If you turn on the TV, open a magazine, or just walk down the aisles of any grocery store, you will hear about, read, or see superfoods touted as the latest wonder of the food and nutrition world. These foods are purported to cause miraculous weight loss, reverse poor health, and make you feel like a superstar.
As with anything that sounds too good to be true, this is. Though they make many claims, superfoods are NOT:
• able to cure disease
• free of Calories, fat or carbohydrate
• the answer to your weight woes
• to be added to your burger combo with fries and a soda
• only found in an expensive box, bag, or bottle
So, what makes food super? Superfoods ARE:
• plant foods (sorry, no super-meat or super-cheese)
• whole (not processed so that you can’t recognize it)
• packed with antioxidants, fiber, and components that reduce inflammation
• a partner in weight management
• a good addition to a balanced diet
In determining what makes a food stand out as a superhero of nutrition, I think of foods that are packed full of vitamins and minerals, have anti-inflammatory, cancer-fighting, promote the health of the whole body system, and are both accessible and affordable (because they can’t be super unless you eat them).
These 10 foods get the “Super” label from me:
1. Berries: I’m not just talking about the exotic acai or goji. All berries are rich in color, meaning they act as powerful antioxidants in the body. Anthocyanins, a type of phytochemical, is present and may help combat cancer. Berries also tend to be more tart and lower in sugar than other fruits and are a good source of Vitamin C, Vitamin K, and fiber.
2. Garlic: Though your breath may not be so super after eating this, garlic is an Allium vegetable, related to onions and leeks. It may help lower cholesterol in those with elevated levels, protect against certain cancers (i.e. prostate, breast), promote cardiovascular health through vasodilation, and more. Here’s a tip: cut, crush, or chop your garlic and let it sit for about 10 minutes before cooking so that the allinase enzyme can do its work to form Allicin, whose compounds are credited for garlic’s health benefits.
3. Ginger: Ginger is a friend to your belly. It helps promote digestion and can help alleviate nausea, gas, and forms of inflammation in your gastrointestinal tract. Because of its anti-inflammatory gingerols, ginger may have a role in reducing pain from arthritis. You can use ginger fresh, dried, or juiced.
4. Green Leafy Vegetables: I don’t think there’s one of you who hasn’t heard of the nutrition rockstar Kale. Kale certainly is tasty as salad, juice, and chips, but if kale isn’t your thing, there are other greens that are also full of fiber, Vitamins (like A, C, and K), calcium (you don’t have to have a milk mustache), beta-carotene, and folate while being low in Calories. In other words, greens seems to be good for your whole body. Swiss chard (one of my favorites), spinach, and collard, turnip, and mustard greens all have a lot going for them, so eat your greens!
5. Fermented Foods: Fermented vegetables (like kimchi), Kombucha, miso, and tempeh all are probiotic foods due to their fermentation. Probiotics are also called “good” bacteria because they protect against instead of cause disease. They populate the gut and may help with digestion, production of vitamins (like Vitamin K), and immunity. These foods also have other benefits aside from the probiotic component, such as the high protein, isoflavone, and fiber content of tempeh.
6. Cruciferous Vegetables: This family of vegetables includes not only broccoli and cauliflower, but also cabbage, bok choy, brussel sprouts, and the afore-mentioned kale! These veggies contain many phytochemicals such as sulforaphane that protect against cancer by fighting off carcinogens and reducing free radicals. There is also a high amount of soluble fiber, which you learned from my last post is praised for its link to lower cholesterol and blood pressure and blood sugar control.
7. Tea: Camellia sinensis is the plant from which we get a myriad of teas--black, white, and green tea all start out as leaves from this plant but are processed differently through variations in oxidation, withering, and drying. Tea’s health-promoting properties come from their catechin (flavanol) content. Green tea in particular became popular because it contains Epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) which is a specific catechin that may help have an positive effect on weight, cholesterol and triglyceride levels, cardiovascular disease, and cancer. Want to reap the potential benefits from tea drinking? Don’t add milk! The protein in the milk binds with the catechins in the tea so your body can’t use them.
8. Spices: Cinnamon, turmeric, oregano, and the other host of spices not only add flavor without Calories, but they also use their load of antioxidant and antibacterial properties to fight inflammation, tissue damage, and more. They can also help with your blood pressure if used in place of salt. Use a variety of herbs and spices to reap the different benefits and add some zing to your meals.
9. Nuts and Seeds: Chia, flax, and hemp seeds have all had their time in the spotlight, but the more humble walnut, pistachio, or almond also pack a nutritional punch. In general, nuts and seeds are high in heart-healthy fats (some even have omega-3’s), the antioxidant Vitamin E, as well as a host of minerals such as magnesium, phosphorus, iron, and zinc. They work to help promote satiety and satiation so you will feel full faster and stay full longer, may improve your cholesterol levels, and can play a role in eye and skin health. Keep the portion to about a small handful since these have more Calories than our other superfoods.
10. Bright Colors: I know you can’t eat colors, but think of the dark purple eggplant, the bright yellow bell pepper, deep red strawberries, and orange papayas. As we discussed with the berries and green leafy vegetables, the components that give these foods their beautiful color also give them their super plant powers to work all throughout the body to fight inflammation, disease, and reduce your risk of chronic disease and cancer. If you eat a rainbow of fruits and veggies, you can’t go wrong!
Michaela Ballmann, MS, RD is enthusiastic about guilt-free eating, whole person care, and nourishing food. Her main interest is in getting people to love food, their bodies, and themselves. Michaela seeks to share the truth about nutrition and help restore you to what you once were–a healthy, whole human being. Connect with her through her podcast, blog, and nutrition counseling at Wholify.