, nuts and seeds provide a good source of protein and healthy fats. Try snacking on unsalted almonds, peanuts, pistachios, and walnuts. For seeds, include chia, hemp, and flax seeds in smoothies or salads. The key to nuts is portion control so try eating shelled nuts to slow you down with the time it takes to crack them open. Aim for about 4 servings of nuts and seeds per week.
• Dark Chocolate and Red Wine – These two superfoods are on the list because of their health benefits, and because they’re good to know about when you are looking for a healthy indulgence. Dark chocolate is high in flavonoids, a nutrient group known for its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits. However, dark chocolate is also high in fat and calories, so treat yourself in moderation. The same goes for red wine, which has a recommended intake of one glass for women, and two glasses for men. Red Wine can help prevent cancer and heart disease, and promote weight loss, but alcohol also has its negative side effects so consume in moderation to receive only the benefits.